Someone sent me an article from the New York Times about what the French think of kale. Not much. Mention of it usually warrants “the classic Parisian shrug,” the Times reported. But thanks to the efforts of an American woman who moved from New York to Paris when her husband was transferred there, kale is now (very slightly) on the French food radar screen, and a few chefs have created kale-based dishes including a dark chipolata sausage of kale, onions and savory, served with purées of turnips and celery.
Kale is on U.S. radar screens big time. You might even say we’re in the midst of a kale craze. The first Wednesday in October has been named “National Kale Day”. The Times noted in the article about the French view of kale that the vegetable is now “so ubiquitous in Brooklyn that it could be named the borough’s official vegetable”. Los Angeles has also gone kale crazy. That’s gratifying to those of us who love kale and recognize that until relatively recently it had a pretty obscure profile in the U.S. despite its outstanding health benefits. In my book The Omni Diet* you’ll find three recipes for kale including two salads and a soup.
Kale really is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. It is a member of the same vegetable family that includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens and cabbage, and you know how healthy they are. Here’s what a single cup of chopped kale has to offer: nine percent of the daily value of calcium, 206 percent of vitamin A, 134 percent of vitamin C (more than you would get in a medium orange) and 684 percent of vitamin K, needed for blood clotting and to help build and strengthen bones. Add to that the minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorous. All those nutrients packed into only 33 calories per cup.
Kale’s health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K – as well as sulphur-containing phytonutrients. It also gives you fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease (especially when kale is cooked instead of raw). It is rich in anti-cancer antioxidants and in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that promote eye health. Kale is a good source of alpha linolenic acid, which the body converts to the omega-3s fatty acids we all need.
When shopping for kale, look for firm, deeply colored leaves with hardy stems (the leaves range in color from dark green to purple to deep red). You can eat kale raw (add it to salads instead of lettuce) or steam it for five minutes to tenderize it. To make kale chips, just slice kale leaves into bite-size pieces, toss with salt and a little bit of olive oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
I can’t resist passing on this funny take on the kale craze from an article by writer Scott Jacobson in the online magazine Slate: “In case you’re not aware, kale—a bitter, cabbage-like vegetable often seen being swallowed by Gwyneth Paltrow—is now the only food worth the trouble of digesting… Where I grew up, “loaded nachos” referred to tortilla chips heaped with chili, cheese, sour cream, olives, and guacamole. In most parts of Los Angeles it means kale.”
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