Kale was an it food until it wasn’t. It is still good. Kale comes in a few varieties, the two most often found at farmer’s markets and at the grocery store are Curly Kale and Tuscan Kale. Search a bit more and you may be lucky enough to find Russian or Chinese Kales. The flavors are all a bit different, as you would expect.
Kale works well raw, as long as it is chopped or ripped into small pieces. The large leaves are a bit tough without cooking, but in bite-sized pieces, can be thoroughly enjoyed raw. I am sure there is the argument of which is better, cooked or raw going on in your head. I wrestle on that one based on what I want to eat, rather than which variation on the theme may be the healthier choice. This goes back to enjoy what you eat, and if you want it raw one day and cooked the next, go for it.
Like most items that come in our CSA basket, the vegetables are seasonal and sometimes come for several weeks in a row. We never fret. First we are delighted to pick up the full and beautiful bag of fresh vegetables. I know that what we do not eat in a week’s time or that we have been eating for too many weeks in a row, will get frozen, canned or dried for use at a future date. That date is typically when there is snow on the ground, sleeting rain, or it is March and nothing grows in Maine in the early spring. March is not really spring here, it is called Mud Season, hence we say we have 5 seasons. Other than Lobsters and Wild Maine Blueberries, we have that to celebrate as well.
The leaves of Kale are tough, but fear not, they can be eaten both raw and cooked with different types of prep. If using the leaves raw in a kale salad, such as a Kale Pomegranate Salad (from Garden in the Kitchen), In this recipe the kale leaves are massaged to get them softened. I have found that tossing them with the dressing or simply with olive oil and letting them sit for an hour or two will accomplish the same effect sans so much work.
Cooked Kale leaves will soften obviously from the heat and moisture. Sauté the leaves in oil, butter or add them to a tomato sauce. The leaves can give an earthy flavor and body to a white bean stew. Unlike Chard which softens easily, and the leaves can be left large, I would strongly suggest to make smaller pieces of Kale leaves whether raw or cooked. Try White Bean and Kale Soup (from Culinary Hill) to kick off the fall. We have a long way to go here in New England with the Fall/Winter Vegetables.
Stalks need not go to the compost pile
Removing the stalk and tossing it in the bin is the norm, but it does not have to be that way. While the stalks are like sticks, hard and very fibrous, if they are cut into small pieces, sautéed, steamed or boiled, they will eventually soften and can be used in a variety of recipes. Key is the small pieces; large pieces will take quite some time to cook. Small means .25″/.6cm. Small. Once cooked toss with orzo and EVOO, a little salt and pepper and you have a nice new side dish or main course. Grains, beans, rice, lots of things extend these usually discarded stalks into a repurposed meal.
To freeze kale, remove the tough stems. Cut the leaves. Don’t cut the leaves. Rip the leaves. Don’t rip the leaves. To blanche or not to blanche, that is always the question. I always rinse, infrequently blanche, and always vacuum seal to avoid freezer burn and not worry if everything will get eaten in a month or two before going off.
Oven Dried or Dehydrator Dried
Too much Kale? Tuesday afternoons when I return from the CSA pick-up, I wash, chop, prep, eat that evening, can or vacuum seal whatever comes in the basket. Sometimes, in particular with large leafy greens, think they can be wrapped in a dishcloth, placed in the veggie draw or on the veggie shelf (it’s a small fridge), and will be eaten during the week. Frequently it gets pushed to the back, I come up with something else for dinner that is less work, or I ignore that they are there. In my effort to have less food waste, although the swamp in the back of the house will someday produce the most unique and interested tangled garden, I find a way to process the forgotten vegetation and preserve it. Drying is a method that works amazingly well for things like Kale.
Perhaps you have had or encountered Kale chips in the market? In stead of chips, I made flakes. As you can see from the photo on the left, the leaves are a little too curled at the edges, a sign that I left them too long in the fridge. My cooker/stove is an AGA; it is on all the time, runs on gas, and has ovens that are set at constant temperatures. One oven is the simmering oven, and is perfect for drying foods. No air leaks through the doors and as a result, food often gets put in and found charred the next morning. Drying is something that if forgotten for an extended period is a bit more forgiving. Such was the case with the Kale.
A low oven works as well
You do not need a stove with a simmering oven to pull off this cooking technique. You can do two other things to dry foods: either use a low oven or buy a dedicated dehydrator. I have done both, and both methods work quite well. To oven dry, set your oven to low and let it go. Low means 150°F/65°C approximately. Allow the kale to sit in the low oven for three to four hours, or longer if necessary. To use a dehydrator, refer to the manufacturers instructions, or do a google, all machines are slightly different.
After drying, the Kale will be drastically reduced in quantity and will crumble to the touch. When crumbled/crushed, it will be like any other dried herb, taking up less space. I crushed it and put it in a jar. Now you are wondering why and what would you do with a jar of dried Kale.
- Add it to sour cream and mayo with a bit of salt and pepper for a dip.
- Sprinkle some into a stew for a bit of hearty/earthy flavor.
- Add it to onions after softening as the base of whatever dish your are making.
- Tomato sauces are a marvelous base for a few heaping spoonfuls.