The Magic of Kale, and Five Ways to Eat It

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If Lisa's post about the connection between chocolate and child labor has made you reconsider your Halloween candy-buying habits, here's an alternative for you to feed the trick-or-treaters: kale!

Yeah, you're right—that's probably not a good idea unless you want your house egged. But did you know that kale has a historic Halloween connection?

According to the book Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne:

Cabbage and kale, unlikely magical tools that they may seem, were assumed by the Irish to possess great fortune-telling power. The foods were plentiful throughout the British Isles, and young people pulled up kale plants to judge the nature of their future spouses from the taste (a bitter stalk meant a bitter mate), the shape (straight or curved, indicating the condition of the spine), and the amount of dirt clinging to the root (degree of wealth). The divination worked best if the kale was stolen; it was most telling if practiced on Halloween.

This ritual of "pulling the kail" (kale) was so popular that it even inspired poetry. In "Halloween," written in 1785, the great Scottish poet Robert Burns lyrically describes young people running into the fields, blindfolded, to select their plants on "that night, when fairies light":

Then, first an' foremost, thro' the kail, Their stocks maun a' be sought ance; They steek their een, and grape an' wale For muckle anes, an' straught anes. Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift, An' wandered thro' the bow-kail, An' pou't for want o' better shift A runt was like a sow-tail Sae bow't that night.

In other words: A silly lad named Will, having pulled up a kale plant with a stem as curly as a pig's tail, is pouting about his future hunchback wife. Poor guy.

Kale may not have supernatural properties, but its natural ones are pretty potent: one cup of boiled kale is packed with vitamins A, C and K, as well as potentially cancer-fighting isothiocyanates and anti-inflammatory flavonoids. And it can taste fantastic, prepared properly. Try these ideas if you're not a believer yet:

1. Kale chips. They are, indeed, insanely addictive.

2. If kale seems too intimidating on its own, combine it with comfort food like mashed potatoes or bacon.

3. Simply sauteed kale, seasoned with a squirt of lemon juice and crushed red pepper, is one of my all-time favorite foods. It could get even better with toasted cashews.

4. Give it an international twist: Seasonal Chef has seven ideas, ranging from spicy African kale with yams to Portuguese kale-sausage soup.

5. Layer chopped, sauteed kale into a lasagna with squash and walnuts or sausage.

What's your favorite way to eat kale?

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