Everything you ever wanted to know about kale

Kale lover and superfoods cook Rena Patten gives us the lowdown on our favourite curly green leaf

Kale is a very easy ingredient to prepare and use in everyday cooking.  It is a nutrient dense green vegetable, readily available, inexpensive and very good for you.

It can be used as a side dish, or incorporated into a main meal. It’s great in soups and makes beautiful salads. It is high in fibre, fat free, cholesterol free and very low in calories.

What are the health benefits of kale?

Kale is often referred to as a superfood because of its health benefits. A superfood is a term given to foods that are densely packed with nutrients, such as highly powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that, when incorporated into the diet, will help nourish the body and promote health from the inside out.

Kale is a nutritional powerhouse with many health benefits, the main ones primarily linked to the excellent source and high concentration of antioxidants, phytonutrients and vitamins A, C, K and calcium.

It is also packed with other vitamins and minerals such as copper, iron, potassium, protein, folate, manganese, phosphorous and more.

Kale is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, one of the antioxidants believed by many nutritional experts to be a player in the fight against life threatening diseases such as heart disease and cancer. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory and de-toxifier.

It should be noted, however, that kale contains certain components (such as vitamin K) that may interfere with blood thinning medications. If you are taking such medication, it is advisible to monitor your intake of kale and consult your doctor for advice.

Different types of kale

There are four varieties of kale generally available here in Australia. There is the curly kale (the most common and readily available), the Cavolo Nero (also known as Tuscan kale/cabbage), the curly purple kale, and baby kale leaves.

These are available at greengrocers and the vegetable section of supermarkets. Baby kale is usually found in sealed bags in the salad leaf section

Curly kale, Cavolo Nero and purple kale have robust, thick, hearty and full flavoured leaves. Baby kale leaves are light and subtle in flavour. Which one should be used really depends on personal preference and taste.

All can be used in any dish although I prefer to use the baby kale in salads only – and even then only sometimes, as I love the taste of the more robust thicker leaves.

How to choose a bunch of kale

When buying kale, look for bunches that have firm and thick deep green leaves. Avoid bunches with yellow leaves or that look soft and about to wilt.

The size of the bunches vary, and you will have to use your discretion when buying them. A large bunch usually has 8-10 large leaves.

How to prepare kale

The best way to prepare kale is to thoroughly wash the leaves, then remove the thick, tough stalk. The quickest and best way to do this is to hold the end of the stalk in one hand and with the other hand grab the leaves at that end, and in one movement quickly pull (strip) the leaves along the stem from the bottom part of the stem to the top.You will find that the tough part of the stalk easily separates, leaving the upper, more tender part of the stalk attached to the leaves.

If you do not like to use this method, then just cut out most of the stalk, and chop the leaves with a knife and use as per the recipe. You can use the upper, more tender parts of the stalk, which is something that I normally do in most of my recipes. They should be chopped finely before use.

A little tip – when chopping kale it is always a good idea to use a large chopping board, or you will have kale going everywhere!

Cooking with Kale by Rena Patten is available now from New Holland Publishers.

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