Packed with fiber, B vitamins, and phytochemicals that help fight heart disease and cancer, leafy greens are a nutrition power house, and kale is no exception. Although only recently popular in the United States, kale has been cultivated for centuries. The nutrition benefits of kale traces its roots back to the ancient Greeks, who were believed to boil and eat the leaves as a cure for drunkenness, gout, and even ulcers. Easy to grow and heralded for its cold tolerance, kale was a vegetable staple in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, this leafy green has struck it big in the nutrition limelight, from kale chips to kale smoothies and everything in between.
Kale is packed with lutein (a carotenoid important for eye health) and is a good source of calcium and vitamin C. It is also one of the highest vitamin K-containing vegetables, which is an important clotting factor for red blood cells, and contains ample vitamin A needed for thyroid function and maintenance of good vision and a healthy retina. Kale is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, cabbage, and more. Kale, among the other cruciferous veggies, is also a rich source of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing plant compounds well documented in research for their anti-cancer properties.
Kale is a cold season crop and can be grown year-round. According to the University of Idaho Extension, most kale varieties grown in the U.S. are adapted to short, cold growing seasons, and transplants can survive at temperatures as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes kale a great early spring vegetable for your North Idaho garden.
Kale can come in blue, red, or green varieties. Kale leaves can be crinkly or slightly smooth (such as the Italian heirloom Toscano variety). Choose leaves that are free of any yellowing. Adding an acid, such as citrus or vinegar, can help to soften raw leaves. Kale goes great in salads, smoothies, soups, or sautéed with tofu or eggs. It is also wonderful if sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic and served alongside a meat or pasta dish.
Kale & Pink Grapefruit Salad (recipe from the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen)
1 pink grapefruit
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups thinly sliced kale (center ribs and stems removed)
1 avocado, halved, pitted, sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
Using a sharp knife, cut peel and white pith from grapefruit; discard. Working over a small bowl, cut between membranes to release segments into bowl. Squeeze juice from membranes into another small bowl; add any accumulated juices from bowl with segments (there should be about 1/4 cup juice total). Whisk oil into juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place kale in a large bowl and drizzle 3 Tbsp. dressing over. Toss to combine and let stand for 10 minutes while kale wilts slightly. Toss once more, then arrange grapefruit segments and avocado slices over kale. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.
Super Energy Kale Soup (from whfoods.org)
This quick and easy version of potato kale soup has extra vegetables for more flavor and nutrition and takes little time to prepare.
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium carrot, diced into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
1 cup diced celery
2 red potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cups kale, rinsed, stems removed and chopped very fine
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
- Chop garlic and onions and let sit for 5 minutes to bring out their hidden health benefits.
- Heat 1 TBS broth in a medium soup pot.
- Healthy Sauté onion in broth over medium heat for about 5 minutes stirring frequently.
- Add garlic and continue to sauté for another minute.
- Add broth, carrots, and celery and bring to a boil on high heat.
- Once it comes to a boil reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 more minutes.
- Add kale and rest of ingredients and cook another 5 minutes. If you want to simmer for a longer time for extra flavor and richness, you may need to add a little more broth.
Article by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Registered Dietitian and freelance nutrition writer based in Coeur d’Alene.