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How to use kale in your diet—but go easy on it

Studies show regular consumption of kale offers protection from certain cancers and aids the body's detoxification processes. Here are two recipes with this power-packed ingredient

(left) Crucifer power pancakes; and kale and mixed bean salad (Photographs by Nandita Iyer)
(left) Crucifer power pancakes; and kale and mixed bean salad (Photographs by Nandita Iyer)

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Whenever I post a kale recipe on Instagram, one frequent question is, “what is kale called in Hindi/Tamil?” There is no Indian name for kale; it’s European in origin, cultivated there for over 2,000 years. You could imagine it to be a cabbage whose leaves have not formed a head, so maybe we could call it “pracheen patta gobhi”.

You may wonder how kale has in recent years come to be known as a hipster food and become a food trend almost all over the world. It’s a lesson in food marketing. A story on the Mindbodygreen website talks about how celeb PR pundit Oberon Sinclair from New York City spearheaded the campaign to glamourise kale and make it famous, through custom T-shirts, celebrity endorsements, adding it to pricey salads and on the menus of cool restaurants. To promote it at a national level, she is even said to have set up the very official-sounding American Kale Association in 2013.

Over the last few years, kale has gained a firm foothold among the health-conscious in urban India. While you may sneer at it for being a woke hipster food, there is no denying its health benefits. Kale belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables and greens that includes cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, rocket, broccoli, collard greens and bok choy—all of them potent anti-cancer foods. According to studies, regular consumption of kale offers protection from oestrogen receptor-positive cancers of the breast, uterus and ovaries. It also aids detoxification processes in the liver, which neutralises chemicals and toxins in the food and environment,

Keep a couple of points in mind. If you are not used to a high-fibre diet, eating too much kale can cause bloating and discomfort, especially if it’s eaten raw. Increase consumption of kale gradually. Strip the leaves off the tough centre vein. One option is to blanch the leaves in boiling water for two minutes, refresh in iced water, squeeze well and chop finely. You can use kale prepped in this way in salads or curries.

Finely chopped kale leaves can also be tossed in extra virgin olive oil, salt and lemon juice. Massage the leaves well. Let this sit for an hour. The lemon juice will partly “cook” the leaves, making it easier to digest. Chopped kale can also be added directly to dal and pressure-cooked.

Kale is a hardy plant that gives leaves through the year. It can be grown easily from seed in pots.

Crucifer Power Pancakes

Kale, cauliflower and tofu pancakes with an added dose of omega 3
Serves 2-4

10 kale leaves (any variety)
2 cups finely grated cauliflower
3 tbsp ground flaxseed
One-fourth cup boiling hot water
100g firm tofu, grated
2 eggs, whisked
2 tbsp besan (gram flour)
2 green chillies, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, grated
Half tsp grated ginger
Quarter tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp salt
Olive oil or butter to cook

Strip the kale leaves off the centre vein and chop finely. Place the chopped kale and grated cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a splash of water, cover and cook on high for two minutes. Open the lid and allow it to cool. In a bowl, combine the ground flaxseed with boiling hot water. Whisk until foamy and let it sit for two-three minutes. Once the cauliflower and flaxseed mixture has cooled, add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl and combine well.

In a greased cast iron pan or a non-stick tava (griddle), pour a ladle or two of the batter and cook for two minutes or so on medium flame until the bottom has golden brown spots. Flip and cook the other side until golden. The excess batter can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge and used in two days.

This is an excellent stuffed paratha substitute for diabetics and low-carbers. If you skip the besan, the pancakes may not hold their shape when flipped. It can be turned into a crumble, or a bhurji.

Kale and mixed bean salad
Serves 2

2 tbsp kidney beans
2 tbsp white beans
2 tbsp chickpeas
2 tbsp green chana
10 kale leaves (any variety)
2 tbsp finely chopped green capsicum
2 tbsp finely chopped onion

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Half tsp crushed black pepper
1 tsp + extra salt

Soak the beans overnight and then pressure-cook in salted water on a high flame. After one whistle, reduce the flame and pressure-cook for five minutes. Then drain the beans and keep aside. The beans should not be cooked to a mush

To prep the kale, strip the leaves off the central vein. Bring a small pot of water to boil. Put in the leaves and simmer for two minutes. Remove the leaves with tongs and plunge into a bowl of iced water to retain the bright green colour. Drain the leaves and squeeze well to remove all the excess water. Chop the blanched kale finely.

In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk until thick and creamy. Add the beans, kale, capsicum and onion and toss well to coat with the dressing. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two before serving so that the salad absorbs the flavours of the dressing.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is Everyday Superfoods. @saffrontrail

Also read | How to prep lettuce for that perfect salad

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