By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina 

At a recent fundraiser for Meals on Wheels, the wonderful chef at the Galveston Country Club served a lovely salad made with kale.

A friend sitting with us who runs one of Galveston’s finest healthy eating establishments expressed an opinion that many of us may hold about kale: it is a nice ornamental in your garden or a garnish on the plate, but who would eat that bitter stuff?

So why, when a friend of my wife’s gave us a couple big bunches of organically homegrown kale was I as happy as a 10-year-old with a new pony? Because kale is a really healthy, nutrient-dense addition to the menu plan and offers many ways to enjoy it. Americans are falling in love with kale like never before, even raw kale.

The manager of the Galveston Artillery Club and chef Michael verified for me that the demand for kale at that prestigious dining venue has skyrocketed in the past six to 12 months. It is a nice variation from lettuce, spinach or arugula.

One source of kale’s new found popularity may be from the “True Food” cookbook by Dr. Andrew Weil. It offers a luscious kale salad that has really taken off in his True Food restaurants and is easy to make.

Use ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, three mashed garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Mix these together then add a couple bunches of kale with the leaves sliced into ¼ inch pieces and the ribs removed.

Here is the secret: let the kale sit in the dressings for at least 10-30 minutes, or even overnight. The lemon juice (with or without salt) tenderizes the leaves and helps remove any bitterness. You can top with some grated cheese and whole wheat breadcrumbs for garnish. This is a really simple and yummy salad.

Kale can also be steamed, stir-fried, added to soups, braised with nuts, capers and pasta, served with eggs or in a frittata, and mixed with other greens in a salad. Use your imagination. More great information and recipes are available at the World’s Healthiest Foods website: under the topic of kale.

Kale comes in many varieties: Red Russian, Italian black, ornamental kale, curly kale, dinosaur or Tuscan kale. Colors vary from deep green to purple to white. It is derived from wild cabbage and a close cousin to the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, collards and Brussels sprouts.

Like those healthy veggies, kale has the ability to improve detoxification by liver enzymes, gives whopping doses of vitamin K, multiple antioxidants, minerals, and other vitamins, is high in fiber and is anti-inflammatory. Some of the health benefits include reducing risk of breast, ovary, prostate, colon, and bladder cancers, improving cardiovascular health, reducing cholesterol and chronic inflammation.

So next time you are shopping at the local Galveston farmer’s market or your favorite grocery store, pick up some kale and experiment with the salad above or any other recipes. If your neighbor is mysteriously missing some of their sidewalk ornamental kale, I am not responsible.

Dr. Sierpina is the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch.