Cooking Techniques to Turn Wilted Kale into Tasty Dishes

Reader Contribution by Lisa Kivirist and Inn Serendipity
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Knowing the amount of time and energy it takes to grow the vegetables on our Wisconsin farm and Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, it makes us cringe every time we feel compelled to toss a wilted vegetable into the compost. Sure, freezing is always an option and we do preserve a lot of greens in particular that way. But how can we ensure better use of the delectable, superior qualities of fresh as much as possible?

Chef Abra Berens of Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan, is on a mission to champion wilted kale. A leader in helping chefs mitigating food waste, she celebrated the merits of wilted kale at a demonstration she gave at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago alongside Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant in Deland, Florida, who shared a broccoli chutney recipe

“The most important reason to mitigate food waste is it honors farmers,” shares Berens, whose passion for zero food waste roots in having both grown up on a farm and working on various operations herself. “By wasting food, we drain resources such as time, labor water and land availability. The beauty of cooking and mitigating food waste is it gives you a new way to look at some of these ingredients that we see day in and day out and discover new ways to showcase the flavors and the farmers that grew them.”

“Is it wilty or rotty? That’s the first question to ask yourself when you come across vegetables that have lingered,” adds Berens. “Use your own senses. If it smells good and looks right, use it up.”

Berens’ creative approaches to using it up are in her cookbook, Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables. She shares unique and surprisingly easy and tasty techniques to use up vegetables such as to caramelize, braise and blister. At the National Restaurant Association Show, she focused on ways to help restaurant chefs and owners use up the kale to also help their bottom line, but we found her simple ideas something we can readily use on our own homestead.

1. Re-hydrate kale. “The easiest way to mitigate waste of kale or any greens is to give them a bath in cool water,” explains Berens. What makes kale wilt is falling moisture as the cells lose the moisture they are holding inside. Cool water perks the water cells in the greens back up.

The best way to avoid wilting is to keep kale hydrated from the start. “My favorite way is to wrap the kale in a plastic bag and place in a paper towel to balance the humidity surrounding it or storing the kale like a vase of flowers by keeping the stems in a glass of water.” 

2. Massage kale. Just like a nice massage can revive humans, kale can also perk up with intentional touch. Sprinkle your wilted kale with a little kosher salt, gently massage and the resulting kale almost looks like it has been cooked. “Salt is hygroscopic, which means it pulls water to it and that helps break the cells down by pulling the extra moisture out. I like to use kosher salt as it has a coarser texture and I can feel what I’m doing,” offers Berens. This process takes the fibrous parts that are tough to chew and make it into something palatable. You’ll know it’s done by tasting. If you can easily chew it, it’s done. Use in salads or anywhere you would use cooked kale.  We like it with a drizzle of this Simple Vinaigrette Salad Dressing From Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, California.

3. Crisp kale up again. Berens recommends two kale crisping methods. First, make kale chips by placing whole, larger leaves on a sheet tray with a silicon liner. Make sure the leaves don’t overlap as the moisture will have a harder time evaporating. Bake in a 350-degree oven for ten to fifteen minutes. Watch closely toward the end to avoid burning. A second method is to deep fry the kale. Place kale in a frying basket and be sure not to overload. “When the moisture of the kale hits the hot oil, it will evaporate as steam and create crispness and brightness in texture. When the oil stops popping, the extra moisture has evaporated and the kale is done,” adds Berens. Drain and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

4.  Wilt kale even more. “The other way I like to use kale and greens that went wilty is to make them even more wilty by giving them a sauté,” wraps up Berens. Cut the kale into various-sized ribbons, avoiding any stems that are clearly rough. Throw into a sizzling hot pan with an oil like canola that doesn’t add flavor.“Let the kale get brown and caramelize. Adding a splash of white wine adds steam to the heat and will break down the water cells and cook even faster,” shares Berens. “Add a dash of salt and chili flakes and this is my favorite breakfast over a bowl of grits and fried egg.”

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning  ECOpreneuring  and Farmstead Chefcookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs. Read all of Lisa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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