Kale

Winter 2010 CSANews Issue 77  |  Posted date : Dec 16, 2010.Back to list

Bitterness is a taste sensation I enjoy both in food and in wine. Black olives, walnuts, spinach and radicchio are all ingredients I put into salads, along with fresh rosemary and blue cheese. I also particularly love kale.

Kale, part of the cabbage family, is an autumn and winter vegetable and a seasonal ingredient that can be highlighted in any dish - salad, soup or entrée. It can be eaten raw or cooked. 

It is believed that kale cultivation reaches as far back as the fourth century BC in Greece. 

During World War II, kale was a popular addition to the British Victory Gardens. In 1939, the same year Britain and France declared war on Germany, the British government distributed a pamphlet called Dig for Victory. The pamphlet taught people how they were to dig, plant and harvest vegetables. Kale was among the long list of vegetables suggested, along with potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, tomatoes, shallots, cabbage, broccoli and beets, to name but a few. 

This dark, leafy green is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory super food containing sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have anti-cancer properties as well. Kale is packed with fibre, folic acid, calcium and vitamins C, A, K and E. 
The leaves are quite hard and so need to be blanched, sautéed, braised or even puréed for an extended period. Do not boil the leaves (this reduces their healthy properties) unless you intend to use the boiling liquid in your recipe. Try to incorporate about 1½ cups of kale into each serving per person.

Due to its hardness, kale actually freezes well. In fact, freezing makes the leaves slightly sweeter.

To prepare kale, remove and discard its tough centre stalks. Even without the stalks, kale can be chewy. I chop up the stems quite small so that they are not as tough.

Kale adds great balance and depth to any dish and pairs especially well with garlic, lemon and olive oil. The lemon helps to balance the taste sensation of its bitterness.

If you're preparing kale with garlic, lemon and olive oil, partner the dish with a crisp, dry white wine. Lemon is sour and so demands a wine with tart acidity. 
Sauvignon Blanc has refreshing acidity on the front palate. But as you swallow this white wine, bitterness sneaks up from behind on the mid-, but mostly back palate. It is this piquant finish that almost neutralizes the bitterness in kale, thus creating harmony on the palate between wine and food.

Full-bodied red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon have a bitter aftertaste -sometimes soft and sometimes strong - due to their tannin and astringency, making them equal partners to dishes highlighting kale. Cabernet Sauvignon would work well with risotto with kale, bacon and parmesan. The bitterness from the vegetable, and saltiness from the bacon and parmesan will tame the big tannins in a red Bordeaux fermented grape.

Braised kale with pancetta and caramelized onions has so much depth of flavour that this dish demands a big red wine. The saltiness of pancetta and bitterness from the kale work nicely with a red which offers forward fruit flavours and soft tannin on the finish. Try Zinfandel or Shiraz. The sweetness from the caramelized onions would clash slightly with a red wine offering too much austerity, such as a Cabernet. Go for fruity, big reds.

Supertasters, those with very sensitive palates, often dislike bitter foods such as kale, and big, austere red wines. But that's why it is important for supertasters to find ways to enjoy both. Kale and wine offer nutritional values that should not be ignored. 

Risotto with Curly Kale, Tomatoes and Goat Cheese 
Serves 4 to 6
  • 7 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
  • Sea salt
  • 3/4 pound Curly kale
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry
  • 140 g fresh goat cheese
Bring broth to a boil with a pinch of sea salt in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Meanwhile, cut stems and centre ribs from kale and discard. Stir kale into broth in batches and simmer (all of kale), stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer kale with tongs to a large sieve set over a bowl and gently press on greens to extract more liquid. Add liquid in bowl back to simmering broth and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Chop kale. 

Cook onion in oil and 1 tablespoon butter with a pinch of sea salt in a wide 4-quart heavy pot, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderate, then add garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring, 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomato halves.

Add sherry and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente (it should be the consistency of thick soup), 17 to 18 minutes. (There will be leftover broth.) 

Fold in kale, goat cheese, stirring, until heated through and goat cheese is
incorporated, about 1 minute. Season risotto with sea salt and pepper and, if desired, thin with some of remaining broth. 

Suggested Wine: The tangy flavours of this dish, due to the tomatoes and goat cheese, call for a crisp, dry white such as Sauvignon Blanc or a light, fruity red, such as Pinot Noir.