Kale: Not Your Grandma's Greens

Published on September 21, 2015
Written by Ray Access

Up until a few years ago, you didn’t hear much about kale. In fact, you might not have even recognized it. A leafy green plant, it looks kind of like spinach. Maybe you’ve seen it used as a garnish on fancy dishes at high-end restaurants. You’d have to be at least a little bit odd to actually eat the stuff… right?

But of late, kale has risen to the top of many healthy favorite food lists. Its powers are being hailed in foodie magazines, at restaurants and among food lovers all over the country. Why the sudden interest in kale?

Kale’s Longevity

Kale actually has graced dinner tables around the world for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks and Romans harvested it, and more recently, European peasants counted it as a blessing during hard times. Kale is kin to cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collards and broccoli.

Back in the day, kale was loved for its ability to survive frost. It could be counted on to provide sustenance, even if cold spells ruined the rest of the crop. It’s certainly one tough veggie. But aside from convenience and durability, is it really any good?

A Fountain of Youth

There’s no question that kale is healthful. Pound for pound, it provides more iron than beef. It packs quite a bit of protein too. One cup of kale gives you the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and about 70 percent of vitamin C. Then there’s vitamin K, which is not found in all that many places. A cup of kale provides 700 percent of your recommended daily intake for vitamin K, helping to maintain the health of your blood. It’s also got significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium and a host of other nutrients.

If you’re toting a bag of kale, you basically have a healing kit. Kale has nutrients that can help keep your eyes healthy into old age. It also houses compounds that have been found to prevent the growth of cancer. Kale contains loads of anti-oxidants, too — nutrients that bind and eliminate potentially dangerous free radicals in your body. Kale can even help to lower your cholesterol, making your heart healthier and your blood flow better.

It may not be the fountain of youth, but it perhaps does qualify as a “superfood.” And if you can get a taste for it, it will help to energize you and improve your well-being.

Taste Test

So kale is undeniably good for you. However, if you’re like most Appalachian inhabitants, you prefer the American cooking of your childhood. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a taste for subtlety. It doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate innovation. But there’s got to be some substance there.

Fortunately, kale is one of the densest vegetables around, and it can be prepared in many ways. Generally, sautéing kale with oil, salt, pepper and garlic is the simplest way to make it, but it can also be steamed, baked or, if you’re brave, eaten raw. Kale pairs very well with mushrooms, onions, peppers and meats of all kinds. Some nutritionists even claim that it’s healthiest when served as part of a meal with some fat in it.

Kale works well in down-home Southern cooking. If you put a half-cup of sautéed kale on a plate with some fried potatoes drizzled with gravy and a piece of fried chicken — everyone will think you were born and raised in the Appalachian hills. You can go even further by pairing a side of kale with bacon and eggs for a smooth Southern breakfast. Once you get a taste for this collard cousin, it will be right at home on your plate and in your mouth.