Amazing Greens: Zooming In On Kale

My first experience with kale was in a fresh juice.  I had read the literature praising kale’s nutritional magnificence, and I was curious about this mysterious green plant.  The time was summer 2009.  I was traveling and visited my very first all-vegan establishment, brimming with vegan books and desserts and delicious-sounding entrees, when I saw it on the menu: “Green Dragon”.  The ingredient list of the juice was short, consisting of only kale, green apples and ginger.  I had to have it.

As I hung out at one of the circular wooden tables strewn across the big, wide-reaching floor, my excitement, coming in with a little fear, grew.  Why did they call it the Green Dragon, anyway?  Was there more to this curly plant than I thought?  Was it The Hulk of the vegetable kingdom?  And the most terrifying question at all: would it taste like wheatgrass?

The nice waitress brought out my drink, a tall glass filled to the brim with a liquid so brightly green it might as well have been glowing.  But that didn’t deter me – without hesitating, I took a swig.  It was love at first sip.  This radioactive-looking green juice was electrifying, and the kale had a pleasant “green” flavor that wasn’t at all grassy like the wheatgrass I so despised.  It had a deep, vivid flavor that was so unique to anything I had ever eaten (or drank) that I passionately gulped down the entire thing.  As delicious as the southern tofu sandwich and vegan cheesecake I later ordered were, they simply couldn’t compete with this new vegetable, this crazy green kale.

Why Kale Rocks

Kale is like the plant rock star – she’s good at pretty much everything and all of the other vegetables want to be her.  A mere cup of kale provides 684% of your vitamin K needs (K for kale – coincidence?), 206% of your vitamin A needs, and 134% vitamin C.

Kale ain’t stingy on providing minerals, either.  In fact, it’s one of the best plant sources of easily-digestible calcium, and contains a good amount of readily-absorbed iron, too.  This makes it an especially awesome plant to chow down on as a vegan, since these are two minerals that many folks tend to be concerned about getting enough of.

Like other plants in the Brassica family (think broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), kale is chock-full of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and has an alkalizing, anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

How Do You Eat It?

After my revelatory Green Dragon juice experience, I sought out kale at my local grocery store.  Not all grocers stock kale, but the hip and happenin’ ones typically do, as well as the big gigantic box stores.  When I first found kale, it was hiding amongst the other greens, curly leaves neatly bunched together, and costing only 99 cents.  I eagerly brought it home with me, but as I unpacked it into my fridge, I realized with some alarm that I had no idea what to do with this leafy veggie.  I didn’t have a juicer – what else does a person do with kale?  How is it cooked, and can it be eaten raw?

Looking for answers, I turned to my trusty shelf of vegan cookbooks.  After a little research and lots of trial and error, I’ve found my favorite ways to enjoy kale.  Here they are:

In Green Juice: Now that I own a juicer, I make my own Green Dragons at home, a drink that will always capture my heart and my taste buds.  The recipe is two Granny Smith apples, half a bunch of kale (including stems) and a 1-inch knob of peeled ginger.  It provides a refreshing, zingy 2-cup serving.

In Green Smoothies: Green smoothies have taken the world by storm!  And really, what’s more delightful than drinking a cold, thick fruity beverage, knowing you’re getting a super-nutritious serving of greens in the process?  One of my favorite smoothies is combining a banana, several frozen strawberries, some non-dairy milk and a handful of kale, blending it all to smooth perfection.  A word of caution, though – only attempt a kale and fruit smoothie if you’ve got yourself a high-quality, powerful blender, unless you want to chew small pieces of leaves in your drink!

As A Raw Salad: To answer the question of “can kale be eaten raw”, I answer with a resounding yes!  The trick is to soften the leaves so they’re palatable in their raw form.  A simple way to do this is to tear 3 cups of kale leaves into bite-sized pieces, drizzle on ½ tbsp olive oil and sprinkle the leaves with ¼ tsp salt.  Then, using your hands, give the kale a good massage and you’ll notice the leaves soften nicely.  Add a big squeeze of lemon juice and some shredded carrot and you’ve got yourself a lovely side dish!

As A Cooked Side Dish: Saute kale in a little oil with some chopped onion and garlic, a little soy sauce, and a squeeze of lemon juice or a drizzle of red wine vinegar, and cook for about 10 minutes.  Cooking the kale will wilt and shrink the leaves, making them juicy and tender.

As An Addition to Soups and Stews: Next time you make a pot of veggie soup or stew, throw in a couple cups of chopped kale a few minutes before the soup is finished cooking.  It’s a good way to amp up the nutritional value of a meal, and it also tastes really good!

As Chips: Yes, chips!  All you have to do is take a bunch of kale, tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and evenly distribute them across a couple of baking sheets.  Toss the kale with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt so the leaves are all evenly covered, and then bake in the oven at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, until the kale is crispy.  Kale chips are a super healthy and incredibly addictive snack!

Kale is a wonderful food completely worth incorporating into your everyday diet.  I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised, like I was, about how great-tasting and versatile this super-nutritious veggie is!

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