I was first introduced to kale at a work dinner a few years ago. I was seated down, a hot plate of roasted lamb positioned in front of me, when a waitperson sidled up, silver tray in hand, and enquired: ‘Curly kale, madam?’
The rather whimsical prefix of ‘curly’ seemed somewhat at odds with the stuffiness of the event, I thought. ‘Er, yes please,’ I remarked, not knowing quite what I had agreed to, when a greenish boiled sludge was slopped onto my plate, bereft of all vibrancy, looking much like something plucked from the pages of a Roald Dahl book, with all the characteristic denigration of horrid school dinners. Sadly, the taste was no improvement, stringy and bitter as it was.
The fact that kale soon after that began to prevail as one of the major ‘it’ foods, led to considerable confusion for me. Kale in shakes? Kale juice? Really? Fad dieting is no stranger to forcing oneself into eating repulsive or unpleasant foods (my mother used to brew her own kambucha tea in an old fishbowl and make me drink it every day before school), but this seemed a new low. And so for a long time, I ignored the trend entirely.
After a while however, and having encountered a number of recipes that piqued my interest, I decided with some trepidation, to give kale a go. Thus began the love affair, and I subsequently can’t stop eating the cruciferous curly stuff. Rammed with vitamins, antioxidants, iron and fibre, kale (if not boiled to within an inch of its life) is not only good for you, but a brilliantly tasty and tremendously versatile vegetable as well. I’ve not yet gone down the raw route, mainly because I don’t have a juicer and my unholy intake of spirulina as a teenager has put me off green shakes for life, but I implore you to experiment. Just don’t consume in excess, as nobody wants a goitre.
Now, I realise that most people have already embarked on their kale ride and I’m clearly a late bloomer in this regard, but for those who haven’t, I’ve included a few recipes below which I’ve found incredibly helpful, particularly as a working mother who wants to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen (except on weekends when my baking gods are invoked). The level of mastery required is pretty low so I even managed to delegate meal making to my partner on the odd occasion, which is a serious, serious coup.
Kale and Sausage Pizza
Ingredients (a loose list)
Garlic (1-2 cloves), passata (2-3 tablespoons), sausages (3-4), dried chilli flakes, dried oregano (or fresh—even better!), extra virgin olive oil, curly kale (half a bunch/packet), a ball of buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, parmesan or pecorino, salt and pepper to taste.
Make your dough however you normally do (I use the Nigel Slater recipe from Kitchen Diaries as that’s my fail-safe, but any pizza dough recipe will do). Once rolled out and on your pizza tray/stone, cover with your usual base topping. I use either passata or tinned tomatoes, depending on what I have, a couple of cloves of garlic (minced), a generous pinch of rock salt and some dried oregano (if I have fresh, which I rarely do as it’s so rare in the shops, I sprinkle this on at the end, just before serving). Then squeeze the meat out of the sausage skins (I like a nice chipolata or Italian saussie for this) and place little nuggets all over the base. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the pizza (not too much as liquid will generate from the meat during cooking and you don’t want a soggy pizza) and place in a hot oven (220 degrees C). While your base is cooking, saute the kale in a pan: melt/heat a small knob of butter or glug of oil in a pan and add the chopped kale, season to taste, and cook on a gentle heat until the kale is nicely wilted. Remove the pizza from the oven when it’s looking nicely crisp but not quite cooked and add the rest of your toppings—for this one, I put a pinch of chilli flakes, torn pieces of buffalo mozzarella and the kale. Return to the oven for five minutes or so, removing from the pizza tray in order to crisp up the bottom. When ready to serve, tear up some fresh basic and grate over some parmesan or pecorino.
When it’s in season, I like to use purple headed broccoli in place of the kale in this pizza—yum!
Kale, Quinoa and Beetroot Salad
Inspired by something my dad mentioned he gets with some frequency from Charcoal Charlie’s in Sydney, it has fast become a staple in my weekly dinner repertoire. The beauty of this salad is that it lends itself to whatever you have to hand and there’s few combinations of ingredients that won’t work. Replace the beetroot with roasted squash, add some grilled chicken breast, feta, grilled halloumi or even fresh or tinned fish.
Kale (obvs), quinoa (1/2 a cup), garlic (1 clove), 2-3 beetroots, a handful of nuts (I like pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts best), smoked sweet paprika, extra virgin olive oil, juice of half a lemon, knob of butter, salt and pepper to taste, handful of fresh herbs (I like a mix of parsley, dill and basil, but coriander as well as mint work nicely too), splash of balsamic vinegar, shavings of pecorino.
Roast your beetroots: heat the oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), wrap the beetroots in foil with a bit of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and place in the oven for roughly an hour. When done, take them out of the foil and allow to cool slightly, then cut into wedges. Bring some salted water to the boil and add your quinoa as per instruction on the packet. Meanwhile, melt you butter in a pan and add the kale, minced garlic and smoked paprika and a splash of water to avoid catching—season to taste. Drain off the quinoa and add to the kale pan and cook for a minute or so. Place the warm kale/quinoa mix in a serving bowl, add chopped herbs, nuts, beetroot and cheese shavings, drizzle some oil and a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
Kale with Orange and Hazelnut Butter
In a heavy based saucepan, melt a small knob of butter and glug of olive oil. Add your chopped kale and saute until nicely wilted and the stems are tender (if it begins to catch, add a tiny splash of water. In the mean time, place a tables spoon of hazelnuts on a tray and bake in the oven until slightly browned, then roughly chop. Place a generous knob of room temperature butter in a bowl and mix with a clove of garlic (minced), a teaspoon of orange zest and the chopped hazelnuts. Stir the orange butter through the warm kale and serve.
Let the kaling commence!