We’ve all read about leafy greens and how great they are for us. Those of us from a certain era know all about canned spinach as the source of Popeye’s bulging biceps!
But we’ve come along way since then. Kale is the new superfood. A dark green leafy vegetable with a slightly bitter taste, a sturdy spine up the centre line of each leaf, and all sorts of ways to prepare it. If you don’t like one way, try another. And if all else fails, there is the miracle known as ‘kale chips.’
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with kale over the past couple of months. It was not love at first sight by any means. I’m pretty partial to spinach actually (though I know full well it’s not enough for Popeye-esque biceps). But I kept reading about kale. I was challenged recently to try some new things from the produce section of my grocery store, and since there’s not much that’s new to me, it seemed a good time to introduce myself to kale.
So what’s the big deal about kale? Is it really a superfood? Superfoods are nutrient dense and have lots of health benefits. According to this article, it’s an under-appreciated superfood, a real “nutritional powerhouse.” The health benefits of kale include: high fiber and low fat; high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K (potassium) and iron); rich in anti-oxidents; anti-inflammatory; high in calcium.
My experiment began with a recipe for Balsamic Glazed Carrots and Kale from the cookbook, Vegan Planet. It’s a simple and tasty recipe that makes a great side dish. I even enjoyed it at room temperature the next day as part of my lunch. One downside about cooked kale (perhaps there’s a trick that I’m not aware of) is that it loses its vibrant green color and goes kind of dark and dreary. And like spinach, it shrinks a lot. You need to cook way way more than you think you do.
The next thing I discovered was a Sweet Kale and Vegetable Salad kit. It’s a kind of shredded mix that includes all sorts of things, including kale. It is AMAZING. I add my own dressing (since the poppy seed dressing it comes with isn’t vegan) and usually give it a protein boost with some chickpeas. Sometimes I use it to add crunch to a more traditional mixed greens salad.
But more often these days I’m eating it as its own salad (with the chickpeas) as a mid afternoon snack. It’s so easy to toss a bit in a container and take to work. Granted, kale is not the only thing in this mix. It’s also got broccoli, brussels sprouts, chicory, cabbage, and some dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds. Those who tell you kale is too bitter to eat raw are just wrong. It’s excellent in a salad.If you’re just getting your toes wet with kale, it’s a good way to go.
Having experimented with cooked kale and raw kale in salads, my next move was to toss it into my morning smoothie. Most mornings I mix up a smoothie with a banana, frozen strawberries, a handful or two of spinach and/or kale, a cup of almond or soy milk, a cup of juice, a few scoops of protein powder and some flax oil. This makes enough for me and Renald for breakfast, and a snack later on for myself and I love it.
If you’re going to use kale in the smoothie, don’t include the hard spine (though if you have a Vitamix blender it can probably handle it). Spinach adds pretty much no flavor to the smoothie. Kale is similar in this respect, as long as you have a lot of other flavorful ingredients. Here’s a website devoted to smoothies with kale. And here’s a simple kale smoothie recipe from the Canadian Living website.
But it’s the kale chip that cemented my relationship with kale. I confess to being skeptical about the idea of kale chips. As a potato chip fan, many imposter chips have disappointed me over the years. But the kale chip is not trying to be a potato chip at all. It’s its own special thing.
I discovered this at an event in the fall where the reception table included kale chips brought in from (I think I’m remembering correctly) a Buddhist monastery (or meditation centre?) nearby. These light and airy delicacies had some sort of coating on them that seemed almost cheesy. But they were totally vegan. Nutritional yeast, as it turns out.
This weekend I experimented with kale chips. A friend (the same one who ordered the kale chips from the Buddhists for her event) sent me a recipe that had an oven version and a dehydrator version. It’s not a low fat recipe, but it sure beats out potato chips for nutrition, relatively lower fat, and flavour.
The recipe is for Spicy Tahini Kale Chips from the Savory Simple blog. I have to say, this is the one. It’s a simple concoction of tahini, lime juice, nutritional yeast, olive oil, and dried red chilies tossed (with bare hands) into bite sized pieces of washed kale. I did half in the oven and half in the dehydrator. I thought the dehydrator would produce markedly superior kale chips, but the oven worked just fine (and I had my chips in an hour; the dehydrator took eight hours). It’s a simple recipe and the outcome was a bowl of delectable, delicate kale chips bursting with flavor.
Honestly, it’s one of those recipes that make me think, “wow, I can make these at home!” More coming up later this week. Between the smoothies and the chips and that ready-made salad, I’m a kale convert!