Kale, a humble vegetable, was all but unnoticed 10 years ago except by the most savvy of gourmands or those diehard back-to-the-landers. Those in the know were aware of what many have just recently discovered: that kale is not only really easy to grow, but it’s also delicious and versatile.

Purple or green in color, Russian or Italian in variety, kale has become the Academy Award winner of vegetables – a virtual unknown thrown into the limelight by both its talent and the audience’s appetite for greens.

Because kale has so much “tooth,” meaning it has a hearty and chewy mouth feel, it can take center stage in place of meat. Only the staunchest of meat-eaters will complain. Also, it’s what could be called an entry-level green – not so bitter or peppery as to raise objections from first-timers or kids who are fussy eaters. Once upon a time, Americans were more accepting of bitter tastes, but as salt and sugar became more prevalent in our diet, our tolerance for the bitter flavors waned.

Enter kale. Roast it with a little oil, puree it into pesto, whiz it in a smoothie and boost your iron; vitamins A, C and D; antioxidants and fiber. Go green!

Potato, Cheddar and Kale Casserole

This recipe is a good use for leftover potatoes. If you don’t have any, start by making mashed potatoes; 4 medium-sized potatoes will yield 6 cups of mashed.

Serves 6 to 8

6 cups mashed potatoes

Up to 1/2 cup of milk

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus a little more for the pan)

10 cups coarsely chopped kale (stems removed)

Pinch or 2 of kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

3 ounces grated cheddar cheese (about 1-1/2 cups lightly packed)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a deep-dish pie pan or 10-inch cast iron skillet.

Heat the mashed potatoes in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add milk, if needed to soften and loosen the potatoes slightly.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Warm the oil and then add the kale. Season with salt and pepper and turn often with tongs until the leaves have softened and wilted, about 3 minutes.

Add the kale and cheddar to the potatoes and mix well. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are crispy.

Thai Peanut Shrimp with Kale

Serve over basmati rice.

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 cup sliced onion

1/2 tablespoon minced lemongrass (discard the green tops, peel away and discard the tough outer stalk)

1/2 Thai chili, seeds removed and julienned

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 cups coarsely chopped kale (stems removed)

1/4 cup Asian fish sauce

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp (16 to 20 count)

1/2 cup unsalted peanuts

Lime wedges

Cilantro leaves

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canola oil and then the onion and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the lemongrass, chili, ginger and garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the kale, fish sauce, broth and peanut butter.

When everything is well incorporated and at a simmer, add the shrimp and cook 2 to 4 minutes watching closely until the shrimp just turns pink all the way through.

Serve over rice with the peanuts, lime and cilantro.

Tuscan Kale, Chickpeas and Olives

Serve over polenta.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups sliced red onion

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch by 1/2-inch sticks

1 cup pitted Kalamata or other black olives

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, liquid included

8 cups coarsely chopped kale (stems removed)

1 cup chicken broth

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or stockpot over medium high heat. Add the onions, carrots and olives and sauté until the onions begin to brown at the edges, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the chickpeas and their liquid, the kale, broth and salt and pepper and stir until heated through but the kale is still bright and chewy, about 4 minutes.

Serve over polenta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “Sugar and Salt: A Year at Home and at Sea.” She blogs at athomeatsea.com and can be contacted at:

[email protected]