Once it was only cabbage’s pretty cousin – all ornamental cuteness with no culinary career. Ruffled and often purple, it sat purely as decoration in winter flower gardens. Occasionally, it would make a guest appearance as garnish on a plate as a splashier alternative to parsley.
Now, kale is known as a vegetable powerhouse. Its bountiful antioxidants have been linked to fighting several cancers and conquering myriad maladies. It’s even become a healthy fast-food alternative as crunchy kale chips.
Kale chips are something of a culinary miracle: A harsh, bitter green becomes a paper-thin chip that melts in your mouth, said Lindsay Landis, author of Breakfast for Dinner (Quirk Books, $19.95). The key to making these snacks extra crisp is drying them completely before baking.
Anything spinach can do, kale can do, often with more vitamins and minerals. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef and more calcium than milk.
In addition to the dark green curly kinds, look for Russian red kale, smooth-leafed Siberian kale and Tuscan (aka lacinato) kale with long, straight leaves.
Lentils with Kale and Butternut Squash
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lentils
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, diced small
1 rib celery, diced small
1/2 onion, diced small
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 pound chopped kale, about 6 cups
1 clove garlic, minced
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel and seed the squash and cut it into roughly 3/4 -inch dice. Line a jellyroll pan with aluminum foil and mound the squash in the center. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with cumin, salt and pepper, and mix well.
Roast until the squash is tender enough to be pierced with a sharp knife, about 15 minutes.
Place the lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 2 inches. Season generously with salt and bring just to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but firm, about 20 minutes. Drain, rinse well. Stir in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, onion and dried red pepper flakes, and cook until the onions and celery are translucent, about 5 minutes. Rinse the kale under water and add it, still dripping, to the skillet in heaping handfuls. Add the minced garlic and salt to taste, and stir to mix well.
Cover the pan, leaving the lid ajar, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is soft, dark and frazzled-looking, about 30 minutes. It should be very sweet.
Stir the lentils into the cooked kale, taste and adjust seasoning for salt, pepper and vinegar.
Gently stir in about 2 cups of the roasted squash before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Tuscan Kale With Raisins
For best results, use the smaller leaves toward the center of the plant. Recommended as a side dish with salmon and baked potatoes.
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup marsala wine or cream sherry (not dry sherry)
1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
8 ounces young Tuscan kale leaves, stemmed and chopped (about 8 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the raisins and the wine in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until most the liquid has evaporated, about five minutes. Set aside.
Toast the pine nuts in a small dry skillet over very low heat, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and pale tan but not browned, three to five minutes. Watch them carefully because pine nuts burn quickly. Remove the nuts from the skillet and set them aside.
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, add the garlic and stir over low heat until the garlic has cooked slightly without browning, 2 minutes. Set aside.
Bring water to a simmer in bottom of a vegetable steamer. Add the kale to steamer basket, cover and steam until it is tender, about 5 minutes.
Combine the kale, reserved raisins and pine nuts and the garlic olive oil in a warmed bowl, and mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve. Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish.
– The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook (Workman, $22.95, 496 pages) by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman.