Kale: The superfood you should be eating
Kale, referred to by some as 'spinach's better half' was rarely found on supermarket shelves 20 years ago, but today it has become renowned as a superfood, making appearances in salads, smoothies and even baked into kale 'crisps'. Kale is one vegetable you should definitely be eating - we're here with the facts!
What is kale?
Kale is a cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the same family as the humble cabbage - in fact, you'll often hear Italians call black kale 'cavolo nero' (black cabbage). Most supermarkets stock bags of curly kale, but you'll also find baby kale available - great for salads - as well as red Russian kale and Redbor kale, which can be used interchangeably with the curly variety. Curly kale has distinctive silver green leaves which are rather tough and fibrous; for this reason, many people prefer to cook kale, to break down some of these fibres and create a more pleasant texture.
A healthy choice
Kale contains just 36 calories per cup and it also contains the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit or vegetable (1). It's a great source of vitamins A, C and K and is packed with fibre, iron and calcium. It could even reduce your risk of cancer thanks to its flavonoids and isothiocyanates (2). If you're looking to keep your vision healthy, kale is rich in lutein (3), an antioxidant that's essential for healthy eyes. 1kg of kale contains 76mg of lutein - experts recommend we eat between 6 and 10mg lutein a day.
The vitamin A contained in kale can help to boost your immune system whilst promoting healthy skin and vision, and you might be surprised to learn that kale contains 17 times more vitamin C than carrots! 80g of cooked kale contains 57mg of vitamin C. The vitamin K in kale helps to keep bones strong and promotes normal blood clotting. Talk about nutritious!
Cooking kale - what's best?
There are several ways to cook this superfood - the most popular are simmering for long periods, which can reduce the fibrous texture of the leaves, although they'll lose their bright green colour. To maintain kale's vibrancy and flavour, blanching followed by pan frying is recommended. Unlike some other greens, kale won't turn mushy with overcooking - it's fairly foolproof to prepare and holds its shape well. If you're using kale in salad, cutting it into thin strips and massaging them with coarse salt or an olive oil and vinegar dressing helps to break down the fibres.
Should you eat kale?
We know that kale is classed as a superfood, but there are some people who shouldn't eat it, or at the very least should limit how much kale the eat. This leafy green wonder can cause digestive problems for anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive issues. That's because it contains insoluble fibre, which can become stuck in the gut if not processed properly. If you suffer from bloating or gas when eating cabbage or beans, kale should probably be avoided.
Kale and your thyroid
Eating raw kale in salads or smoothies could actually affect the function of your thyroid gland - when cooked, the substances that have this effect become inactive, so if you suffer from thyroid problems, you're best to stick to cooked kale. For most of us though, a handful of raw kale in a salad or smoothie daily shouldn't cause any ill-effects.
What to do with kale
Bought some curly kale and stuck for ideas as to what to make? Here are some quick, simple and tasty ideas:
Pan-fried Garlic Kale
This makes a great side dish, loaded with heart-healthy good fat from the olive oil and immune boosting garlic.
2 large bunches of kale
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
Stem the kale and wash the leaves, placing them in a pan of boiling water with a generous amount of salt. Blanch for around 4 minutes, then plunge the leaves into a bowl of iced water, to stop them cooking. Drain, dry and chop the leave coarsely, heating your olive oil in a heavy frying pan. Add the minced garlic and cook for around 30 seconds, then stir in the kale. Cook for a couple of minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.
Broccoli and Kale Stuffed Baked Potatoes
2 russet potatoes
1 cup cooked broccoli
6 large kale leaves
2-3 tbsp grated cheddar
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork, to stop the skins bursting in the oven, then place them on a tray and bake for around an hour.
Prepare your kale by washing, drying and roughly chopping/shredding the leaves. Blanch the kale in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain and run under cold water. Once the potatoes have cooked, slice them open and scoop out the insides into a blender or bowl. Add the kale, milk, broccoli and salt and pepper and blend or mash well with a fork to mix.
Scoop the mix back into the potato skins, sprinkle with grated cheese and return to the oven for around 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted. You can finish the skins off under the grill for a golden, bubbling topping, if you like!
We hope these recipes will inspire you to try cooking with kale for yourself - or why not try making our simple Lentil, Kale and Spiced Pumpkin Salad, if you fancy trying raw kale!
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