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Winter Vegetable Feature: Kale
You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables. Multiple population studies have linked consumption of these healthy veggies with lower rates of various types of cancer. If you’re like me, the headlines about the wonders of cruciferous vegetables have inspired you to incorporate more broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts into your diet. But there’s another member of this family of vegetables that’s increasingly popular and happens to be my personal favorite: kale. (Does it make me odd to have a favorite crucifer?)
Kale is a remarkably nutritious food, so much so that the British government encouraged its citizens to plant it in their gardens during World War II when rationing made getting enough nourishment a challenge. And recently, the natural grocery chain Whole Foods developed a system called ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) to rate the nutritional value of foods on a scale of 1 to 1000 — and awarded kale a perfect 1000! (The only other foods to rank this high were mustard/turnip/collard greens and watercress.)
Here’s what you get in a one-cup serving:
- An astounding 778% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin K, which the body needs for healthy blood coagulation and to metabolize calcium.
- 85% of the RDI of vitamin A, necessary for healthy vision, immune strength, and the integrity of skin and mucous membranes.
- 49% of the RDI of Vitamin C, which also aids immune function and is needed for the health of connective tissue.
- 20% of the RDI of manganese, a mineral that plays a role in bone, joint, and skin health.
- 2 grams fiber, which is necessary for normal digestion and reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Only 28 calories!
Kale is a hardy, cold-loving vegetable that’s in season right now. In fact, the plant gets sweeter once it’s been exposed to a frost, so look for it all winter long in the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store.
You can also grow your own kale. The plant is so pretty it’s sometimes grown ornamentally, particularly the purple or ruffled varieties, which are edible as well. You can plant kale in your yard or in raised beds, but the vegetable also grows well in the Tower Garden, a vertical, aeroponic growing system that’s perfect for rooftops, patios or balconies. It’s easier than traditional gardening because there’s no soil, no weeds, and no ground pests to threaten your crops.
Once you’ve bought (or picked) a bunch of kale, what can you do with it?
- Kale is delicious sautéed plain or with a little onion. You can eat it just like that, or cook your sautéed kale into a nice quiche.
- Raw kale makes a good base for a hearty salad, tossed with carrots and chopped apple.
- Throw a couple leaves into a fruit smoothie for a nutritional boost no one will even be able to taste.
- Or mix it with mashed potatoes for the Irish favorite colcannon.
- One of my favorite ways to eat kale (which I mentioned in my pumpkin blog post) is in a hearty soup made with pumpkin and sausage. If you’re a vegetarian, substitute red beans for the sausage.
Finally, here’s an easy, kid-friendly way to serve kale: Make kale chips! Shred a head of kale into strips, place on a baking sheet with olive oil and salt, and bake at 275 degrees for twenty minutes, tossing after ten minutes. These are crispy and delicious as is, but you can also add your favorite seasoning. Chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast all work well.
Have you ever tried cooking with kale? What are your favorite ways to eat it?
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