Ask Peter: Kale, the versatile superfood
Everyone is talking about kale these days. I am a great fan of microgreens, watercress, spinach, rocket, etc and am interested in what the fuss is about - does kale bring something nutritionally special or is it just a nice new way to eat your greens? What do you do with it?
As I wrote in this column late last year, kale is becoming the latest superfood in the West, appearing on menus in all manner of restaurants and with good reason. It’s known to help lower cholesterol and is gaining a reputation in the fight against some cancers. Apart from eating it, I’ve also had it juiced recently mixed with apple and celery. It’s delicious - although possibly too grunty for those wanting something simple in the morning.
In reality, kale is simply a form of cabbage, albeit a wild one, and was for a long time the most common of all greens eaten in Europe, up until the end of the Middle Ages. So, although it may seem like the latest food trend, it is, in fact, very, very old. The fact it seems to have disappeared is interesting in itself, probably because it was seen as a tough, chewy leaf and we seem to like more tender bok-choy and flat-leaved cabbages instead these days - but the tide is turning.
If you’ve become a fan of cavolo nero in recent years then you’ve been eating one of its close cousins, so it’s time you made room for kale proper. And, like cavolo nero and brussels sprouts, it always tastes best when harvested after a heavy frost, so eating kale in summer, while tasty enough, simply won’t be as delicious or sweet as eating it in winter. However, in both New York and Melbourne recently I was served gorgeous sweet little kale leaves in salads, rather like a thicker, spikier baby spinach. Eaten raw, when young, kale is quite delicious. So apart from juicing it and eating baby leaves raw – what else can be done with it? Well, if truth be told, a zillion things.
Waysto cook kale
Years ago I was shown how to make the delicious Portuguese soup (more like a stew), caldo verde, which is made by boiling potato chunks, pieces of chorizo and lots and lots of thinly shredded kale, an almost excessive amount when compared to the rest of the ingredients. Topped off with fruity extra virgin olive oil and served with toasted sourdough, it’s a meal in itself. In Ireland kale is one of two key ingredients in the national dish called colcannon — the other is mashed potatoes, with some cream or milk added.
It’s also great when used, steamed, in place of cabbage in bubble and squeak, lightly fried in plenty of butter, duck fat or beef dripping with leftover potatoes added until slightly crisp. Blanch it (stems removed) in lightly salted water with some baking soda added (to keep it bright green) then drain and puree it. Boil potato gnocchi until just done, then drain and heat in the pureed kale with some cream, parmesan and mascarpone added (and some crispy bacon lardons) and you have a delicious first course. Shred the leaves thinly and add to steamed clams along with plenty of fried garlic and dried chilli flakes. Stir into a thin chicken broth just before serving and top with some grated or chopped soft-boiled eggs and garlic croutons. Shred it and steam with broccolini and green beans for a tasty side dish.
From a health point of view, it seems that the best way to cook kale is to steam it, rather than boil it, as this helps preserve all the goodies it contains. However, if you’re boiling it in a liquid in which you’ll serve it (like a soup or broth) then boil away. Just remember, the smaller the leaves, the less cooking it needs, and if they are very small, you don’t need to cook them at all.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you are stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.