All About Kale

A Few Basic Techniques

Over the holidays my Uncle Bill declared to me that he hated kale. Not that it wasn’t his favorite vegetable, or that he only occasionally likes how it is prepared – just that he thought it was vile and did not understand all the hype. I cringed a little and tried not to take it personally. Uncle Bill had never had my kale (and this is where I start to sound like my Italian grandfather – if only he tried my kale he would surely change his mind). But, he had insulted a vegetable and not just any vegetable but one of my most favorites of all. I wondered what terrible things kale had done to him, or moreover, what terrible things someone had done to the kale to make him dislike it so much. 

While I touted the benefits of kale to poor Uncle Bill, I sounded a bit like Forest Gump. What is so amazing about this green that grows so well in San Francisco backyards, is that you can literally do anything to it – steam it, sauté it, blanche it, braise it, grill it, throw it in soups, bake it, crisp it, eat it raw… and the list goes on. Unlike swiss chard and spinach, kale holds up on its own and can be stewed without falling apart or getting too soggy. It’s an ideal soup green, and goes very well with rich meaty flavors.

Raw kale may be a big leap for people that don’t like it at all but I would argue that sometime soft leaves are a turn off for people, and that a salad of crisp fresh winter greens may be more appealing in the end. For me, preparing vegetables is all about the combination of flavors, and nothing holds more to true to this than kale salads. With a few basic techniques, the possibilities are endless.

Kale grows well all year round here, although I find winter kale is the most delicious. The most common varieties are: curly kale (similar to siberian kale), red russian kale, and my personal favorite lacinato kale (also known as dino kale, toscano kale or cavolo nero). Find leaves that are perky with freshly trimmed stems and good coloring. Kale can last for quite a while in the fridge and wilted kale is perfect for stewing. If your kale is looking a little lack luster, you can always plunge for a few moments in some ice water.

Basic Kale Preparation

Take a stem of kale in your right hand (switch if you are left handed!) and pinch between the base of your thumb and forefinger.  Grasp the tip of the stem with your left hand, and slide your right hand along the stem.  The kale leaves should slide off and curl onto the counter below.  Repeat for all your kale stems.  Either discard your stems or save for vegetable stock.

Stack your kale leaves into a tide pile, and feel free to do this part in batches if the leaves become unruly.  Fold the stack of leaves in half lengthwise and slice into half inch ribbons, or whatever thickness you like.  Ripping the leaves is another option.  Place all your chopping kale in a bowl and sprinkle salt and a little olive oil onto the kale, then massage with your hands.  There’s no need to be gentle here.  Rub the salt and oil into the leaves and really massage for a minute or two.  Leave the bowl for 30 min – 1hr ideally so the leaves get a bit soft.  After the leaves have sat, add your favorite flavor combinations and toss.  Enjoy!

Tried and True Flavor Combinations

  • Lemon Tahini Dressing (lemon, tahini, olive oil, garlic, salt), torn bread croutons and sesame seeds
  • Honey Soy Vinagrette (soy sauce, garlic, ginger, honey, rice wine vinegar, olive oil), green onions and carrot
  • Feta, kalamata olives, red onion (soak while the kale is sitting in a little sugar and vinegar – pour off vinegar before you put in salad)
  • Cesar dressing, roasted squash pieces and shaved hard cheese
  • Apple, carrot, mint and avocado (using the avocado to massage into the kale instead of the olive oil)

Happy New Year!