If you’ve been hesitant or unsure of preparing kale before’or you only use it in one specific recipe’you’re not alone, says Toronto-based vegan chef Doug McNish. ‘Kale is not something you see on many menus in restaurants or on TV, so less is known about it.’ But it’s time to reconsider, as not only is kale extremely nutritious‘it’s higher than spinach in vitamins A, C and K, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin’it has tons of uses in the kitchen, too. ‘In culinary terms, kale is very versatile,’ says McNish.
A kale primer
You may have noticed several types of kale in your grocery store, so which one should you choose? Really, it depends on what you’re doing with it, and your taste preferences’though, says Jennifer Italiano, chef and co-owner at Toronto’s Live Food Bar, the difference is mostly in appearance. ‘Curly green and purple kale are slightly more pungent and bitter,’ she says, ‘whereas dinosaur kale is a bit sweeter and more delicate.’ Experiment to see which variety you prefer.
Ready to work kale into your recipe repertoire? Here are six tasty ways to prepare the leafy green.
1. Baked into chips
Kale chips have been popular among food bloggers lately, and for good reason’they’re crunchy, tasty and addictive. You can make them plain, with just olive oil and salt (try this recipe from food blog Smitten Kitchen), or go fancy and cover the kale with a dressing before baking or dehydrating, like this cashew-based sour cream and onion version from McNish.
2. Raw in a salad
Raw kale? Sounds intense, but it’s all about the preparation method. McNish recommends these steps:
‘ Slice kale thin and marinate with a healthy oil such as flax, hemp, avocado or extra-virgin olive’just enough to lightly coat the leaves.
‘ Add fresh lemon juice and salt, and let sit for 10 minutes. (‘The oil acts as a carrier for the lemon juice, which breaks down the cell walls in the kale, and the salt draw out the moisture,’ says McNish.)
‘ Add other ingredients of choice, including dressing; McNish recommends a lemon, garlic and tahini-based dressing with walnuts, raisins, sun-dried tomatoes, hemp seeds, apples and peppers.
3. Cooked in a stir-fry or pasta dish
McNish recommends adding very thinly sliced kale to your favourite stir-fry or pasta dish, at the end of cooking. Italiano agrees, suggesting that the kale can be lightly steamed or blanched before adding, or simply sautéed with some olive oil and garlic as a side dish.
4. Blended in a smoothie
Green smoothies’yes, smoothies with leafy greens blended into them’are delicious and an easy way to add nutritious greens to meals or snacks. Feel extra virtuous and have kale for breakfast by adding it to your morning smoothie. Italiano suggests fruits such as mango or banana, or try one of the recipes in our green smoothie round-up, including McNish’s Chocolate Blueberry Smoothie with Kale. (Note: unless you have a high-speed blender, you’ll probably find that dinosaur kale blends up nicer than curly kale’but experiment with both.)
5. Added to soup
Kale is tough enough to hold its own in soup without disintegrating, and it’s a classic pairing with white beans. For beginners or finicky kids, you might want to try it in a blended soup first like our recipe for Kale and Sweet Potato Soup. Or put an ultra-healthy spin on chicken noodle in our version with kale, edamame and white tea.
6. Lightly steamed
McNish offers this recipe for kale beginners:
‘ Cut one head of kale into one-inch pieces.
‘ Place two to three inches of water in a pot with a lid, turn it on and bring the water to a boil. (You do not need a lot of water here, just enough to create some steam.)
‘ Add a pinch of salt to the water and add the kale.
‘ Cook the kale for one minute or until soft.
‘ Serve with a drizzle of hemp or olive oil, some fresh lemon juice, sea salt and a little nutritional yeast.
Bottom line? ‘Kale is the powerhouse of all veggies,’ says Italiano. ‘Once people realize it’s very similar to spinach and that the possibilities are endless, I hope it will end up in everyone’s shopping baskets.’
New to the Best Health Challenge? Click through to meet our featured participant, Kelly Mathews.