While kale is anything but new, it’s not exactly the most popular green to populate a plate. You may have been served a leaf or two as a garnish at your favourite restaurant, but that doesn’t do this versatile leafy green justice. Kale may look frilly, but these colourful leaves are hardy stuff.Tough enough to stand up to harsh climates and strong-flavoured dishes, kale has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, kale is a primitive ancestor of cabbage and a relative to collard greens and Brussels sprouts. Up until the end of the Middle Ages when headed cabbages became more commonly grown, kale had been one of the most popular crops in Europe’s colder regions. There are many varieties of kale, but the most popular in North America is the dark green curly-leaved variety. While kale is easy to grow, favouring colder climates to produce sweeter crops, it is not a commonly cultivated crop in North America, although it is becoming increasingly popular due to its excellent nutritional value and adaptable taste. Kale is truly a superfood, chock full of beta-carotene, folate and Vitamin C. One cup of kale provides more Vitamin C than 17 cups of carrots, more magnesium than five cups of Brussels sprouts and more calcium than four cups of spinach. Kale is also rich in sulphur phytochemicals, thought to protect against some cancers, as well as lutein, which aids in cataract prevention. So, it’s good for you; but is it good? Well, that depends on a few factors. Kale definitely has a bold flavour, especially if the leaves are older, and the crop has been grown in warmer conditions. But not to worry. Kale can easily be incorporated into many flavourful dishes. Simply freezing the leaves reduces much of its strong flavour and adds a cool, refreshing compliment to salads. Amazingly, the leaves don’t wilt when frozen. It can also be substituted in any spinach dish. When steamed or boiled, kale maintains its volume, unlike spinach or other greens that boil down to nearly nothing. Steaming or boiling also sweetens the greens. My current favourite is kale crisps. Wash and toss the leaves with olive oil and seasonings, then bake at 350F for about 10 minutes until they are crispy. This method causes the leaves to shrink deepen in colour, and brings out a delicious, smoky flavour. When selecting kale, make sure the leaves are firm and green. Smaller leaves will be sweeter and more tender. Store kale in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the fridge for up to a week. The longer it’s stored, the stronger the taste. So tune in, turn on and turn over a new leaf with kale.
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