It’s very early on a Sunday morning, and instead of sleeping I’m wide awake thinking about the nutritional qualities of kale. Is that bad? I guess that’s a subjective question but in my case, probably, considering that I’ve lost my sole opportunity for a weekly sleep-in. Instead, I’ve abandoned my husband to sit in the half-light with a bowl of leafy green, lemon-drenched brassica. As I crunch through mounds of deliciousness, I’m pretty sure that I resemble an excited meerkat that just found a fat scorpion. Mmm, scorpion. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Okay, so maybe that was a bad parallel. Especially for those of you who are strongly adverse to kale like Michael Procopio, who’s actually penned a poem to express his loathing towards the leafy green. And he’s not alone: check out here and here. But for every kale hater, there’s also an equally committed lover, like the delightful Sarah Jane whose blog, I Love Kale, is a tribute to the adaptability of this delicious vegetable. In any case, it’s beautiful. Isn’t it?
By now you’ve probably concluded that I’m in the ‘love’ camp, and you’re absolutely right. Mostly because I coat my kale in a deliciously cheesy, spiced lemon dressing before topping it with a crumbling of toasted nuts. If I’m extra hungry, I’ll also add in some seasoned red quinoa or a soft poached egg, letting the warm yolk drizzle softly into mounds of chilli-flecked green. Absolutely delicious, moreish and 100% good for you.
Well, if you’re now interested enough to find out more about the benefits of kale, just read on below. Underneath, you’ll also find my lemon and chilli spiced kale recipe, with suggestions for adaptation. As with all my recipes, I’d encourage you to add, subtract or change things around to suit your personal taste. Don’t like cheese? Try adding some tahini, more crushed nuts or nutritional yeast. Want some meat? Read on below for suggestions. As long as you get some kale into your diet, I’m happy… even if your version only resembles 1% of the original (that 1% being kale, not cheese, smart-ass).
Your body will thank you. Here’s why:
- Kale is one of the newly coined superfoods of the plant world, a category that also includes grains like quinoa, berries like acai (ah-sigh-hee) and seeds like chia. Superfoods, in a nutshell, are plants that are high in organic phytonutrients, or components that are highly beneficial to physical health.
- Phytonutrients in kale include beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and calcium, all of which assist in the maintenance of heart and bone health whilst aiding digestion, vision (by preventing macular degeneration) and energy production.
- Along with other brassica vegetables (such as broccoli and cabbage) 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.
- Sulforaphane is another chemical within kale that has potent anti-cancer properties. To enhance levels, eat your kale raw, preferably blended, minced or chopped. If you prefer cooked greens, minimise nutrient loss by steaming or stir-frying (if you’re one of those people who boil vegetables to a shade of grey, at least drink the cooking water as that’s where all the nutrients have gone).
Kale Salad with Chilli, Garlic and Parmesan:
Serves approx. 2 for a main meal, 4 as a side dish.
- 1 bunch kale (equivalent of about 4 cups, washed & chopped)
- 1/2 garlic clove
- 50ml extra virgin olive oil
- freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (equivalent to 1/4 cup or ~50ml of juice)
- chilli flakes, to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon)
- a large pinch of sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (or for vegans, substitute a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or a combination of all three (I add closer to 1/2 cup but adjust to your requirements)
Thoroughly wash and dry your kale leaves. Remove the tough, fibrous lower stalk and central vein from the larger leaves (retain the inner stalks from the more tender heart) then shred into 0.5cm thick ribbons. Place in a large bowl.
Using a mortar and pestle, pound your garlic clove with the chilli flakes and sea salt into a thick paste. Transfer it into a small bowl and add your lemon juice, olive oil, ground pepper and cheese. Whisk the dressing to combine, then pour it over the kale. Toss very well with salad servers or if it’s a meal for one, it might be easier to use your hands (I do!). Ensure that each leaf is thoroughly coated in dressing, then allow your kale leaves to sit for at least ten minutes to ensure that the lemon juice & olive oil will tenderise and remove some bitterness from the leaves.
Pound half of your toasted nuts in a mortar and pestle to a coarse ground. Chop the rest coarsely, then mix most of the nuts into your salad, reserving a sprinkling for garnish. Serve in bowls or on a large plate, scattered with your reserved nuts, a splash more extra virgin oil, a sprinkling of extra chilli flakes and/or extra Parmesan to taste.
This salad lends itself very well to adaptations for both the vegetarian and carnivorous palate. Play around with things as suits your palate but some of my favourites are as follows:
- If you’re not a fan of cheese, this salad works really well with some tahini or almond butter mixed into the dressing. Try a tablespoon to start then adjust to taste.
- If you’ve tried this salad and you find that your kale is still bitter and tough, the problem is that the leaves have not been sufficiently ‘cooked’ in the acid of the dressing. I’d suggest trying again, but rubbing the dressing in with your hands before allowing it to sit for at least ten minutes. Hopefully this will do the trick!
- Add some crumbled fried bacon pieces to your salad for the meat-lovers in your family, or serve with some seasoned grilled chicken or crispy-skinned salmon that’s still soft, moist and pink in the centre.
- Place a generous handful of kale salad on some buttered, toasted rye or wholegrain bread, then serve topped with a soft-poached egg for breakfast.
- Toast some turkish bread, slather it with hummus (preferably home-made, it’s easy!) then top with a spoonful of kale salad. The lemon and tahini, wrapped in the smoothness of the hummus pairs well with the garlicky, chilli-spiked greens.
- Along the same thread, you can also add some kale salad into a pita-bread or lavash wrap with hummus, canned tuna and/or chickpeas. Yum.
- If you don’t like nuts or can’t eat them, then this salad works equally well with croutons for extra crunch. Just place some day-old, crumbled wholegrain or French bread in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of pepper, then bake until golden. Top your salad, then eat!
- To bulk out your kale salad in wheat-free fashion, just cook 1/2 cup quinoa in 1 cup of water (1:2 ratio) or vegetable stock then mix through your salad. I sometimes omit the cheese in this variation, then add in some pepitas and raisins (or chopped medjool dates) for extra colour, sweetness and crunch.