Dinosaur kale is a dark green leafy vegetable. Popular in Italian food, it's also called Tuscan kale or cavolo nero. The leaves are so hearty that, even when well cooked, they retain a wonderful firm texture, making it a great choice for braising or adding to stews. It's also sweeter and less bitter than other types of kale and packed with healthy nutrients.
What Is Dinosaur Kale?
Dinosaur kale goes by a number of names, including dino kale, Tuscan kale, lacinato kale, black kale, and cavolo nero (Italian for "black cabbage"). It is a member of the cabbage family, but of the leafy variety, with long, palm-like fronds that can grow up to 3 feet long. An incredibly hearty cooking green, the dark, almost blue-green or even black-green leaves are ruffled and, just like other varieties of kale, have distinct ribs.
This type of kale is easy to prepare because both the leaf and rib can be eaten, either raw or cooked. You will want to wash it well, and blanching will remove some of the bitter taste. However, dino kale's taste is relatively mild and can appeal to people who don't typically enjoy kale. While it was once very inexpensive, and though it's still not terribly overpriced, the increased demand for kale, in general, has caused the price of dinosaur kale to increase.
How to Cook With Dinosaur Kale
When ready to use dinosaur kale, be sure to rinse the leaves well to remove all the dirt and debris that can get trapped inside the ruffles. The leaves are so sturdy that you don't need to be nearly as careful to avoid bruising and crushing them as with other greens. Every part of the leaf is edible, though really thick ribs take longer to cook, so they're often discarded. The kale can be cooked whole, cut into thin strips, or chopped, depending on your recipe and use.
This type of kale is particularly well suited to braising in a bit of broth. Simply heat a pan, add a little bit of broth, then the cleaned and chopped kale, and cover. Cook over a gentle heat until the leaves are wilted and tender. Another simple option is to sauté it in olive oil with garlic and a chili or two if you like. A sprinkle of salt and a squirt of lemon are nice, too.
If you find that kale has a bit more of a bitter edge than you care for, try blanching it before using it in recipes. For dino kale, put whole or chopped leaves in salted boiling water for about one minute, drain, rinse with cold water to cool off, and use your hands to squeeze as much water out of it as possible. This process will leech out much of the bitterness, as well as some of the vitamins. However, if it helps you eat more kale, that trade-off may well be worth it.
You can also use the blanched kale leaves as wrappers. Lay them out and fill them with cubed cheese or shrimp, then roll them up and bake the rolls. Some fillings, such as chicken or fish, can be either baked or braised, while something like risotto is best braised.
What Does It Taste Like?
Dino kale has an earthy, nutty flavor. It doesn't have the same strong bitterness as other varieties of kale, though it is still there. The sweetness helps offset that and makes it more approachable.
Dinosaur Kale Recipes
This green can be used just like any other kale. It's a versatile variety that can work as well in a fresh kale salad as it does in cooked dishes.
Where to Buy Dinosaur Kale
Well-stocked produce markets are the best places to look for dino kale. Its peak season lasts from November through the spring, and it gets sweeter as the season progresses. If you're a big fan, it's also an easy plant to grow at home. Seeds can be directly planted, or plants started indoors and transplanted later when outdoor temperatures reach 60 to 65 F. The best spot to plant is an area with rich soil and one that gets full sun to partial shade.
Sold by the bunch, it's as affordable as other leafy greens. Look at the leaves carefully; you want very dark blue-green or black-green leaves with no brown or wilted bits. Choose leaves that are less than 18 inches long, because they get tougher and have a sharper flavor the longer they grow. Check the stem ends—they should look freshly cut, not dried out or browned, and definitely not slimy. These are all signs that the greens were harvested some time ago.
Depending on how you're going to use the kale, you may choose to look for bunches that have wider or more narrow leaves. If you want to cook it whole, choose kale with thinner stems for more even cooking. You can often find it available in the frozen foods section of the grocery store and available dried as a crispy snack.
Store dino kale loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. Some people suggest wrapping the stems in moist paper towels and placing it in the crisper. Unlike more tender greens, dino kale doesn't store better if washed first, and it may actually begin to go limp. Put off that task until you're ready to use it. Once cooked, it can be refrigerated and eaten within a few days.
It can also be preserved in the freezer for up to a year. Before doing so, blanch the kale after removing the ribs and cutting the leaves into strips, then drain and squeeze all the water out. Place it in plastic freezer bags and remove as much air as possible. Use it in soups, smoothies, or reheat the kale in broth.
Nutrition and Benefits
Kale, in general, is touted for its nutritional punch, and dinosaur kale is no exception. It's an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K—over 50 percent of recommended daily allowances for each. It also provides good amounts of B vitamins, calcium, copper, fiber, iron, manganese, vitamin E, and is rich in antioxidants.
Italian doctors often recommend this variety of kale for weight loss. It is a filling food but very low in calories and has no fat. According to Harvard's School of Public Health, eating kale can potentially help prevent or manage cancer and benefit heart health.