Whatcom Farm to School’s “Harvest of the Month” for March 2012 is kale, one of my favorite local greens. I’ve been growing, eating, and enjoying kale for years, so I was surprised to find that many people think of kale as an unusual vegetable. If that includes you, let me fill you in on what you’ve been missing.
Kale is a beautiful leafy green in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, etc.–the cruciferous vegetables. Varieties of kale range from the crunchy, ultra-curly leaves to a tender, smaller, flat-leaved variety. The colors vary from deep, dark greens to lighter blue-greens to an almost black Italian version called lacinato.
Kale has a somewhat bitter flavor, similar to other dark leafy greens such as spinach. Its flavor combines well with raw, milder-flavored salad ingredients. As with other dark greens, kale pairs nicely with acidic flavors–raw with vinaigrette, sauteed with drizzled vinegar, etc. It also blends surprisingly well with fairly strong (non-local) spices, such as cloves or nutmeg.
Here’s the biggest secret of all–kale is a nutritional superfood. In fact, it might be THE nutritional superfood. Macronutrients, micronutrients, and immunity enhancing antioxidants–kale has it all. Kale is high in calcium, and it’s in a highly bioavailable form. Your body can absorb calcium from kale more easily than from other calcium-rich sources. For example, kale helps fight osteoporosis better than milk. Other benefits of kale include natural blood pressure reduction, strong anti-inflammatory effects for joints, and detoxifying effects. It can help you to lose weight, strengthen your nails and bones, and lower your “bad” cholesterol.
One word of caution: if you take blood thinning medication and you want to eat kale frequently, talk with your health care provider to see if your dosage needs to be adjusted. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat kale. Just see if your prescription should be changed.
Some people don’t like to eat kale raw because of its tougher texture. However, a simple solution is to cut your kale chiffonade style. Stack three or four leaves on top of each other, roll them lengthwise like a cigar, and cut across the roll in very thin slices. Another way to “tenderize” raw kale is to rub each leaf with a little salt, let the leaves sit for about half an hour, then rinse and chop.
Personally I don’t mind the crunch. I just remove the tough center stems and chop the leaves coarsely into about inch and a half squares.
Cooking with kale is fast and easy. Kale is often sauteed over medium high heat with a little onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Just like spinach, kale cooks down to a fraction of its raw size, so be sure to start with plenty. As soon as the kale has wilted down (about 3-5 minutes), the saute is finished and ready to eat.
In this recipe below, the kale is simmered slowly over low heat so it takes a little longer. The flavors are Greek inspired.
- 1 Tbsp butter (Breckinridge Farm, Everson)
- ¼ cup onion, chopped (Moondance Farm, Acme)
- 1 clove garlic, minced (Moondance Farm, Acme)
- ¼ tsp smoked cayenne pepper, crushed (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
- 2 cups canned tomatoes, drained (home-canned, Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 bunch kale (1/2 lb.), stems removed and coarsely chopped (Moondance Farm, Acme)
- 1 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, minced (home garden, Lummi Island)
- ½ tsp dried dill leaves (home dehydrated, Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
- Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium high heat.
- When the butter starts to bubble, add the chopped onion. Saute until the onion just begins to brown. Add garlic and smoked pepper, and saute for another minute or two.
- Add canned tomatoes and break up into smaller chunks. Add salt and stir well. Heat until mixture just starts to simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer about 10 minutes, until liquid has been reduced.
- Add kale, mint and dill. Cover and simmer another 10-20 minutes, until the kale is very tender. Watch carefully, and add a little water, if necessary to keep the pan from going dry. Season with salt to taste.
You could add a dollop of yogurt on top when you serve it, if you like.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, order online.
Bellingham Farmers Market
Boxx Berry Farm, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale
Community Food Co-op, 1220 N. Forest St. or 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham
Home garden, Lummi Island