Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Russian Kale

This year we planted Russian Kale. 

Russian Kale is yet another Brassica, but one whose leaves, rather than flower buds, are eaten. It has a broad flat deckle-edged leaf which is softer, thinner and more tender than the leaf of Scots Kale. The flavor is a bit darker than that of Scots Kale, with stronger earth and hints of smoke.

Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and reasonably rich in calcium. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties.  Boiling decreases the level of sulforaphane; however, steaming, microwaving, or stir frying do not result in significant loss.  Along with other brassica vegetables, kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.  Kale is also a good source of carotenoids .

Kale almost always must be cooked, and cooked rather a long time. The exception might be using a bit of very finely chiffonaded Russian Kale in a salad, with the proviso that some diners may end up uncomfortable. The other exception is in juicing, where Kale mixes well with, whatever you want to put into a juicer.

The basic rule for preparing Kale is 'discard the stems'. Here again, there are two exceptions, first, if the stems are on the tender side, they may be finely chiffonaded along with the leaf they run through, and, second, stems might be useful in making a vegetable broth. One of the nice things about Kale in general is that the leaves themselves will make a nice broth in the cooking liquid, so that if you're making a vegetable soup some Kale, helped by onion and garlic, will make the broth as you cook the soup, and, as we've mentioned before, it's difficult to overcook Kale, so it remains recognizable even after prolonged soup making.

You needn't confine it to soups, though: it makes a nice vegetable side steamed, and mixes well with root vegetables and with other greens such as Dandelion. It's a nice accompaniement with tomato and onion to beans (pinto, cannelini). It's one of the few vegetables I can think of that's easy to dry. Dried Russian Kale does a very good invegification of certain dried edible seaweeds.
Russian Kale is generally available in two varieties, Red, as you'd expect, and Green. The green variety has some red (or purple) coloring. I notice there is also a White Russian variety, perhaps for historical balance.

Breakfast Squares
(Makes 2 servings)

1-1 1/2 cup  Russian Kale, chopped, or use any other variety of kale
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced (1/2 tsp. teaspoon minced garlic)
1/8 tsp. olive oil
1/3 tsp. gluten-free soy sauce
1/3 C grated Pizza or Italian cheese blend

1 tablespoon gluten-free bread crumbs

2 eggs, beaten well

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Cut off kale stems and discard, then wash kale leaves and dry well. (I used a salad spinner.) Pile kale leaves up on top of each other and cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide, then turn cutting board the other way and cut again so you have squares just under an inch square. Chop onion into pieces about 1/2 inch.

Heat olive oil in large heavy frying pan, then add onions and saute 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute about 2 more minutes, then add kale, turning over as it wilts and sauteeing about 5 minutes, or until kale is significantly wilted and softened.

Put sauteed vegetables into large bowl and add Tamari, cheese, bread crumbs, beaten eggs, and Spike seasoning. Stir gently until ingredients are well distributed. Spray pen with olive oil or nonstick spray and pour in egg mixture. Bake 20-25 minutes until eggs are well set and the top is lightly browned. Serve hot. This is good with low-fat sour cream or salsa.

Kale Gratin with Pancetta or Bacon

(serves 4)

    • 1 bunch of kale stems stripped and chopped
    • Salt
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/4 lb pancetta or bacon
    • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
    • 1 cup cream
    • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
    • Black pepper
    • 1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a skillet bring a few inches of water to a boil and add the kale and salt, and cook for 5-6 minutes; drain the greens. Return the skillet to the stove and heat 1 tbsp oil and bacon or pancetta. Crisp the meat and add the cream and garlic. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the cooked greens to the cream and stir to coat evenly. Transfer to a shallow casserole dish. Toss the breadcrumbs with remaining olive oil and add the cheese and some salt and pepper. Place under broiler for 5 minutes.

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