Leafy Green Superhero

I was standing in Copperfield’s Books the other day leafing through Moonlight Mile, the newest Dennis Lehane.  He has his detective Patrick Kensie say that he’d hates something so much he “rather eat kale.”  

Three weeks before that, I was in a work meeting with a woman named Cathryn, who is the executive director of a program called Ceres.  Ceres brings at-risk teens into a kitchen setting and teaches them to cook whole grains, fresh vegetables, leafy greens and lean meats and fish into healthful organic meals for people who are recovering from cancer (many of whom are undergoing chemotherapy).  I was talking to her about applying for a California Department of Food and Agriculture specialty crop grant.  “I will if I can use kale,” she said, with that half-smile, I’m-saying-this-like-I’m-joking-but-I-really-mean-it look.  I laughed, a little uneasily. 

“I’m sure you can use kale,” I said. 

“Seriously, kale is the wonder food.  If I can’t use kale, I’m not applying.” 

That freaked me out so I had to look in the CDFA binder to discover, to my relief, that she could use kale.


Dr. Wendy Kohatsu also cooks a good deal with kale.  In November, at her latest cooking demonstration, a woman came and stood next to me.  She asked, with a strong German accent, what the green was, and I told her kale.  She nodded and watched for a few minutes.  “I’m used to eating that,” she said, “with a big slice of pork belly.”  Seeing me stare, she said, “I was in the south.”

It’s sad that Dennis Lehane’s fictional character, Boston born and raised, dislikes kale.  Maybe he just doesn’t know how powerful this winterish leaf vegetable is, or how tasty it can be. 

Kale is from the cabbage and collard family, a brassica. It doesn’t grow in a head the way cabbage does, but on stalks with loosely furled leaves.  If you were to compare it to some kind of lettuce, it looks more like romaine than iceberg.  The leaves are dark blue-green.  There are several varieties.  Some have ruffled leaves and others are straighter with a scimitar-like curve to them. 

This dark leafy green is chock full of stuff that is good for us; iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium.  Cathryn maintains with complete sincerity that if you ate one serving of kale every day you would lose your sugar cravings.  I haven’t put that to the test. 

Well, it’s a veggie and it’s healthy, so it can’t taste good.  That I have put to the test, and I’m here to tell you to put aside your prejudices and give it a try.  It’s pretty good.  It is strong-flavored, which means it can stand up to garlic, onion and peppers, three of my favorite things. It doesn’t give off as much liquid as greens like dandelion or spinach do, so it works wells in baked dishes like frittatas. If definitely has an earthy aroma and flavor, but if your taste has evolved beyond iceberg lettuce that won’t be a problem for you. 

I’ve sautéed it a couple of times, in olive oil, with onions, peppers and mushrooms, with a splash of balsamic vinegar, as a side dish.  I’ve also chopped it up, steamed or sautéed it just ‘til it’s limp, mixed it with softened onion, slivered almonds and crumbled bleu cheese, and rolled it into  puff pastry dough and baked it for about twenty minutes.  That’s a nice, simple winter comfort-food side dish, or a light meal with a salad. 

This morning we made kale frittata.  Here’s a list of ingredients.  I was very happy with the result. 

Feeds about three hungry people or six if you are serving an ensemble breakfast with other things. 

Six eggs

Shaved parmesan cheese

½ medium white onion

Garlic to taste

Olive oil

Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Kale (about six leaves, two double hands-ful once it’s chopped) 

Heat oven to 350%

Chop up the kale leaves to medium dice and set them aside.  Medium-dice the garlic and onion and cook in the olive oil until onions are soft.  Sprinkle nutmeg over kale leaves.  I don’t really know how much, but certainly not more than a half a teaspoon. You don’t really taste the nutmeg but somehow it brings out the kale flavor. 

Add the kale to the onion and sautee on medium heat until the kale is just soft.  Don’t overcook.  Transfer mixture to a nine inch baking pan. 

Whisk the six eggs.  I added a couple tablespoons of water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over kale onion mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle parmesan shavings on top and cook for ten more minutes until cheese is melted, and a toothpick comes out clean.  Serve by itself or with toast and/or fruit. 

You could refrigerate this and cut it into squares and serve as an appetizer. For meat-eaters, I think adding a layer of crumbled bacon would work just fine if you wanted to. 

Kale is the quiet superhero of dark leafy greens, waiting eagerly to share its mineral-packed goodness with all of us.  Please, give kale a chance.

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