In recent years, kale has become rather trendy, which is quite impressive for a leaf crop that has traditionally been associated with poverty, paucity and lack. It was a popular vegetable for those without much money, and definitely a vegetable for the masses (even for the cattle and other livestock). It’s also at its most prolific in the hard winter months (January – March), when conventionally there was little else growing or available for harvest, and stores were often depleted.
By way of contrast, its current – and much more fashionable – reputation is directly linked with abundance. Kale grows relatively reliably as an organic crop, and has an impressive vitamin content, as well as a high nutrient density. It’s also possible that kale has a number of other health-related benefits, including as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Together, these nutritional benefits mean that it’s an excellent vegetable to include regularly (along with a range of others) in your diet.
Kale does have a relatively strong flavour which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but like many cabbage greens, it’s also extremely versatile, and it’s often worthwhile experimenting with different methods of cooking in order to determine a favourite. It can also be included raw – or lightly blanched – in salads.
This recipe is extremely simple (both quick and easy) and makes for a great weekday meal. The trick – I think – is to add the kale right at the end of the soup-making process, so that it’s tender, but continues to hold on to some of its texture. I used curly kale (called green kale in the US), which also turns a beautiful, vivid, vibrant colour that looks just wonderful, especially contrasted with the various hues of the leeks. So, if you’re preparing the soup in advance make sure to add the kale only when you’re re-heating it, and not at an earlier stage.
Recipe: Leek and Kale Soup with Pasta
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 ½ litres of chicken or vegetable stock
100g (3 ½ oz) small pasta shapes
200g (7 oz) kale, cut into narrow strips
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan, or other hard cheese (to serve)
Heat the oil and butter over a medium heat and gently fry the celery for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the leeks and continue to soften for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cook for 1 more minute, then pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Add the pasta and continue to simmer for 6 minutes before adding the kale and cooking for 2 more minutes until the pasta is cooked and the kale is tender (and still bright green).
Add some salt (if necessary) and pepper, and serve with the grated parmesan.