Kale is the Jeff Bridges of vegetables – been around forever, utility player, not the flashy type. Until lately.


Since being crowned prom king of locavore fads, kale has been putting on airs. All of a sudden, it’s cozying up to caramelized onions and being photographed slathered in chanterelles.


Easy to grow and touted as the né plus ultra of vitamin- and antioxidant-packed superfoods, kale is being used by chefs in just about everything. At Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park, for example, you can really kale it up – there’s the baby kale salad with manchego, pine nuts and lemon-chile vinaigrette, the grass-fed beef filet with kale, scalloped potatoes and cipollini onion, the scallops with lemon kale, and a side of kale with garlic and Parmesan.


Home-roasted kale chips have become a popular DIY snack food (Gwyneth Paltrow made them on “The Ellen Show”). The once lowly leaves have inspired their own T-shirt, reading “Eat More Kale.” It’s so darned trendy that Slate essayist Scott Jacobson sarcastically dubbed it “now the only food worth the trouble of digesting.”


“People really are crazy for kale,” said Susan Berkson, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Farmers Market. “They’re asking for it more, so our growers are growing more, and more variety, too – we’re seeing the curly kale, the purple, red, dinosaur, Russian.”


But kale has been around the Western world since some roving Celts brought it back to Europe from Asia Minor in about 600 B.C. Why all the interest now?


“It’s loaded with things that are good for you, and if people are going to eat their greens, they want them to pack a punch,” Berkson said.


The rise of Community Supported Agriculture (more commonly called CSAs) has also contributed to kale’s newfound popularity. Because of its hardiness, the leaf has been popular with growers, who stuff their customers’ boxes full of the green stuff along with tip sheets on what to do with it. Today there is even “The Book of Kale,” by Sharon Hanna (Harbour Publishing).


Not everyone sings kale’s praises. Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten recently proclaimed it “not designed for human consumption” and added that “the current kale craze is a violation of the Natural Order.”


Alex Roberts, chef/owner at Restaurant Alma and Brasa, observes that kale can be “polarizing. But as more people learn how to cook it, how to coax out its seductive flavor, more will like it. It’s like Brussels sprouts, when people first tried caramelizing them.”


Roberts recommends starting with lacinato, more commonly known as dinosaur or Tuscan kale, “because it caramelizes really easily, and people really like it.”


Kale is full of vitamins A, C, K and B6 and a good source of iron, folate and calcium. And let’s not even get started on the percentage of daily fiber it can provide if not cooked into mush. Yet Minneapolis organic-eating pioneer Brenda Langton remembers that not so long ago, most Americans didn’t consider it fit to eat.


“It used to be kept in coolers to use as garnish because it didn’t wilt like lettuce,” she said.


Langton, who was into kale a couple of decades before it was cool, has some advice for newbies who find the raw leaves a little too earthy for their tastes.


“You don’t need to sauté it. That’s a common mistake,” she said. “Braise it with a quarter cup or so of water, or use apple juice if you want it sweeter.”


Another tip, from the website www.kaleeffect.com (purveyor of those T-shirts), is to separate the leaves from the stems right away, to ward off bitterness.


Hardy kale is from the same vegetable family as collards, but tends to be a darker, more grayish-green, and usually has a stronger, chewier taste. If you get a hankering to grow your own, it’s still doable this season – and so easy. Kale is self-seeding, grows at will, and can even be planted indoors in pots.


One thing that’s extra-great about kale in Minnesota, Langton said, is that it can take our extreme temperature shifts:


“It grows when it’s snowing; it grows when it’s hot.”


Not only that, Roberts said, but some varieties “actually get to tasting better after a cold snap.”


Oh, kale. Is there anything you can’t do?


KALE AND EDAMAME FRITTERSMakes 16 to 20 (2-in.) fritters.


Note: Don’t skimp on the salt. Serve these fritters with Gorgeous Green Chutney (recipe follows) and sour cream. From “The Book of Kale,” by Sharon Hanna.


1 c. frozen shelled edamame1 heaping cup kale leaves


½ tsp. salt, plus a pinch or two


1 tsp. ginger root, minced½ tsp. ground cumin


2 tbsp. water2 eggs, separated


2 tbsp. flour½ tsp. baking powder


Vegetable oil for fryingGorgeous Green Chutney (recipe below)


Directions:In bowl of food processor, combine edamame, kale leaves, salt, ginger and cumin. Pulse briefly once or twice _ the mixture should still be recognizable and not a paste. Add 2 tablespoons water, egg yolks, flour and baking powder; pulse once or twice more. Scrape mixture into a bowl.


Beat egg whites until they hold peaks but are not completely stiff. Using a spatula, fold into the edamame/kale mixture.


Heat a little oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet on medium-high. Drop batter by spoonfuls and fry for about 3 minutes on each side. Turn the heat down a little once the fritters get frying.


Do not crowd the fritters. Fry 5 or 6 at a time, then remove and drain on paper towel. You’ll have to add a little more oil to the pan each time. Serve with Gorgeous Green Chutney.


Nutrition information per each of 20 fritters:


Calories: 43; Fat: 3 g; Sodium: 87 mg


Carbohydrates: 2 g; Saturated fat: 1 g; Calcium: 21 mg


Protein 2 g; Cholesterol: 19 mg; Dietary fiber: 1 g


Diabetic exchanges per serving: ½ fat.


___GORGEOUS GREEN CHUTNEYMakes about 1 ½ cups.


Note: This is more of a fresh salsa than the usual chutney. It’s good on grilled chicken or fish, as a bruschetta topping, or on a crunchy rice cracker with a dab of goat’s cheese, cream cheese or brie. From “The Book of Kale,” by Sharon Hanna.


1 c. cilantro, coarsely chopped


¼ c. chopped fresh mint leaves1 tart apple (Granny Smith works well), cut into chunks


1 fresh jalapeno, seeded, de­veined


1 medium tomato, cubed2 tsp. sugar


1 tsp. lemon juice1 small garlic clove, minced


½ tsp. salt½ tsp. whole cumin seed


Directions:Combine all ingredients in a food processor and whirl briefly until ingredients are chopped fine.


Nutrition information per ¼ cup:


Calories: 28; Fat: 0 g; Sodium: 200 mg


Carbohydrates: 7 g; Saturated fat: 0 g; Calcium: 11 mg


Protein: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Dietary fiber 1 g


Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable.


Kale With White Beans And Roasted Garlic


Serves 4 to 6.Notes: For more tender greens, blanch the kale a minute or two before cutting. Add a handful of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) for extra crunch. From “The Book of Kale,” by Sharon Hanna.


8 c. Tuscan kale, trimmed and cut in chiffonade (in thin strips or shreds)


1 ½ c. cooked cannellini or other white beans, drained


3 whole heads of garlic, roasted, cloves removed and skinned


6 to 8 red radishes, quartered6 small tomatoes, quartered


Flat Italian parsley leaves, for garnish


Basil Vinaigrette:3 tbsp. wine vinegar


1 garlic clove¼ c. olive oil1 tbsp. honey


1 tsp. Dijon mustardPinch of salt


¼ c. fresh basil leavesDirections:


Place kale on a platter or in shallow, wide bowl. Scatter beans around artfully, then compose the salad by placing the veggies all over. Garnish with parsley. Dress with basil vinaigrette or another that you like.


To make vinaigrette: In a blender, process ingredients until creamy, adding a bit of extra oil if needed. (Makes about } cup vinaigrette.)


Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:


Calories: 244; Fat: 10 g; Sodium 96 mg


Carbohydrates: 33 g; Saturated fat: 1 g; Calcium: 210 mg


Protein: 9 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Dietary fiber: 6 g


Diabetic exchanges per serving: 3 vegetable, 1 bread/starch, 2 fat.


___ Nutty Kale PenneServes 6.


Note: From Gourmet’s “Easy Dinners.”


Salt1 ½ lb. kale, leaves torn from stem and center ribs (discard stems and ribs)


½ c. sliced almonds¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil


3 large garlic cloves, minced1 medium onion, chopped


¼ tsp. red pepper flakesSalt and black pepper


1 lb. whole-wheat penne½ c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


¼ c. (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut in pieces


Directions:Cook kale in a 6- to 8-quart pot of well-salted boiling water, uncovered until just tender, 4 to 8 minutes.


Transfer kale with tongs to a colander; reserve water. When kale is cool enough to handle lightly, squeeze to remove excess liquid, then chop into bite-size pieces. Return water to a boil for pasta.


Cook nuts in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to towels to drain. Cook garlic, onion, pepper flakes, and ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in remaining oil, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.


Cook penne in boiling water until al dente. Reserve about 2 cups of pasta water, then drain pasta. Return pasta to empty pot; stir in cheese, butter, kale, onion mixture, 1 cup reserved pasta water, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat, stirring, 1 minute, moistening with additional pasta water if desired. Serve sprinkled with almonds and additional cheese.


Nutrition information per serving:


Calories: 520; Fat: 24 g; Sodium: 700 mg


Carbohydrates: 64 g; Saturated fat: 8 g; Calcium: 230 mg


Protein: 18 g; Cholesterol: 27 mg; Dietary fiber: 9 g


Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 4 bread/starch, ½ high-fat meat, 4 fat.


Savory Kale Scones With Squash And Cheese


Makes 8 to 10.Note: These are dropped by the spoonful, but you could also use a cookie cutter or knife to make triangles or other shapes. If you are making smaller ones, knead in about ¼ cup extra flour at the end to make the dough easier to handle.


2 c. kale leaves, loosely packed


2 c. unbleached flour½ tsp. salt


1 tsp. baking soda½ tsp. baking powder


1 tbsp. sugar1/3 c. cold butter


1 egg¾ c. buttermilk½ c. cooked squash or pumpkin in small dice


¾ c. Cheddar cheese, gratedDirections:


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set oven rack in the middle.


Steam kale for a minute or two, just to blanch. Chop kale finely, squeezing out as much liquid as you can. You should have less than 1 cup chopped kale. If you have more, save it for soup or eat it. (Too much will make the scones sticky.)


Blend or sift the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and sugar together. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers.


In a small bowl, beat the egg, then add the buttermilk, continuing to beat until well combined. Add egg/buttermilk mixture, along with squash, kale and cheese to dry ingredients, mixing with a fork just enough to combine.


Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet. Bake about 20 minutes until lightly browned.


Nutrition information per each of 10:


Calories: 210; Fat: 10 g; Sodium: 406 mg; Carb: 24 g; Saturated fat: 6 g; Calcium: 110 mg


Protein: 7 g; Chol: 44 mg; Dietary fiber: 1 g


Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, ½ other carb, ½ medium-fat meat, 1½ fat.