Kale, a Wildly Underappreciated Food
Updated: Jan 7
Barely two years ago I was in the camp of those who didn't like kale, by default. I knew it only as a funny scrunchy green vegetable matter with too-crunchy texture, too-iron flavor, that adorned the edges of fancy restaurant plates. It seemed like an elitist trendy health food kind of vegetable that only those with acquired superior tastes could enjoy (or gag down with a fake grin while trying to be woke.)
I hope to change your mind like I did.
Why should I even eat kale?
Kale is so well packed with necessary nutrition that it is said to be one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet, even more so than its other brassica cousins.
According to the USDA, 1 cup serving of raw kale is a mere 33 calories. It contains 684% of your daily intake of Vitamin K, 206% of Vitamin A, and 134% of Vitamin C (that is more than an orange.) Kale also contains a healthy punch of Calcium, Iron, Omega-3+6, potassium, and magnesium while also providing good digestible fiber, healthy carbs, and even protein!
Nutritionists applaud kale for being a heart-healthy, diabetes-helping, weight loss-assisting food that may even aid in the prevention of cancers. Your bones, brain, skin, hair, organs, insulin levels and cholesterol levels will all thank you for the support.
But, I don't like it! OR How do I add it to my diet?
I am not a particular fan of kale in my 'traditional' garden salads, and I think that is where most people will first encounter kale (which is a terrible first impression.)
If you are going to utilize kale in a garden type salad, I recommend only using the newest, youngest, tender kale leaves. You will find a vast difference in the texture and flavor between the young leaves and slightly older, or even matured, leaves that most prepared salads seem to contain.
Kale is a vegetable that is easy to incorporate, or hide!, in almost anything cooked. ANY kind of soup, stew, casserole, or stir fry can accept kale like a best friend. Cut the kale into the size you'd prefer per each dish - another big mistake I see commercially is giant stringy hunks of kale in soups and it just doesn't have to be so unappealing that way! Omelets, quiches, or any kind of breakfast egg bake or skillet is a great dish to add kale to. Again, cut to the size you'd prefer which for me is equal to the size of any other vegetables in the dish.
If you love smoothies and will venture towards those with green essences, kale is definitely an addition you don't want to miss out on. After all, kale has more potassium than a banana! Great before an AM work out.
Kale can be roasted! It can even be lightly fried! Kale roasted in the oven with onions and potatoes is one of my favorite dinner sides. Take this a step further and make kale CHIPS for a much healthier snack than those oh-so-tempting potato varieties. Kale can even enhance the richness and flavor of homemade sauces.
My NEWEST favorite use is a Kale Peanut Pesto (recipe!)
Tronchuda kale over 3' in width!
TYPES of kale
Kale is a brassica and brassicas are amazingly varied, originating from wild mustard plants. If you don't enjoy one variety, you may find another more to your liking. You might even consider branching out to any of the other 37 species in the brassica genus, which include well known arugula, turnip, broccoli, cabbages, as well as the lesser known to American palate kholrabi, watercress, bok choy, horseradish, and wasabi.
On the homestead we usually grow Tronchuda and Blue Scotch kales. These happen to be two of the more common and well known varieties, which are actually very unique from each other in size, shape, color, texture, and taste. Blue Scotch is an heirloom type with tight curls to the leaf edges. Tronchuda leaves can grow very large, able to be measured in feet! You can go culinary wild with this type of leaf, even using it in place of bread buns or tortilla wraps.
If you prefer a more lettuce-like kale, try Premier. If you love a light but cabbage-like flavor, Dwarf Siberian may be right for you. There are red kales, green kales, purple kales, kales with thicker and meatier leaves, types with thin and delicate lettuce-like leaves, varieties that taste nuttier, or more buttery, or deep and rich. If you can imagine it, someone has created a seed variety for it.
Need more reasons to grow it?
Brassicas are hardy plants. I am endlessly impressed by the entire brassica family and just how hardy they are but kale takes the cake. Some varieties have been developed to be even more cold tolerant, heat tolerant, shade tolerant, drought-accepting, and poor-soil-accepting than others. In fact, some varieties will get sweeter-tasting if you allow a frost to grace the leaves.
They are forgiving, and they keep on giving. Kales are a continuous-harvest plant. Using a sharp clean tool such as kitchen scissors, simply cut the lowest and largest leaves every few days (unless you're taking a few young and tender leaves for salads.) The plant will continue to grow and produce more leaves for you.
Seed them early, grow them all summer, retire them well after frost. Here in the mountains of southern New England, I can usually set my kale seeds into their garden holes as early as mid-March. Some years I need to wait 2 weeks longer, but no need to wait until after the last average frost date, as the seeds are cold-hardy. Depending on weather, the plants may be ready for first harvest as soon as mid May! The plants will survive through even the high 90s we get at times and continue producing all summer. I water garden plots by hand on average every 3 days even during the heat, but you may need to adjust for your particular conditions. As mentioned, kale does not mind frost at all and some varieties will get sweeter when the leaves receive a light frost, so I can easily grow into October each year. If you have row covers, I bet you can extend into November until snow flies and begin again in early March if the snow totals are low in your region (not so much here, we are well known for March blizzards.)
And, we have clay dirt! I've worked for years trying to amend it but it is still far from ideal soil. The brassicas don't care one bit, they grow big and beautiful every year.
The stems in center show where we have trimmed earlier leaves. The kale continues to grow, with new leaves ready to harvest. This variety is Blue Scotch, an heirloom.