One of the first jobs I ever had was working at a restaurant that had a salad bar I would have to set up every morning. I would place these green leafy plants around the crocks of salad ingredients for a finishing look that made the salad bar look like a garden. I had no idea that you could eat the decoration until many years later when I moved to Maryland. I had gone to lunch at a soul food restaurant with a coworker and she ordered what I thought were greens. When I asked her what she had just ordered, she said “Kale.” My response was “Kale? You mean the stuff that you decorate the salad bar with? You can eat that?!” So I ordered kale as a side for the very first time. That was 15 years ago…
Kale has an interesting history. A native to Europe and Asia Minor, kale is recorded to have grown and been consumed for nearly 4,000 years and was in fact one of the most widely eaten green vegetables in the middle ages. Of course kale does not have the same history everywhere. The uses are all over the board.
Did you know that kale was cultivated by ancient Greeks? They boiled and ate it as a cure for drunkenness. In much of Europe, kale was in fact the most widely eaten vegetable until cabbage became more popular during the Middle Ages. There is not clear answer as to when or how the French ate it but it was definitely at one time something that was grown and eaten.
To the French, kale is part of the légume oublié category (lost & forgotten vegetables). And in fact at one point, kale was so lost and so forgotten (compared to parsnips or turnips or sunchokes) that many farmers did not know what it was! That’s not to say that in more rural parts of the country that people did not grow it in their gardens, but generally speaking, it was a forgotten vegetable.
The Italians developed plants with “dinosaur” scales, while the Scots created varietals with leaves like frilly petticoats. “Kali” was the name given to kale, which most people cooked with in pots designed specifically for kale. Its resistance to frost meant that it was particularly popular in colder regions like Russia because it could survive in the snow.
In Ireland, boys and girls would pull up kale stalks from the ground to predict their love life. In Japan, kale is dried and ground into a powder for green drinks. In England, because kale is such a resilient vegetable, citizens were encouraged to grow it in victory gardens.
Interestingly, Kale which is classified as one of several Brassica plant species– including cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts–was selectively propagated over thousands of years based on a preference that people have towards larger and thicker leaves.
It’s said that Red Russian kale was introduced across the Atlantic into the US and Canada by traders in the 19th century. The assumption is that during WWI or WWII, kale fell out of fashion because it was all that people could eat and that in areas like Paris, the urban energy and lifestyle did not lend itself to eating kale (I highly doubt that Europeans of the middle ages were freezing kale, making kale chips, or even peanut butter, kale, and banana smoothies).
In America, up until recently, kale was just a vegetable that hippies and vegans ate. You could find it at a food co-op or as a garnish at a restaurant. Today, kale is on the brink of reaching its cultural saturation point. Us Weekly has covered the veggie in a feature, “Stars Who Love Kale.” Kale Caesar salads are the “it” food on farm-to-table menus, and kale has become a hipster statement, stitched on Beyoncé’s sweatshirt and America is eating it up! How did this happen? Not so long ago, salads were made of iceberg lettuce and broccoli was an exotic, acquired taste.
If you’re a fan of kale, you know how earthy and fresh the leaves taste, the alkaline neutrality balances out a dish. Kale is extremely versatile. You might see far-out-there recipes like kale ice pops or kale cupcakes but it’s almost always the perfect addition to salads, soups, pasta, grains and smoothies. You can add kale to practically anything and it works. And once you get in the habit of just adding kale, it’s difficult to stop.
Kale was also in the right place at the right time. The rediscovering of this cruciferous vegetable as more than a garnish on restaurant salad bars happened at the same time when celebrities began touting detoxes, eating vegan and juice cleanses.
My favorite variety of kale is lacinato kale. This type of kale great for kale salads because it is easier to finely chop. I love the curly green variety for stir-fry, pastas, soups and kale chips. I also think a handful of purple kale in a salad adds a beautiful pop of color. Young, tender baby kale leaves are great for salads, too. For juicing, I stick with bigger, older leaves that have thick stems.
There are so many great health benefits to kale. At just 33 calories, one cup of raw kale has nearly 3 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fiber (which helps manage blood sugar and makes you feel full) contains vitamins A, C, K and Folate (a B vitamin key for brain development). These nutrient dense dark greens also contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid (While kale has far less omega-3 than fish, it is another way to get some of this healthy fat into your diet). Lutein and zeaxanthin are nutrients that give kale its deep, dark green coloring. These greens also protect against macular degeneration and cataracts. Minerals found in kale include phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and zinc.
Kales comes in many types. It can be flat, curly, and red and even have a bluish tint mixed in with the green. The flavors differ, so try them all.
Tips for Working with Kale:
Look for leaves that are a deep green color. Avoid leaves that are brown or yellow or extremely tough. Tough kale means older kale, which means less tasty kale.
Take each leaf individually and hold under running water. Move your fingers through each fold and crevice to remove any excess dirt or potential caterpillar (they really love kale!) Then dry using a salad spinner.
It sounds difficult but de-stemming kale is easy and quick. After washing each leaf, take both sides of the leaf and fold them together length-wise. Rip the stem away from the leaf. Save stems for juicing, pesto, sautéing or vegetable stock.
The best way to massage your kale is by adding your dressing of choice (an easy choice is olive oil, lemon juice and salt). Use your hands to massage the kale with the dressing for a minute or so. The dressing will marinate the leaves, wilting them slightly, making them softer to eat and enjoy.
If you buy a lot of greens and want them to last through the week, wash them right away, dry and store in plastic freezer bags in the refrigerator. The leaves will keep longer and then it’s that much easier to cook with the greens throughout the week because the hard work of cleaning is already done.
Today’s post is a chopped kale salad topped with a grilled chicken breast, bacon, cranberries, feta cheese, an apple and nuts. Eating it is like having a party in your mouth.
To make this recipe Keto friendly substitute the diced apple with strawberries.
For the salad dressing substitute the ½ cup apple juice with ½ cup mayonnaise and the 2 tablespoons of honey with 2 tablespoons of Monkfruit syrup. You can enhance this dressing with poppy seeds.
It is difficult to find unsweetened cranberries. I use these.
This salad is best served immediately if you toss in the dressing. You want to make sure your bacon and nuts stay crispy. If you want to meal prep this just add your dressing and nuts prior to eating.
This recipe is easily doubled or tripled if you want to make a larger batch.
Keepin it Fresh
Chopped Kale Salad with Chicken and Bacon
- June 12, 2019
- 30 min
- 527 Cals/Serving
- Print this
- 6 cups finely chopped kale
- 6 (4oz) servings of grilled chicken breasts
- 1 honey crisp apple or fresh strawberries (diced small)
- 2/3 cup crisp bacon bits
- 1 cup almond, roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/3 cup sugar free dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- The Dressing
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup apple juice or mayo
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons honey or Monkfruit syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt + fresh cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Step 1
- Wash and de-stem kale and chop finely.
- Step 2
- Cook bacon until crisp, and crumble into small bits. Dice apple into small cubes. (I use my food chopper)
- Step 3
- Roughly chop toasted almonds and set aside.
- Step 4
- In a large bowl add chopped kale, bacon, apple, almond, feta, and cranberries.
- Step 5
- In a bowl or mason jar, whisk together all dressing ingredients: apple juice, mustard, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper.
- Step 6
- Mix in toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds.
- Step 7
- Toss with salad dressing and serve. Enjoy!