Treasuring A Heritage Crop
I recently took part in an ongoing if slightly weird community discussion about kale. It all started with a social media post asking if anyone actually liked kale. Yikes! The floodgates opened and hundreds of people spoke up. I found it fascinating that some folks seemed resentful of kale’s popularity, scornfully calling it “so last year” and accusing high profile chefs of tricking them into eating something fit only for animal fodder. Others protested that kale can be wonderful, usually citing favorite restaurant dishes and recipes. Of the hundreds of responses, mine was the only one (that I saw, anyway) that discussed kale as a heritage crop, grown from the Mediterranean basin into Asia Minor through Europe and into the UK by the Middle Ages. Response? Crickets….
I guess I’m a little odd, but I’m always intrigued by the ways in which foods migrate around the world, becoming firmly traditional in some countries and fading from popularity in others. Brassica oleracea, the progenitor of kale, cabbage, broccoli etc., was a common food in Greek and Roman cultures by around 2000 BC. Thanks in part to various invasions, ancestral forms of kale and cabbage made their way across Europe to find an especially warm welcome in what’s now Scotland, where a heritage Shetland kale is still grown, a landrace whose origins are said to date back to around 600 BC when Celtic travelers wandered the known world. Scotland kale and its cole kin were farmhouse staples for hundreds of years, if not longer. Well into the twentieth century, Scots called any kitchen garden a kale yard, and ‘come to kale’ was a traditional invitation to a meal.
The World In A Kale Yard
These days, kale comes in many colors, textures, and even flavors, from peppery to mild and slightly sweet. As a dedicated kale lover, I’m thrilled to be able to grow kale in astonishing variety, from intensely ruffled Siberian Blue to frilly, crimson Chidori, which tastes sweetest when touched by frost. Deep magenta Redbor has curly-edged leaves that look and taste terrific in raw salads and cook in just a few minutes. White Russian kale has lacy foliage with white veining and is also most delicious after a light frost. Red Russian, deep green with pink and red edging, adds a tender crunch to salads. Vivid, electric green Prizm has won several awards, since its curly, almost stemless, cut-and-come-again leaves are excellent raw or cooked.
Crinkled and slender, Black Tuscan kale is a mild yet flavorful cross between kale and cabbage that my grandkids love, especially when we call it Dragonskin. Oregon-bred Dazzling Blue is another lacinato-type beauty, with blue-green foliage and hot pink ribs and a mellow flavor that’s lovely raw or cooked. I’m enchanted by Biera, an heirloom Portugese Sea Kale; it’s very tasty and the large leaves, jade green ribbed in ivory, look just like the charming pottery cabbage plates my mother collected in Portugal. Their thick ribs are as crisp as celery, while the leaves, sliced into chiffonade, are delicious in soups and stir fries. My whole family is wild about Kosmic Kale, a perennial Dutch tree kale that we harvest from every day of the year. My grandkids love to harvest the tender, blue-green foliage tipped and streaked with cream, and we enjoy it raw in sandwiches and salads as well as in almost any savory dish we make.
Kale In The Kitchen
If kale isn’t part of your usual repertoire, try adding chopped kale to casseroles, lasagna, and soups for extra color and texture. For extra crunch and a mild bite, add finely shredded kale or cabbage to tacos or hummus wraps. Need a quick side? Saute kale with olive oil and garlic, then spritz with lemon juice or drizzle with garlic-infused olive oil and toasted walnuts. Here are a few of our daily dishes, good warm or cold as sides or cooked salads, and leftovers make great omelet stuffing.
Three Vegans And A Fish
Bright and beautiful, this hearty side can become an entree with the addition of sliced sausages such as field roast or spicy Italian. The vinegar gives it an appealingly autumnal tang; try it with raspberry or blueberry vinegar as well as apple or pear cider vinegar.
Tangy Kale With Apples And Peppers
1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium Honey Bee or any apple, diced
1 cup chopped sweet or spicy red pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4-6 cups chopped kale, stems finely chopped
2 cups red or purple cabbage, chopped
2-4 tablespoons cider or fruity vinegar
Combine oil, onion, apple, peppers and salt over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add kale, cabbage and 2 tablespoons vinegar, cover pan and cook until tender (15-20 minutes). Adjust vinegar to taste and serve. Serves 4-6.
Lively with curry spices and fresh lime juice, this savory salad makes a satisfying vegetarian/vegan entree.
Black Kale Salad With Curry Dressing
3 cups Black Magic kale, stemmed and cut in ribbons
3 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 cup chopped sweet peppers
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 Cara Cara orange, sectioned, peeled and chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 cup Curry Dressing (see below)
In a bowl, combine all ingredients and gently toss. Serves 4-6.
2-3 tablespoons avocado or any oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1 organic lime, rind grated, juiced
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, starting with small amounts of curry powder, salt and lime juice and adjusting seasoning to taste. Makes about 1/3 cup.
Quick Kale Crisps
Kids love these tasty tidbits for snacks or as a mealtime side dish. Nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheese-like flavor and packs a powerful amount of protein.
1 large bunch kale (any kind)
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Trim tough stems from kale and save for soup. Chop the foliage into inch-wide ribbons. Pour oil into a rimmed baking sheet, add kale and toss gently with your hands to coat. Sprinkle with salt and nutritional yeast (if using) and bake at 400 until crisp (12-15 minutes). Serve immediately. Makes about 2 cups.
Poached Salmon with Kale and Oranges
1 pound skinless salmon fillet, cut in four strips
2 organic oranges, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chopped Kosmic Kale (or any)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
In a large pan, arrange salmon and sprinkle with half the orange zest, salt, and pepper. Juice one orange and add juice to pan with 1/4 cup water. Cut peel from remaining orange, section and chop, set aside. Cover pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until fish is opaque (136 degrees F., about 10 minutes per inch of fillet thickness). Remove fish to serving plates. Add kale, oranges, and remaining zest, salt and pepper, cover pan and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Serve with fish, garnished with green onions. Serves four.