Sunday, February 28, 2010

Red Russian Kale: Queen of Super Foods

Red Russian kale, a beautiful ruffled leafy green and purple vegetable is worth eating simply for its aesthetic properties, but it also rates a place at the top of the list of nutrient dense super foods of the plant kingdom. A member of the brassica oleracea acephala family, Red Russian kale was likely introduced to North America in the 19th century by Russian traders, and is one of many kale varieties, some of which have been cultivated for over 2000 years. The eastern Mediterranean region and Asia Minor were the earliest centers of kale domestication.

All of the brassicas such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, collards and cabbage are packed with crucial nutrients; beta carotene, vitamins C and K, calcium and iron are a few. The kale plant is hardy and disease resistant; it thrives in poor soil and cool weather and thus has been an important staple in ethnic cuisines for centuries, providing valuable health supportive compounds at very low cost. Fresh kale will keep well for several days in your fridge and takes only moments to prepare. Any of the leafy brassicas may be used interchangeably in recipes which call for collards, kale or cabbage.

Steaming is the cooking method which preserves the highest proportion of nutrients in kale. Of course raw kale, which makes an excellent addition to salads, retains the most nutrients of all. Kale may be stir fried or added to soups and vegetable stews; simply wash well and slice with a sharp knife. It's easy to stack a bunch of kale leaves, roll up into a cylinder, and shred crosswise as finely as you desire; the thinner the slices the more quickly they will cook. (If the central spine is very thick, remove and reserve for use in soup or stew). Steam kale gently until tender; toss with a little olive oil, fresh lemon juice and sea salt to taste.

Recipe for Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale Soup) to follow!