The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Cooking with Kale

By John DiGilio in Food on Feb 3, 2011 7:30PM

2011_2_DiGilio_Kale.jpgWhen it comes to eating healthy, getting more greens in your diet is definitely the way to go. Part of the challenge, especially for newer cooks, is knowing which greens to choose. The produce aisles these days are packed with leaves, both flat and curly. Truth be told, adding any of the popular greens or lettuces to your kitchen repertoire is a good thing. But if you are looking for something that is full of flavor and nutrients then you can't go wrong with a fresh bunch of kale.

Actually a form of cabbage, kale has been cultivated in the west for a very long time. It is highly prized not just for its hardiness in the garden and its clean taste, but for its incredibly high nutritional value. Kale is arguably one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. It is packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K, and beta carotene. It is also high in calcium. It has long been thought that kale has cancer-fighting properties and acts as an anti-inflammatory. In fact, kale is one of the few vegetables that nutritionists claim becomes even more beneficial after cooking, provided that it is cooked properly.

Kale comes in various colors and leaf styles, from green to purple and even black, as well as curly, flat, and in between. Though a type of cabbage, it does not grow into a head. The leaves stay broad and bushy and continue to grow until well late in the year. Of course, the best way to cook it (nutritionally-speaking) is by steaming. Boiling will decrease the nutrients and frying will add unnecessary fats. For storage, kale keeps well in the refrigerator for almost a week when stored in air-tight containers and freezes quite nicely.

Kale is the cornerstone of many famous international dishes. The Irish love a generous helping of colcannon in the fall. This mixture of kale and mashed potatoes is often serves as a healthy accompaniment to sausages. The Portuguese and the Brazilians mix it with pureed potatoes, spicy sausage, and broth in a delicious soup known as caldo verde. One of our favorite ways to serve kale is in a spicy, vegetarian posole soup. The combination of chile peppers, kale, tomatoes and hominy is perfect for chasing away the winter's chill.

The next time you are in the produce aisle and are hankering for something a little different, grab a fresh bunch of kale. After all, there is more to eating green than smothering a handful of chopped iceberg lettuce in salad dressing. Kale is easy to cook and far better for you. With its high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, it is the perfect preventative for staving off winter colds. For a simple leaf, kale sure has a lot to offer.