Curly kale – recipe ideas and serving suggestions

Green and red curly kale. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The hardiest of all the Brassica family, and probably the closest to wild cabbage, kale (or kail) is one of the most traditional of Scottish vegetables. The robust leaves withstand harsh frosts and snow, and are said to taste all the better for it. In the past, kale was dismissed as animal fodder, but today it is one of the most trendy vegetables on the menu.

Kale is one of my favourite greens. I love the strong flavour, it is bursting with vitality in every bite, and it is one of the few vegetables tasty enough to stand its own on a plate with other bold flavours.

Keeping kale fresh in a bowl of water. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As with all leafy vegetables, cook as soon as possible after purchase. Choose firm stalks with fresh, dark or bright green leaves. If you do want to keep them for a couple of days, arrange the stems in a bowl or large jug of water as you would a bunch of flowers, then put in the fridge. I find kale is one of a few vegetables that doesn’t freeze very well – it loses texture and flavour, and becomes a bit slimy when cooked.

Kale leaves. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Simple to prepare, just rinse kale well in cold, running water to flush out any trapped earth caught in the tight, curling leaves, and then shake off the excess water. Pull off the lower, frilly leaves and keep to one side – these softer leaves are perfect for eating raw in winter salads. Slice out the central stem, and then shred the leaves into the desired size.

Preparing curly kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you are steaming kale, pack the wet leaves into a steamer and cook for 10-15 minutes until tender. Alternatively, pack the wet leaves into a saucepan, turn on the heat and when the contents begin to steam, put the lid on, reduce the heat to medium and cook with the lid on, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes – don’t have the heat too high otherwise the leaves will dry and burn. Drain well and chop finely.

For baking and deep-frying, rinse the leaves then make sure you dry them as much as possible in order to cook them to a crisp. Blotting them between layers of absorbent kitchen paper is a good way. If the leaves are too damp, you will end up steaming them in the oven rather than drying them out. In hot oil, the contents will spit and hiss if water still clings to the leaves.

Recipe ideas and serving suggestions

  • Shredded kale makes fantastic “crispy seaweed”: deep-fry in hot vegetable oil for a few seconds, then drain well and toss in a little salt and white sugar. Season with Szechuan pepper or Chinese 5 spice.
  • Toss raw, small, tender kale leaves with finely shredded raw leek and grated apple in a lemon vinaigrette and season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve as a crunchy, bold winter salad sprinkled with toasted walnuts.
  • Steamed kale is delicious, finely chopped, tossed in butter or good quality olive oil and seasoned with black pepper and ground nutmeg. An ideal accompaniment to a bold, red wine gravy based game, meat or bean stew.
  • Add finely chopped, steamed kale to a garlic mash. See My favourite mash (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan
  • Mix finely chopped, steamed kale with cooked brown rice or pearl barley, toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan (or Vegan cheese) and use as a filling for baked Portobello mushrooms.
  • Tray-baked kale leaves make a healthy sprinkle for salads, soups, rice and pasta dishes. Here’s what to do: preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan oven, gas mark 2). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Prepare 200g kale leaves as above, then rinse and dry thoroughly. Roughly chop the leaves and place in a large bowl. Toss in no more than 2 tbsp. sunflower oil and arrange over the trays – too much oil will make the leaves go soggy. Mix 1 teasp smoked salt, ½ teasp ground black pepper and 1 teasp ground cumin together and sprinkle over the oily kale.
Baking kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp. Drain well, leave to cool, then pack into air-tight containers or jars to store. The baked kale will keep and stay crisp in this way for up to 2 weeks.

Cumin-spiced, tray-baked kale. Image: Kathryn Hawkins



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