Kale, a Nutritional Powerhouse
I still remember the first time I tasted kale. I was eating food at a camp in Michigan, and it was the green of choice for the day, forgettably cooked, probably boiled and salted.
I took one bite and said, “Wow, what is this stuff?” My fellow campers, who were used to seeing it, answered, “Kale.”
So this was the nutritional powerhouse I had read about so often. As a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables (including cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi,) kale has shown promise as an anti-cancer fighter.
The American Institute for Cancer Research reports that it provides compounds that boost the efficiency of cancer-fighting enzymes produced by our bodies. Several carotenoids in kale, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, help protect our eyes from UV damage and prevent development of cataracts.
Just one cup of cooked kale provides more than three times the daily recommended intake of Vitamin A and more than ten times the amount of Vitamin K, which is necessary for proper blod clotting. It also provides high levels of calcium and fiber, along with Vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Manganese is important in the formation of enzymes, insulin, and joint material and cartilage.
I had no idea we could grow kale here in Hawaii until a neighbor down the street gave me some seeds and told me she had grown it easily. I tried it and have grown it ever since. It is one of the garden crops that is resistant to slugs and aphid damage and not prone to mildew or viral diseases. It takes the heat without getting tough or bitter, and mainland gardeners also report it can tolerate quite a lot of cold, too.
One of my favorite varieties is Dinosaur kale, also called Lacinato kale. It forms a flower-like rosette of elongated blue-green leaves. I have an old plant that has been in the garden for months now, providing greens whenever I need them. It continues to produce smaller clumps of leaves all over the main stem, which is now almost as tall as I am. I can definitely imagine it as one of the plants in the Jurassic Park landscape, although it gets its name from the squarish, bumpy, dinosaur-skin texture of its leaves.
Because it’s a thicker green, not as tender as lettuce, I chop it into small pieces when I eat it raw. But my preferred method is to saute or add kale to soups and stews, where its hearty texture provides great body.
Sauteed Kale with Garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
I usually choose to discard (into the compost pile) the stems and cook only the leaves, since the stems require so much cooking that the chemical composition changes, and sulfur-related compounds are released, producing that much-detested, overcooked, stinky broccoli-like flavor.
Grasp the stem in one hand and wrap your fingers of the other hand around the base of the leaf. Move your hands apart, stripping the leaf off the stem.
Chop leaves. Add them to a pan with some extra virgin olive oil, a few cloves of chopped garlic, and a small amount of water.
Salt to taste, keeping in mind that kale, like all greens, will shrink to half the size when cooked.
Cover and saute, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted but still bright green, which should take less than five minutes.
Chew well and enjoy, knowing you are eating one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet!