Kale chips. Dried kale. Baked kale. Popcorn kale. Kale twists. Food is increasingly becoming like couture, where every season or so a particular color is seemingly chosen to rise to star status. Truth be told, whoever decided that kale was going to be the superfood du jour deserves a marketing award. How else does it happen that a leafy green vegetable that has long been available in grocery stores, languishing more or less ignored, becomes transformed into a superfood that causes a run on Whole Foods?
I have nothing against kale and have been adding it to soups and salads, steaming it – which is how one can get the best nutritional value – and even juicing it, for years. But the day I attended an event where a package of Parmesan kale chips were included in the goodie bag, I knew it was all over for Quinoa, which was the previous year’s superfood.
Truth be told, and kale’s excellent reputation as a superb source of roughage aside, there are other leafy greens that ranked higher on the Centers for Disease Control’s list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables. In fact, kale only placed 15th (with 49.07 points out of 100 for nutrient density), beaten out by fellow cruciferous vegetables watercress (#1), Chinese cabbage (#2) and collard greens (#10), as well as leafy vegetables chard, beet greens, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, parsley, and Romaine lettuce, to round out the Top 10.
But before you throw out this baby with the rinse water, it’s important to recognize that the CDC study was based on nutritional density by weight, and time to consider why kale still rightfully deserves its place of honor on the food chain:
Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef, and more calcium than milk, which helps in preventing bone loss and osteoporosis.
Kale is high in Vitamins K, A and C, as well as antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, which helps prevent various cancers. It’s also a rich source of minerals including copper, calcium and iron (as mentioned), sodium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus.
Nutrients in kale offer protection from Vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia, are believed to protect against cardiovascular diseases, and colon and prostate cancers, and its omega-3 fatty acid help fight arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders.
Kale is also low in calories (33 per cup), a great source of fiber and has zero fat or sugar.
On the other hand, kale has long been the go-to green among super foodies, and may be time to consider one of its non-cruciferous cousins, at least once in a while:
LETTUCE, MUSTARD GREEN OR CHICORY CHIPS
Truth be told, I like to combine all three greens in the same batch. Baking time is fairly the same for all, and do keep an eye on them in the oven at around the 7th minute as not all of the pieces are the same size or thickness, so some pieces will be done before others, and you want them to be crisp, not burnt to a crisp. Each green has its own unique flavor and texture, and good to mix it up a bit. And yes, you can toss some grated Parmesan into the bag as well, if you’ve grown accustomed to that flavor on your kale chips.
5 large lettuce leaves (if using Romaine, remove the spines) or a handful of mustard greens or chicory leaves, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil, to coat
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Toss leaves in a plastic food storage bag. Add oil and salt to coat. Spread the pieces of leaves individually on the parchment paper, trying not to overlap them. Bake them in the over for 7-12 minutes, or until they’re crispy.
Store in a sealable food grade plastic bag.
STIR FRIED LETTUCE
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable or sunflower oil
5 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 pound hearts of Romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces
1 teaspoon sesame oil (see note)
Combine the rice wine or sherry, soy sauce, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the vegetable oil, add the garlic, and stir-fry for 5 seconds. Add the lettuce and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until it is just limp. Stir the sauce, swirl it into the wok, and stir-fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute more, or until the lettuce is just tender and still bright green. Remove from the heat, drizzle on the sesame oil, and serve.
Note: Use roasted or toasted sesame oil, not the neutral-tasting cold-pressed oil, and definitely not the hot, spicy version. Choose one made from pure roasted sesame seeds and not blended with other oils. Young recommends the Kadoya brand. Sesame oil should be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 1 year.
ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS
Boston Bibb or butter lettuce leaves
1 pound lean ground beef or chicken*
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 dash Asian chili pepper sauce such as
Sriracha, or hot sauce, to taste
1 (8 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 teaspoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
½ cup chopped cilantro
*To prepare your own ground chicken, cut boneless skinless chicken breasts into large chunks and pulse in a food processor until ground.
Rinse whole lettuce leaves and pat dry, being careful not tear them. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook beef or chicken in the cooking oil in the hot skillet, stirring often, until browned and crumbly, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and discard grease; transfer beef or chicken to a bowl. Stir onion in the same skillet, until slightly tender - about 5 minutes. Stir hoisin sauce, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and chili pepper sauce into onions. Add water chestnuts, green onions, sesame oil, and the cooked beef or chicken, stirring until the green onions begin to wilt, about 2 minutes.
Arrange lettuce leaves around the outer edge of a large serving platter and pile meat mixture in the center. Top with chopped cilantro and drizzling sauce.
DIPPING/DRIZZLING SAUCE (optional)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dark sesame sauce
To prepare dipping/drizzling sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk.
INSIDE OUT SANDWICH
If you’re like me and not the biggest fan of bread (or happen to be allergic to gluten), replace it with lettuce for what I call an inside out sandwich, or a sandwich roll. I’ve never tried it with Boston bibb or butter lettuce, but considering their shape, they should work beautifully!
Separate Romaine lettuce leaves. Remove the spines and steam over boiling water for a minute or two. Plunge them immediately into ice water to stop the cooking. Place your favorite sandwich filling at the wider end, and roll them up or if using bibb, fold them burrito-style.
SPICY TUNA SALAD FILLING
What’s more basic or pedestrian than
a tuna fish salad? Here's a twist on the classic that might change your mind about the old stand-by.
1 can tuna fish
1 stalk celery
¼ red or white onion
4-5 jalapeno slices (from a jar, in juices) You can use fresh jalapeno slices – at your own risk
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste
Place the celery, cut into chunks, into a mini-chop, along with the onion, also cut into chunks. Chop until fine. Add the jalapeno slices and the tuna, drained, and chop until incorporated – a minute or two. Pour the mixture into a bowl, and add the mayonnaise, stirring until combined and coated. Add the salt and pepper, to taste, if necessary.
Depending on the size of the leaves, add a tablespoon or two of the mixture at the wider end of the steamed lettuce leaf, and roll.
Kale #Fail? Not by a long shot, but it may be time to elevate another long-languishing green on the CDC’s superstar list. For its unrecognized diversity, we suggest lettuce, with the possible exception of iceberg - which at a mere eight calories a cup and providing a good source of riboflavin, Vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamins A, C, and K, thiamin, folate, iron, potassium and manganese, after years of its unwavering nutritional service, it may be high time that lettuce’s salad days finally come to an end.