Despite its reputation as a health-boosting nutritional superstar, many people don’t take advantage of kale’s benefits because it is not a “mainstream” vegetable and they don’t know how to prepare it.   A member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, it originated in Asia Minor and descended from a wild cabbage. Kale packs a healthy punch with its abundance of carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin A and manganese. The high fiber content of kale lowers cholesterol by binding with bile acids that the liver produces from cholesterol for digesting fat.

Kale is surprisingly simple to prepare and makes a delicious and attractive addition to any meal with its pleasant earthy flavor.  It’s easy to incorporate it into meal plans that your whole family can enjoy.  Look for kale that has firm, deeply colored leaves and moist stems.  Choose kale with small leaves as they will be more tender and have a milder flavor.  Purchase organic kale if possible.

If you are not using the kale immediately store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not wash kale before storing because exposure to water encourages spoilage. Kale will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator if it is stored properly. Remove tough stems and wilted leaves before cooking.

Some of the most popular ways to enjoy kale include:

• Sauté:  Simply sauté fresh kale in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until the leaves are tender and wilted. Then squeeze some lemon juice over it and serve. For extra flavor add about a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to the pan before you sauté the kale.

• Smoothies:  Add kale leaves to your favorite fruit smoothies. One of the main benefits of using kale in smoothies is that it provides significant nutritional benefits with one of the fewest calorie counts per cup of any other vegetable.  If you are just getting used to the taste of kale, try adding a small amount to your smoothies at first and gradually increase it as you become used to the flavor.

• Soups:  Add kale to broth-based soups to add volume and make them more filling and attractive without adding a lot of calories.

• Chips:  You can make kale chips by removing the rough stems and then tearing the leaves into chip-size pieces.  Drizzle the leaves with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt then use your hands to massage the oil and salt into the kale leaves to coat evenly.  Fill two large rimmed baking sheets with a layer of kale, making sure the leaves don’t overlap and cook for eight to twelve minutes. The chips can be stored in an airtight container for up to two days.