Winter is the time for kale

February 20, 2000|By Carol J. G. Ward | Carol J. G. Ward,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Winter is the time for cooking greens, and among greens, kale is one of the mildest. Nutritionally dense and low-calorie, it can break the boredom of pale winter salads and add flavor to soups.

Kale has a mild, cabbage-like flavor and comes in many varieties and colors. Most kale is easily identified by its frilly leaves arranged in a loose bouquet formation. The color of the leaves of varieties commonly available in the United States is deep green. There are ornamental varieties in gorgeous shades of lavender, purple and celadon green.

* Availability: Kale is available year-round, but its best season is from December to February.

* Selection and storage: Choose fresh dark green bunches with crisp edges and no yellowish or wilting leaves.

Refrigerate unwashed greens in a plastic bag for several days. But the sooner you use them, the better. After a few days, kale will develop a stronger flavor and may become bitter.

* Preparation: Before cooking, wash the greens several times, until the water is clear of sandy sediment. Remove the tough stem and midrib that runs up into the leaf.

Kale may be prepared in any way suitable for spinach, and small amounts make a nice addition to salads.

Blanching, steaming and stir-frying are all good cooking methods for kale.

Kale can be steamed either as whole leaves or strips. It can be sauteed with oil, butter or cured pork. Garlic, onion, ham, caraway and fennel seeds also provide good flavoring for kale. It's also good with soups that contain barley, beans or potatoes.

For traditional preparation, kale is simmered, covered, in a small amount of broth, for 10 to 30 minutes. Longer cooking allows sulfur-containing compounds with an unpleasant odor to develop.

Use the least amount of liquid possible to save vitamins.

Traditionally, greens are cooked with a ham hock. To maintain their low-fat status, add a bit of lean, low-salt ham or a smoked turkey wing during cooking.

* Nutritional highlights: For less than 50 calories per cup, kale offers twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamins A and C.

In addition, kale is a member of the cruciferous, or cabbage family, vegetables believed to have cancer-preventing power.

It also contains significant amounts of calcium, fiber and iron.

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