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Kale, Kale, The Gang’s All Here

I feel that as a public service, I have to tell you something: Sometimes, you just have to do things because they are good for you. You may learn to like them later.

That is the way it is with kale. Just eat it. Find a way to eat it that works for you, but eat it. The nutritional benefits of this vegetable are just so huge; if you can’t bring yourself to eat any other green veggie or leafy green, eat kale. (no, I am not on the payroll of the American Kale Conference or the National Kale Board or whatever lobbying group they have; as a matter of fact, that might be part of the problem. I don’t think anyone is actually doing PR for the vegetable)

OK. Housekeeping. What IS kale?
Kale is a member of the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group) and because it’s leaves do not form a head, it is considered to be closer to the ancestors of cabbage than any other member of the family.
In its current state of development (you can get flat and curly leafed varieties), this is a vegetable which has been around for thousands of years and is documented as being eaten by Romans in the 4th Century B.C.

Advantages of Kale
If you are a gardener in the northern part of the US, kale is something that you can start early, eat all summer, keep into the fall and even eat after it’s gotten a hard frost. As a matter of fact, the sugars in the plant actually are accentuated by frost, so this is an advantage in terms of having a fresh veggie out of the garden after everything else has seemingly been killed off. . . .

Kale freezes well. Kale will keep under the snow. I have dug up kale for dinners in January out of the snow. It is firm, green, crunchy and juicy. During the winter, when getting fresh veggies (except for those being trucked in from places like Florida, California and Texas) can be iffy, having kale out in the ‘deep freeze’ is definitely worth it.
Kale is dead easy to grow. All veggies in the cabbage family are just the easiest in that you do not have to worry about the temperature of the soil when you plant the seeds. As long as you can work the soil, you can plant kale. Kale seeds will come up between 45 and 50 degrees in the soil.

Benefits of Kale
Like all members of the cabbage family, kale is a powerhouse vegetable. It is an excellent source of Vitamin K, A, and C. It also is a great source of such minerals as copper, manganese, calcium and potassium. It is strong in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients such as Vitamin C, beta-carotene and manganese as well as 45 different “flavonoids”, including kaempferol and quercetin which show anti-inflammatory action.

Kale is very high in fiber (which we know none of us gets enough of, frankly) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the basic building block for all omega-3 fats.

Kale is an especially strong source of cancer-preventive nutrients called glucosinolates, which when the vegetable is eated and digested, convert into cancer preventing compounds in the body.
For more about kale and nutrition: kale

more kale

Adding kale to your diet
One of the issues in American dietary life is that we like our veggies dead bland. What is the most popular member of the cabbage family? Broccoli, which frankly has been selected over the past 50 years to be something people can pour cheese sauce over in order to get kids to eat it at all. If you want to walk on the wild side with broccoli, try broccoli raab (also referred to in Italian families as ‘raapi’), which is to broccoli, what hot Italian sausage is to a McDonald’s hamburger. THAT, my friends, is broccoli and is usually cooked with about 6 cloves of garlic.

No one is ever going to call kale a ‘shy vegetable’; it is strong no matter how you cook it (steaming is best, actually, but a bit of a sautee in a little olive oil will help with harnessing the Vit. B content). If you look at various European cuisines that use it, almost universally, you will see that kale is put in combination with other very strongly flavored ingredients:

Portugese Caldo Verde, a soup, combines kale with spicy sausages.
In Germany, the standard is to eat kale with mettwurst.

So, if you have a spicy stew or soup (like chili for example, now that we are coming into winter), adding several cups of washed, de-stemmed, chopped up kale leaves will give a tremendous nutritional boost and the kids won’t complain too much. We like to sautee kale with a little olive oil and onions, served with a little bit of slivered almonds or chopped walnuts.

Adding kale to your garden
It’s never too late!! I just ordered seeds for all sorts of greens, kale, chard, beets, etc. to have on hand for the early spring garden (soil temperatures in the 45 + range which is April here; depending on where you live, ‘your mileage may vary’). They arrived and I’ve got them in a ziplock™ bag in the back of the fridge to wait for their debut. It’s not really worth trying to start them inside since you can put them straight into the ground so early. The pictures of the kale here from my garden are of red Russian kale, which stands at this point almost 5 feet tall. If you want something smaller or with curly leaves, you might want to try dwarf Siberian kale or Tuscan black kale (which is actually not black but is a very dark blue green and is actually rather ornamental so if you’d like to move your landscaping toward more of an edible situation, this might be a great choice).

So, do just one thing: Add kale to ONE dinner this week. Does a body good™ and all that.

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5 Comments

  1. elouise says:

    Toby!!

    We eat a lot of Kale here. Really good for your eyes.

    We planted Kale a few weeks ago. It’s about 3″ high. I’m in Zone 7B, I think. It seems to be doing well along with the chinese broccoli, pak choi, rape and brussel sprouts. My beloved tomatillos are almost finished. Don’t think they’ll make it through the frost that may be coming at the end of the week.

    Are you saying my kale may last through the winter? We get some snow. Not enough for my taste, but some. I would love to go to my garden in January or February and pick Kale. Or anything for that matter.

    I really like all the great info you give us. I try to follow you here and at FDL. I’m not much of a commenter but am trying hard to get this gardening thing down. In California I could just put stuff in the ground with a bit of manure and it grew and fruited and we ate. Not so here. Sigh!

    Thanks again

  2. cidell says:

    I have been buying kale the last few weeks through my CSA. I love it steamed with whole grain pasta.

  3. Aunt Toby says:

    If you get enough snow to cover the plants, then they will be protected enough to last. Literally, I have dug curly-leaved kale out of 6″ of snow. The leaves that stuck up were all brown and ugly; I just trimmed those ends off. We’re eating our kale from the top down do that I have the bottom foot left for the winter snow.

  4. Jocuri says:

    I’d like to say that you always offer valid information and I have been an fascinated reader of your site for quite some time. I wanted to say thankyou really 🙂 for all the good work you do!

  5. Auntie Allyn says:

    Kale rocks!!!! I’m always so happy at this time of year when good kale becomes available at the market.

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