All Hail Kale
Chewing on a range of tasty ways to enjoy the nutrient-rich green.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
These days, it can be hard to get my head out of the dreamy tomato clouds long enough to think about the hardy crop staples we need to be planting for a winter-long harvest. But greens like kale, chard and collards have to be sown now so they have a chance to establish and root with the last of the fall sunlight, and continue growing and giving green goodness until next spring.
My favorite is kale, which is usually wasted as garnish around a salad bar, when it should be your main component.
Brassica family kale is a descendent of wild cabbage grown and eaten by peasants in Europe until the end of the Middle Ages, when the more desired head cabbage – with a longer shelf life and a more delicate flavor – was introduced.
The word kale originates from a word the Scots made up to describe rural life: “kailyard,” or kale yard, because in the country everyone had kale growing in their yard.
While several types of greens are on the top 10 of the ANDI score – aggregate nutrient density index, an analysis of the most nutrient rich types of produce created by nutritionist Dr. Joel Fuhrman – kale occupies the top position with collards and watercress. (Chard, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and arugula also make the list.)
Luckily, most nutrient-dense vegetables thrive in coastal Monterey Peninsula soil, and are the easiest greens to grow. All varieties of kale, chard and collards are great for home gardens and continue to produce with minimal effort. Once the plants grow 7 inches tall, the outer leaves can be harvested, leaving the inner leaves to regenerate. Another set of leaves will be ready to harvest in one to two weeks – and adding compost to the soil and feeding with a fish or seaweed-based liquid fertilizer every two weeks will keep the plants strong and healthy for several months.
When the plants get tall and the leaves start to get smaller it is time to plant again. If left to their own devices they will flower, go to seed and new plants will grow if the conditions are just right.
Here’s a look at several varieties, what differentiates them and some ideas on how to deploy them:
Also known as lacinato, this is an heirloom variety native to Italy with a hearty, stronger broccoli flavor than other varieties and a bumpy leaf texture with tender ribs. Good with strong cheeses and citrus. My favorite power breakfast: sautéed dino kale and caramelized onions with a poached egg on top.
Its mild flavor plays with a more tender texture, and makes it great sautéed with mushrooms, onions and a splash of rice vinegar. It also works nicely in raw salads with seasonal fruit and a light dressing. The ribs are more fibrous than dino kale, though, and are best removed and made into roasted kale spears. Green curly makes for the best type of kale for chips because the leaves hold the savory coating well.
Dark purple stems and ribs and gray-green jagged leaves make this Russian unique. Milder than dino but stronger than curly, it can handle a variety of preparation methods.
This variety looks like green curly kale but has a darker purple color – which is good news as dark pigments enjoy more anti-oxidant properties. Use as you would green curly.
While kale has gone from outcast to adored in the past few years with mainstream eaters, many still fear the texture of kale will taste too fibrous – or suffer from post-traumatic memories of boiled, soggy greens. Fear not. Below follow a few of my favorite recipes and prep tips for seeing greens in a delicious new light.
Do note the way you chop is of prime importance: Studies show that cutting kale into small slices breaks down cell walls and releases enzymes called myrosinase which converts nutrients into action. Also, letting the kale sit 10 minutes before preparing or cooking is a beneficial practice – it allows for maximum vitamin absorption. And eating kale raw or al dente is the healthiest option, and adding lemon juice brings out even more enzymes, leading me to my super-healthy and simple massaged kale salad recipe – visit the Food Blog for that prep, which works best with dino kale.
Sneaky tips for incorporating greens into meals:
• Mac and Cheese and Chard: Boil noodles and put one bunch of chopped, destemmed chard in the hot water for the last 2 minutes. Strain both in a colander and add your cheese as usual, coating both noodles and chard. Shoot for half noodles and half chard.
• Mashed Potato meets Kale: Finely chop kale and fold into steaming hot mashed potatoes. Add butter, garlic and salt and pepper.
• Power Lasagna: Instead of spinach in lasagna, replace with chard or kale.
• Collard Wrap: Tenderize collard leaves with a mallet until soft. Use them as wraps instead of tortillas, adding a protein and vegetables and sauce of your choice. Or stuff with sandwich fixings or rice and beans for a collard burrito.
• Kale Stem Asparagus: Toss left over stems in olive oil with crushed garlic, red pepper flakes (optional) and salt. Roast in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes or until slightly crisp. Once out of the oven, shake some nutritional yeast on the spears. Eat while warm, and dip in a special aioli of your choosing.
In short, winter will be here before you know it, so embrace your peasant roots and plant some greens in the kale yard. And if you miss the opportunity to plant your own, be sure to hit up your local farmers market and buy organic greens from a farmer you know. The health of your future is waiting.