I’m not a fan of kale. When kale is on a menu and something else is offered, I always feel like I have been given a Get Out of Kale Free card.
But kale is in season, and it is positively stuffed full of vitamins and other things that are good for you. Besides, some people — even some people I know, probably — actually like kale.
So I decided to cook up four batches of it to see if there were ways I could come to enjoy it.
And enjoy it I did. If all kale tasted like this, I might even become a fan.
I began with Cannellini Beans with Roasted Red Peppers and Kale, because kale and cannellini beans is truly a world-class flavor combination. They’re terrific together in soup, they’re terrific together in salad and, unsurprisingly, they are terrific together in this dish, which is sort of like a warm salad.
The dish probably had its beginnings in Italy. The ingredients and preparation are traditionally Italian, from olive oil and garlic to white wine, cannellini beans and Parmesan cheese.
Roasted red peppers are also called for, and the recipe from “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” suggests that you buy them in a jar. I’d recommend that, too. The red peppers aren’t the star of the show; they are just a supporting player. Roasting them yourself takes time and effort. Save that for a dish that is all about red peppers.
Cannellini Beans With Roasted Red Peppers and Kale has two costars: the beans and the kale. They’re good together any time, and this time they’re great.
Next I made Green Soup — Caldo Verde — that a Portuguese cookbook calls “the national dish of Portugal.” One taste and you’ll know why (though if you want to argue that pasteis de nata is truly the national dish of Portugal, I won’t object).
The broth in Green Soup is basically a potato soup, rich in onion and garlic, and pureed until it is thickened. The green part comes from kale (or collard greens) that is cut into thin strips and cooked in the broth.
A slice or two or three of chorizo adds a nice spicy bite, and a few drops of the oil the chorizo was cooked in brings it all together into a hearty, memorable meal.
I stayed in the Mediterranean region for Roasted Eggplant and Crispy Kale with Yogurt, which may be the most Mediterranean food ever.
It’s a layered dish, and the bottom layer is essentially tzatziki — a thick yogurt mixed with shredded cucumber, garlic and lemon juice. On top of that goes bite-sized pieces of roasted eggplant. The kale is next, but it has been flash-cooked so it is lightly scorched and lightly crispy. And the top layer is cherry tomatoes that have been halved and tossed with olive oil and salt.
To be perfectly honest, this would be an amazing appetizer or meze even without the kale. But with a hint of bitterness to offset the oil and yogurt, the kale is a definite plus.
The last dish I made was the problem child: Kale with Shallots and Olive Oil. The first strike against it was the name. This dish does not have any shallots in it. It has onions — lots and lots of onions — and shallots are in the onion family. But that does not mean they are in this particular recipe.
The second strike was the oil. It calls for one cup of olive oil. That’s eight ounces of olive oil to feed six to eight people. Sixteen tablespoons. Forty-eight teaspoons. That’s 318 calories apiece for of six servings, 239 for eight.
Strike two-and-a-half was the proportions. The recipe calls for eight heaping cups of chopped kale, which it says is 3½ to 4 pounds of kale. That’s nonsense. You can get eight cups of chopped kale out of about one pound of kale.
I decided to compromise and use two pounds — 16 cups — of kale. It worked for me.
That’s probably because the kale is cooked in coriander and cumin, along with a bucket of olive oil. The spices really give the dish a kick, and a hefty dose of lemon juice at the end brings it all home.
Yes, it is a problem child. But as is often the case with problem children, it may be the one I love the most.
ROASTED EGGPLANT AND CRISPY KALE WITH YOGURT
2 medium eggplants, about 1½ pounds total, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
6 Tuscan kale leaves, ribs and stems removed, leaves coarsely torn
1 medium cucumber
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
Olive oil for drizzling
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Toss eggplants with vegetable oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Roast, tossing halfway through, until eggplants are charred in spots and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cumin and toss to coat.
Meanwhile, heat a dry, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add kale, arranging to fit in a single, even layer (work in batches if needed). Cook, turning occasionally, until charred in spots and crisp, about 4 minutes. If using curly kale, weigh it down with another pan while it cooks.
Grate cucumber on the medium holes of a box grater; squeeze out excess liquid with your hands and transfer to a medium bowl. Mix in yogurt, lemon juice and garlic; season with salt.
Toss tomatoes with a good pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil in a medium bowl. Spoon yogurt mixture onto a platter and layer eggplants, kale and tomatoes on top. Drizzle with more olive oil. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 315 calories; 21 g fat; 14 g saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 11 g protein; 26 g carbohydrate; 16 g sugar; 10 g fiber; 518 mg sodium; 125 mg calcium.
Recipe from Bon Appetit.
KALE WITH ONIONS AND OLIVE OIL
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 scant tablespoon ground cumin
½ tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups chopped yellow onions
½ tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped, optional
16 heaping cups chopped kale (2 pounds), hard stems removed
Juice of 1 lemon
Heat ¾ cup of the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the coriander, cumin, black pepper and salt, and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the onions and saute until golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove ¼ cup of the mixture and set aside for garnish.
Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the jalapeno, if using. Add the kale by handfuls, stirring, and cook until reduced in bulk by half. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, drizzle the remaining ¼ cup oil over the kale, cover and let sit until the oil is absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with the lemon juice and garnish with the reserved onion mixture. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Per serving (based on 6): 366 calories; 38 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 980 mg sodium; 90 mg calcium
Adapted from “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar” by Rawia Bishara.
CANNELLINI BEANS WITH ROASTED RED PEPPERS AND KALE
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
Salt and pepper
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, sliced thin lengthwise
1 pound kale, stemmed and sliced thin crosswise
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup water
1 ounce Parmesan cheese (½ cup)
Cook oil, garlic and pepper flakes in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until garlic turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in onion and ¼ teaspoon salt, reduce heat to medium, and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in red peppers, and cook until softened and glossy, about 3 minutes.
Stir in kale, 1 handful at a time, and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, wine and water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until flavors have melded and kale is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan, lemon wedges and extra oil. Makes 4 servings as an entree, 12 servings as a side dish.
Per serving (based on 4): 331 calories; 18 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 14 g protein; 34 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugar; 10 g fiber; 326 mg sodium; 312 mg calcium
Recipe from “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” by America’s Test Kitchen
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
1 bunch kale or collard greens, thick center stems and fibrous veins removed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar, optional
Salt and pepper (preferably white pepper)
18 or 24 (¼-inch) slices chorizo
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes and cook, stirring often, until they start to spot with color, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
Pour in the chicken stock and 3 cups of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are falling-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, stack several of the kale leaves and cut into whisker-thin slices. Repeat with the rest of the kale.
Puree the soup using a handheld blender, or liquefy in batches in a food processor. Return it to the pot, and bring it back to a boil. Turn the heat to low, stir in the kale and simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Swirl in the vinegar, if using. Season well with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the chorizo and cook until crispy, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Let the chorizo oil cool a bit.
To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls, crown each with 3 slices of chorizo and drizzle some of the flavored oil from the skillet over the top. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Per serving (based on 6): 537 calories; 41 g fat; 12 g saturated fat; 58 mg cholesterol; 20 g protein; 22 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 934 mg sodium; 30 mg calcium
Recipe from “The New Portuguese Table,” by David Leite.