“Green” foods, when I was growing up, meant romaine salad or maybe a chopped up green pepper. I didn’t eat cooked greens until I moved to the South and I didn’t eat kale until several years later when I joined a CSA. And while I was instantly hooked on the challenging flavors of mustard and turnip greens, it took me a while to figure out how to really love kale.
Kale is a member of the Brassica oleracea species, which includes most of my favorite vegetables. It wasn’t until I started working on a farm that I learned kale is closely related to cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli, turnips and rutabaga, just to name a few. All those different, delicious vegetables have been selectively bred over thousands of years from one common ancestor for their various properties.
Kale is best enjoyed in season: If you’ve found it bitter or unappealing, I highly recommend trying a local organic source of this powerhouse green. You’ll be amazed at the difference. Seasonally, kale is a cool weather crop grown in fall, winter, and spring. In warmer southern climates, kale is often unavailable May through September due to bitterness caused by heat and high pest pressure (but depending on your location, it may be perfectly tasty in June). It’s a breeze to grow and harvest: it can either be seeded directly into the ground or started in the greenhouse and transplanted into the field. Typically, kale requires a foot and a half of space around each plant for good growth and ventilation and a couple of rounds of weeding to keep them above the competition. To harvest, it’s easiest to just pull off individual leaves and bunch or bag them: the plant will continue to produce leaves, albeit much more slowly in the winter. At one North Carolina farm I worked on, kale started from seed in July and transplanted in August continued producing through February.
Kale is incredibly versatile and very healthy. One chopped cup of kale contains 35 calories and is a great source of vitamins A, K, and C: you can juice it, saute it, make it into chips or eat it raw in a salad.
There are three kinds of kale you’ll see most commonly at the farmers’ market: Winterbor kale, Lacinato Kale, and Red Russian kale. Below, you’ll find a picture, a brief description, and a recipe for each kind.
Red Russian kale sports broad, flat green and red-purple leaves with “ragged” edges. It’s a little sweeter than Winterbor kale, even before frost, and the shape of the leaves make it especially versatile in cooking. It’s great sauteed, juiced, or chopped into a salad, but I love Red Russian kale best for kale chips.
Red Russian kale chips
1 bunch Red Russian kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice or rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons white miso
pinch of mustard powder
dash of dried ginger
dash of crushed red pepper
1) Preheat oven to 350. If you prefer using parchment paper or a baking mat, prepare one or two baking sheets.
2) Tear the kale leaves off of the stem and then cut or tear into smaller pieces. (Stems can be cooked like celery or frozen for vegetable stock!)
3) Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, miso, and optional spices, if using, in a large mixing bowl.
4) Add the kale to the olive oil and miso mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.
5) Lay the kale out in a single layer on the baking sheets, being sure not to overlap.
6) Bake 10-15 minutes or until crispy, remove from oven, cool, and enjoy!
Note: Kale will burn quickly if you’re not careful–keep an eye on it after 10 minutes!
Winterbor Kale has large ruffled leaves that curl in on themselves. It’s most often used as a garnish, which is a damn shame and a waste of good food, if you ask me. It’s less sweet than Red Russian but still fantastic fresh, cooked, or juiced. This recipe uses raw kale. If the texture is too much for you, use your hands to “massage” the kale for several minutes before dressing it.
The longer this salad sits, the better it becomes. The lemon juice helps soften the kale, which is a little chewy for some folks.
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, according to taste
¼ c olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
8 cups stemmed and chopped winterbor kale (about 2 bunches)
⅓ c slivered toasted almonds
salt and pepper to taste
shaved Parmesan garnish
1) Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
2) Pour dressing over kale and toss to thoroughly coat. Dress with almonds and garnish with Parmesan.
Lacinato Kale has long, narrow, dark green leaves with a bumpy texture. It is also a great multipurpose kale and is said to be the sweetest of the three. I like it best for soup, as I find it has the mildest “green” flavor of the three kales listed here.
This is a hearty, savory soup which is fantastic if you’re coming down with a cold or just need something to warm yourself up.
Kale and Chicken soup
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
8oz rotini pasta
1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
8 cups vegetable stock
3 large carrots, diced
6 stems cutting celery, chopped
6 stems parsley, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1) In a large (6-qt) saucepan, heat 2tbs olive oil over medium heat. Saute carrots, onion, parsley, cutting celery, garlic and bay leaf until onions are translucent.
2) Add salt and 8 cups stock and bring to a medium boil.
3) Add chopped kale and allow to simmer for 2 minutes.
4) Add rotini and cook according to package directions, likely around 9 minutes. The pasta will absorb flavor from the stock and the starch and flavor which would normally be drained will remain in the soup.
5) When the pasta is at your preferred texture, remove from heat and add the cooked, chopped chicken.
Enjoy with a thick slice of sourdough bread.