Most of us probably never heard the word kale growing up, and even fewer of us actually put the stuff in our mouths before it became the health food du jour.  (Remember those thick green leaves placed over the ice at the salad bar? The sprig of rubbery-looking foliage on the edge of your entrée plate? That was kale.) Lucky for us, kale’s been reborn in contemporary cuisine. 

Some of my friends are nuts for making kale chips at home in the oven, and my brother chops it up in his tuna salad with horseradish, mayo and parmesan. I will sauté it with almost any other vegetable and have even thrown it into a chicken casserole.  

Versatile kale also grows very well in Santa Fe’s climate of cool springs and short summers. Gardeners who are on top of their games have already planted some outside, but it’s not too late to start a few seeds indoors or drop them in a pot on the patio. 

But while you’re waiting for it to grow, you can get a kale fix at a number of local eateries. Here are my current favorites:

The “All Kale Caesar” at  Vinaigrette (709 Don Cubero Alley, 820-9205) comes with what the menu describes as a “zingy, zesty lemon-anchovy vinaigrette,” as lemon is practically necessary to break down kale’s characteristic toughness. Yet, salty anchovy dressing goodness aside, what really makes this salad sing are the chopped Marcona almonds, flawlessly combined with finely shredded kale and, of course, parmesan ($9.50). For extra protein and flavor, pair it with the fresh fish of the day ($7). Since most of the kale served at this always packed restaurant is grown at a Nambé farm, you also get points for being über local when you eat here.  Not in the mood for salad? They also offer a warm sautéed  kale with garlic and ginger for $6 and frequently feature the vegetable in the soups of the day.  

Nothing says healthy like pork belly confit topped with a fried egg. That is, when you gently place it on a bed of kale with a little cheese and red onion.

Dr. Field Goods Kitchen (2860 Cerrillos Road, Ste. A1, 471-0043)

makes this “super bacon” irresistible by cooking it in a cast iron skillet in the wood-fired pizza oven, spooning duck fat over the cut as it sizzles into tender perfection ($18). Bonus: If like me, you can’t always clean your plate of this large portion, reheating at home while you make a fresh fried egg makes for an excellent breakfast.   

For a small portion, try the seasonal vegetable, black quinoa and kale dish at the newish Ten Thousand Waves restaurant,

Izanami (3451 Hyde Park Road, 428-6390)

. Even the kale isn’t big (it’s the baby lacinato variety), and it’s tossed with shaved beets, carrots, turnips and other veggies in a creamy tofu and Japanese mustard ($7).