How to Buy, Store and Cook Kale

All hail this cousin of cabbage


Kale is at its best in the cold winter months and is generally very abundant. In fact, it’s one of the world’s favorite crops due to its incredible resilience to pest, climate, and man-made disasters. Want to grow something in your garden but haven’t had any luck in the past? Managed to kill even your weeds? Grow kale. You’ll end up with a lot of kale, in fact, so it’s best to have a plan for when the bounty rolls in!

Kale is related to cabbage and collard greens and, like cabbage, loves the cold end of the growing season when the leaves start storing sugar and loosing much of their bitter edge. There are several types of kale. The most common features somewhat frilly edged leaves, though other varieties with broad, flat leaves are typically less bitter.
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How to buy kale
Kale is usually kept refrigerated or on ice in your grocer’s case. If kale is left at room temperature for an extended period of time, it will turn bitter, so only buy kale that is chilled. Look for tender, crisp, bright green leaves. Leaves that are bruised, yellowed or wilted should be discarded.

Kale is usually sold in bunches, so you might get a mixture of more and less mature leaves. The smallest, tenderest leaves can be used as an addition to salad greens. The larger leaves will benefit from cooking.

How to store kale
Kale should be kept refrigerated, preferably loosely packed in a breathable bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer.  Kale’s flavor will become more intense with prolonged storage so using what you buy within a week or so is advisable.  Don’t wash your kale until you are ready to use it as it may hasten the deterioration of the leaves.

Kale, and in particular the more mature leaves, are very well suited to freezing. The best way to freeze kale is to chop it into the general size you plan to use in cooking and place it on a sheet pan in your freezer. Once the leaves are frozen, simply store in a ziplock bag with as much of the air squeezed out as possible. The leaves will freeze, as well as thaw, very quickly and frozen kale can be easily be substituted for fresh kale in most recipes.

How to prepare kale
Kale, and in particular frilly leaved kale, tends to be very dirty and retains debris as well as residues from their cultivation, so cleaning kale thoroughly is essential. Use ample water as the best way to clean your kale. Allow the leaves to soak in the water for a bit and then give them a good shake in the water. Keep repeating until the leaves are thoroughly clean.

The rib of the kale leaf can be fibrous and tough, so it’s best to remove it, and cook it separately if you like. Kale is commonly added to soups, so chopping the kale into small pieces is the usual method of preparation, but the whole leaves can be steamed and stuffed as well.

Kale is a rich source of many nutrients, as well as being delicious. The best way to preserve the nutritional value of kale is to steam the leaves.  Kale cooks fairly quickly and can be steamed in three to five minutes.

Kale chips
You can use kale as a substitute for any type of greens, from spinach to collard as well as cabbage. I love kale and white bean soup but one of my favorite uses for kale leaves is to oven-fry them into delicious kale chips!

Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale
Olive oil
Rice wine vinegar

1) Preheat your oven to 325F.

2) While the oven is heating, prepare the leaves by cutting out each leaf’s rib and then cutting or tearing the leaves into chip-size pieces.

3) Thoroughly wash and dry each leaf.

4) In a large bowl or large sealable bag, add about 2 tablespoons of oil for each 8 ounces of leaves. Add the leaf pieces and mix thoroughly. You really need to make sure each leaf is completely and totally covered with the oil in order to get good results.

5) Lay the leaf pieces out in a single layer on a sheet pan and place in the preheated oven.

6) After about 15 minutes it’s a good idea to give the leaves a shake and move them around to ensure even cooking.

7) After about another 15 minutes, the leaves should be crispy and fully cooked. Remove them from the oven and sprinkle with the rice wine vinegar and salt. Eat away!

To view the photos for this article, go to What's in Season: Kale.

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