Kale's newfound popularity makes it the superfood du jour

Other greens probably envy superfood's newfound popularity

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)October 11, 2012 


Served with a chutney that combines cilantro, mint and apple, kale and edamame fritters are seasoned with ginger root and cumin.


Kale is the Jeff Bridges of vegetables — been around forever, utility player, not the flashy type. Until lately.

Since being crowned prom king of locavore fads, kale has been putting on airs. All of a sudden, it's cozying up to caramelized onions and being photographed slathered in chanterelles.

Easy to grow and touted as the ne plus ultra of vitamin- and antioxidant-packed superfoods, kale is being used by chefs in just about everything. And home-roasted kale chips have become a popular DIY snack food (Gwyneth Paltrow made them on The Ellen Show).

"People really are crazy for kale," said Susan Berkson, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Farmers Market. "They're asking for it more, so our growers are growing more, and more variety, too — we're seeing the curly kale, the purple, red, dinosaur, Russian."

But kale has been around the Western world since some roving Celts brought it back to Europe from Asia Minor in about 600 B.C. Why all the interest now?

"It's loaded with things that are good for you, and if people are going to eat their greens, they want them to pack a punch," Berkson said.

The rise of community supported agriculture (more commonly called CSAs) also has contributed to kale's popularity. Because of its hardiness, the leaf has been popular with growers, who stuff their customers' boxes full of the green stuff along with tip sheets on what to do with it. Today there is even The Book of Kale by Sharon Hanna (Harbour Publishing, $26.95).

Not everyone sings kale's praises. Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten recently proclaimed it "not designed ... for human consumption" and added that "the current kale craze is a violation of the Natural Order."

Kale is full of vitamins A, C, K and B6 and a good source of iron, folate and calcium. And let's not even get started on the percentage of daily fiber it can provide if not cooked into mush. Yet Minneapolis organic-eating pioneer Brenda Langton remembers that not so long ago, most Americans didn't consider it fit to eat.

"It used to be kept in coolers to use as garnish because it didn't wilt like lettuce. That was its only purpose," she said.

Langton, who was into kale a couple of decades before it was cool, has some advice for newbies who find the raw leaves a little too earthy for their tastes.

"You don't need to sauté it. That's a common mistake," she said. "Braise it with a quarter cup or so of water, or use apple juice if you want it sweeter."

Another tip, from the Web site Kaleeffect.com (purveyor of those T-shirts), is to separate the leaves from the stems right away, to ward off bitterness.

Hardy kale is from the same vegetable family as collards but tends to be a darker, more grayish-green, and usually has a stronger, chewier taste. If you get a hankering to grow your own, it's still doable this season — and so easy. Kale is self-seeding, grows at will and can be planted indoors in pots.

Not only that, Roberts said, but some varieties "actually get to tasting better after a cold snap."

Oh, kale. Is there anything you can't do?


Kale and edamame fritters

1 cup frozen shelled edamame

1 heaping cup kale leaves

½ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch or two

1 teaspoon ginger root, minced

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons water

2 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

Vegetable oil for frying

Gorgeous green chutney (recipe follows)

In bowl of food processor, combine edamame, kale leaves, salt, ginger and cumin. Pulse briefly once or twice — the mixture still should be recognizable and not a paste. Add 2 tablespoons water, egg yolks, flour and baking powder; pulse once or twice more. Scrape mixture into a bowl.

Beat egg whites until they hold peaks but are not completely stiff. Using a spatula, fold into edamame/kale mixture.

Heat a little oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet on medium-high. Drop batter by spoonfuls and fry for about 3 minutes on each side. Turn the heat down a little once the fritters get frying.

Do not crowd the fritters. Fry 5 or 6 at a time, then remove and drain on paper towel. You'll have to add a little more oil to the pan each time. Serve with gorgeous green chutney. Makes 16 to 20 2-in inch fritters.

Nutrition information per fritter: 43 calories, 3 g. fat, 87 mg. sodium, 2 g. carbohydrates, 21 mg. calcium, 2 g. protein, 19 mg. cholesterol, 1 g. dietary fiber.

From The Book of Kale by Sharon Hanna

Gorgeous green chutney

1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1 tart apple (Granny Smith works well), cut into chunks

1 fresh jalapeño, seeded, deveined

1 medium tomato, cubed

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 small garlic clove, minced

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon whole cumin seed

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and whirl briefly until ingredients are chopped fine. Makes about 1½ cups.

Nutrition information per ¼ cup: 28 calories, 0 g. fat, 200 mg. sodium, 7 g. carbohydrates, 11 mg. calcium, 0 g. protein, 0 mg. cholesterol, 1 g. dietary fiber.

From The Book of Kale by Sharon Hanna

Kale with white beans and roasted garlic

8 cups Tuscan kale, trimmed and cut in chiffonade (thin strips or shreds)

1½ cups cooked cannellini or other white beans, drained

3 whole heads garlic, roasted, cloves removed and skinned

6 to 8 red radishes, quartered

6 small tomatoes, quartered

Flat Italian parsley leaves, for garnish

For basil vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 garlic clove

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

Place kale on platter or in shallow, wide bowl. Scatter beans around artfully, then compose the salad by placing the veggies all over. Garnish with parsley. Dress with basil vinaigrette or another dressing that you like.

To make vinaigrette: In a blender, process ingredients until creamy, adding a bit of extra oil if needed.

Makes servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 244 calories, 10 g. fat, 96 mg. sodium, 33 g. carbohydrates, 210 mg. calcium, 9 g. protein, 0 mg. cholesterol, 6 g. dietary fiber.

From The Book of Kale by Sharon Hanna

Savory kale scones with squash and cheese

2 cups kale leaves, loosely packed

2 cups unbleached flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1⁄3 cup cold butter

1 egg

¾ cup buttermilk

½ cup cooked squash or pumpkin in small dice

¾ cup Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set oven rack in middle.

Steam kale for a minute or two, just to blanch. Chop kale finely, squeezing out as much liquid as you can. You should have less than 1 cup chopped kale. If you have more, save it for soup or eat it. (Too much will make the scones sticky.)

Blend or sift flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and sugar together. Cut in butter with pastry blender or your fingers.

In a small bowl, beat egg, then add buttermilk, continuing to beat until well combined. Add egg/buttermilk mixture, along with squash, kale and cheese to dry ingredients, mixing with a fork just enough to combine.

Drop by spoonfuls (see note) onto parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet. Bake about 20 minutes until lightly browned. Makes 10 servings.

Note: These are dropped by the spoonful, but you could use a cookie cutter or knife to make triangles or other shapes. If you are making smaller ones, knead in about ¼ cup extra flour at the end to make the dough easier to handle.

Nutrition information per serving: 210 calories, 10 g. fat, 406 mg. sodium, 24 g. carbohydrates, 110 mg. calcium, 7 g. protein, 44 mg. cholesterol, 1 g. dietary fiber.

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