Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Feature item—Red Russian Kale

Red Russian Kale is so pretty, you could just eat it!  Those reddish-purple veined blue-green leaves with frilly edges are not only gorgeous, but are hardier, sweeter, more tender, and thus, more quick cooking, than many other varieties of kale.
Like other kinds of kale, Red Russian is a member of the brassica family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.  In general, kale is a highly nutritious vegetable, boasting high level of beta carotene, vitamins A, K, and C, B6, calcium, and magnesium.  It also contains significant amounts of fiber, protein, folate, and iron, and many antioxidants.
Kale has traditionally been thought of as “tough” green that needs to be cooked.  However, kale salads are becoming increasingly popular.  One recent trend is to “massage” kale greens.  Yes, that’s right, massage!  This simply means literally rubbing raw kale greens gently between one’s fingers, either with or without oil.  This process softens the fibers of the leaves and makes for a more tender result.  Check out the attached article from the LA Times that describes this interesting process.
I tried the “massage” method of tenderizing kale and found it does work to a considerable extent.  The leaves do get softer and less fibrous, but be warned, they still retain a significant amount of texture.  If you find raw kale a bit tough for your tastes, try this method and see if it doesn’t change your mind.  Below I have included a delicious recipe for a raw kale Caesar salad that utilizes the “massage” method.
Another great use for raw kale is fruit smoothies.  While it might add an unusual color to your typical smoothie, it won’t scream “vegetable”.  In fact, your family members aren’t likely to even detect it.  Yet you get so much added nutritional value.  Try it with apple juice, bananas, and a bit of ice.
Of course, cooking kale is a delicious option as well.  One of my family’s favorite ways to eat kale is baked kale chips.  See my highly popular recipe for Lacinato Kale Chips, which can be utilized with any kind of kale, including the Red Russian variety.
Kale is wonderful blanched, steamed, braised, sautéed and even fried.  It is great in soups and stews because it keeps its texture even when cooked for long periods of time.  However, it will take longer to cook than more tender leafy greens, like chard.  Just remember when sautéing kale that it helps to add a bit of liquid and to cover the pot for a few minutes to really get the leaves tender.
Many people prefer not to cook kale stems, as they can be tough.  If you wish to try cooking stems, try adding the thinnest or youngest looking stems and chop them into small pieces.  Reserve larger stems for making vegetable broth.
Kale will keep best wrapped in plastic and stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator, where it will keep for about 5 days.  Avoid leaves that are wilted and/or yellowed.
My family really enjoyed this recipe for braised kale.  In fact, it should serve four people, but the three of us gobbled the whole thing up in one sitting!  The only complaint?…no leftovers.

Kielbasa and Kale Braised in Beer              Serves 3-4

– 1 13 ounce package Turkey Kielbasa, sliced
– 2 teaspoons olive oil
– 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 cup mild flavored beer
– 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
– 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 6 cups chopped kale, dried
1. In a 12-inch non-stick skillet brown sausage lightly over medium-high heat.  Using a slotted spoon transfer sausage to a medium bowl.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add 2 teaspoons olive oil.  When oil is hot, add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
2. Meanwhile, mix beer, mustard, mustard seed and salt in a small bowl.  Once garlic is sautéed with the onion, add beer mixture to pan.  Increase heat and bring to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Add sausage and kale.  Mix well and cover pan.   Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until kale is tender.
I am always looking for homemade salad dressings that are healthful and low in saturated fat.  This Caesar dressing has so much flavor you won’t miss the fat.  It is great on traditional romaine lettuce, but we loved it with “massaged” raw kale.  The heartiness and slight bite of the kale goes great with the sharp, tangy dressing.   The dressed salad (minus the croutons) even held up well overnight.

Lighter Creamy Caesar Dressing                     Makes about ½ cup

– 1/3 cup Greek non-fat yogurt
– 1 tablespoon olive oil reduced fat mayonnaise
– 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
– 1 clove garlic, crushed
– 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
– 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
– 1 tablespoon skim milk
– 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
– salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lighter Raw Kale Caesar Salad            Serves 4

– 1 medium bunch kale, tough stems discarded, leaves cut into bite-sized pieces; dried
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 recipe Lighter Caesar Salad Dressing, to taste
– 2 tablespoons freshly grated or several slivers of shaved Parmesan cheese
– 1 cup home-made or purchased croutons
Place kale in a large bowl.  Drizzle olive oil over kale.  Using both hands, rub kale leaves between your fingertips, working your way through all the leaves, over and over, for about 4 minutes.   Kale will become darker, softer, and lose almost half its volume to wilting.  Add dressing to taste and toss to coat.  Add Parmesan cheese and croutons.  Toss.  Serve.
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