Come on over to the dark side* – dark, leafy greens are good for you, and can be quite tasty. It’s time to leave the relative comfort zone of the mild-mannered spinach. This easy Braised Kale recipe is an excellent choice for venturing into greens unknown. It’s quick to prepare, even for a newbie cook, and I’ve found kale to be one of the less bitter of the darker greens. Also, kale is often a bargain choice – my local markets had them for under a dollar per pound many times this winter.
I’d never even considered eating kale until I a gourmet-cooking friend gave me a most interesting gift consisting of a magazine with a bookmarked recipe and all the ingredients to prepare said recipe, all neatly arranged in a reusable shopping tote. Sticking out the top of the bag was a gigantic bunch of kale which, at the time, intimidated more than excited me. But, Adventure is my middle name** so I plunged right in and ended up with the realization that I liked kale even more than spinach. This discovery lead me to try collard greens, turnip greens and even dandelion greens. I still like spinach as a salad veggie, but as for cooked greens, I prefer these stronger flavored choices, by far.
Kale (sometimes called Borecole) is a member of the cabbage family, but unlike cabbage, it does not form a head. Instead, the closely curled leaves grow on clusters of thick stems Kale can be found in colors from dark green to bluish-green to bronze, depending on variety.
Nutrition-wise, kale is a good source of manganese, copper, and potassium and a very good source of vitamins A and C. Kale is also an EXCELLENT source of vitamin K, providing 286% of the daily recommended allowance PER OUNCE of cooked greens.
Kale is simple to prepare and cook. The hardest part may be the washing, and it’s the most important, because nothing will turn someone off from eating greens quicker than grit in their mouth from poorly washed greens. Kale has tight, curly leaves have many places to hold onto sand and dirt, so a quick rinse may not be enough, and several changes of water may be needed. If the greens look dirty, then start by rinsing them well under running water, to wash off the obvious dirt. Then fill a (CLEAN!) sink or very large bowl or stockpot with cold water, and carefully wash the leaves. If you use a bowl or stockpot, be sure to lift the leaves up out of the water, rather than pouring through a colander to drain. This way, any sand or dirt that has been washed off won’t be re-deposited onto the produce, undoing all your efforts.
- ¾ pound kale, thoroughly washed and grit-free
- ½ cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons butter or bacon drippings
- ¼ teaspoon salt (unless your stock is salty)
- Dash of black pepper
Look over the kale leaves and remove any wilted, withered or otherwise unpleasant bits you aren’t keen on eating. Then it’s time to remove the stems. I used to do this by cutting the stem all the way out of each leaf, but now I just grab a leaf and kind of pull it in half.
The bit of the stem that stays with the leaf is usually tender enough that it’ll be fine. Pull off any leafy parts that remain on the stem. Set the stem aside and coarsely tear the leaf into pieces about 1 ½ to 2 inches in size. Do this with each leaf of kale. Then, with a large, sharp knife, slice the stems into pieces no more than ½ inch long, shorter if they’re very thick. If the ends of the stems seem fibrous or are hard to cut, you might want to toss those parts in the trash – they’ll likely be stringy, which is not pleasant and will only help to reinforce a child’s opinion that they hate green foods. Of course, if you’d prefer, you can just discard the stems completely. I use them because I hate to pay for something by the pound and throw part of it away.
Choose a heavy-bottomed stockpot or saucepan large enough to hold all the kale at once, and make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. Set pot over medium heat and add the chicken stock, garlic, butter and seasonings. Once the butter or bacon grease is melted, add the sliced stems, stir and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes or until stems are almost tender. Add the torn kale leaves to the pot all at once, stir well to coat with the chicken stock/butter mixture, then cover and cook over very low heat about 15 minutes longer, or until the greens and stems are cooked to the tenderness you want.
Watch carefully near the end of the cooking time, as there is not much liquid in the pan and it could burn. You want all (or at least, most) of the liquid to cook away, but you may want to add a touch more chicken stock or water if you’re concerned about burning. Taste a bit to check the seasoning, and add more salt and/or pepper if desired. Add a bit more butter, too, if you like. Remove to a serving dish that you’ve pre-warmed. (Which I generally do by filling it with the hottest water that comes from my tap, then dumping the water and wiping the dish dry just before serving time.)
Serves 3 or 4 people. (Serves one if you’re me. Hey, I like my greens and have, on occasion, chosen to eat only greens for supper.)
Add a tiny pinch of crushed red pepper or dash of cayenne with the other seasonings. Not enough to make it hot, just a bit for flavor.
If you have bacon on hand, consider garnishing with some crumbled bacon if you want it crispy, or adding it during the cooking time if you want the flavor throughout (or both, if you’re splurging).
Chopped bits of ham would also give some nice flavor – add that at the same time as the kale stems. Some folks like to season their greens with a bit of vinegar. I’m not one of them. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either. If you’d like to give it a go, I’d suggest white wine or champagne vinegar, and just a teaspoon or two on this amount of kale.
In addition to being a nutritious side dish, I personally find kale to be amazing*** in chicken soup, either a creamy one or the thin, brothy kind, but without noodles. After I finished cooking the kale and taking the pictures, I pulled 3 items from my freezer and whipped up this chicken and kale stew. It took me less than 15 minutes and was even more delicious than it looked.
And I think it looks rather delicious.
Bobbie Laughman is a freelance writer who keeps her stuff in a house in Gettysburg so it doesn’t get lost while her mind flies around where it will.
You can follow her mind on twitter (@notoriousTGB) or head to Gruntled and Sheveled and Whelmed if you’d like to get to know her in more than 140 characters at a time.
*We haz cookies.
**Not really, but that would be way cooler than Jean, you must admit.
**Amazing? Really, Bobbie? Amazing? Yes, amazing, but maybe that’s just me. If I’d been Marie Antoinette, the line would have been, “Let them eat kale.”