Who Can Resist These Ruffled Beauties?
After a decade or so of acclaim, kale needs neither introductions nor accolades. However, some delicious, new-to-the-family crosses are just hitting nurseries, markets, and high-end restaurants this year, notably kalettes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these ruffled, purple-veined darlings are the offspring of an arranged marriage of kale and Brussels sprouts, two of my all-time favorite vegetables. So far, kalettes come in three varieties: Autumn Star matures early, Mistletoe is a mid-season cropper, while Snowdrop is for late winter harvest.
In each form, tall stalks are studded with adorable baby sprouts, which are surrounded in turn by frilly foliage (think kale) splashed with flashes of fuchsia and purple. Gorgeous on the plate, the foliage and/or plump rosettes can be roasted, sauteed, lightly steamed or enjoyed raw in salads (slice them in half or quarter them). Indeed, they’ve been featured in a number of magazine and cookbook glam shots that will probably put these pretty puppies on the top of the pop charts in no time flat.
Sourcing The Seed
Neither kalettes nor any of the other crosses I’ll mention are gene-spliced GMOs; instead they are carefully hand bred using time honored techniques. Partly in response to agri-monster corporations that contaminate seed lines and food crops with GMOs, a new band of artisan breeders has arisen. These inspired people work by patiently crossing individual plants to create new ones with even more desirable characteristics, then grow out the best of the results to develop reliable seed strains.
Uprising Organics (http://uprisingorganics.com) is one such local group, a dedicated bunch of farmers who devote their lives to preserving and improving food crops and open pollinated seed lines. They themselves grow most of the seed they sell, and what isn’t home grown is carefully sourced to keep the quality as high as possible. Similarly, small-scale hand breeders up and down the coast (and around the country) are working to refresh and purify classic tomato and potato varieties, among many other crops. These folks combine lofty ideals with practical goals, notably the development of ever-more-delicious vegetables.
A Close Knit Family
The cole clan intermarries readily, which is a wonderful thing, considering the variety and quality of its many crosses, each of which offers a distinctive twist on the mama plants. One of my favorites for the past few seasons has been another kale/Brussels sprout cross called Flower Sprouts Petit Posy. Not surprisingly, it’s very similar to kalettes, the foliage having the earthy warmth of kale and the sprouts inheriting a somewhat lighter, fresher version of the lush, deep Brussels sprout flavor. A stunning kale/broccoli cross called Purple Peacock is beautiful enough to be a border plant. Its deep purple stems are tipped with broccolini-like florets, while the young, pink and purple stained foliage is wonderful raw in salads, sauteed, or steamed with other greens (an a little olive oil, garlic and lemon does no harm at all).
An Italian variety, Broccoli Spigariello Liscia, is a leafy broccoli that produces tender little heads like those of broccoli raab, along with tasty foliage with the sweetness of kale/cabbage crosses such as Lacinato and Tuscan Black kale. Broccoli also crosses readily with Gailon, a Chinese broccoli with slender stems and smaller florets. Several recent introductions of this mating are hitting the nurseries, sometimes sold as Brokali. Broccoli x Gailon Happy Rich, a fall cropper, combines broad, substantive foliage with chunky, raab-like floret-heads, both of which are delicious raw, steamed, grilled, and sauteed. Last season, we pigged out on Asparabroc, another Broccoli/Gailon cross with mild, almost succulent foliage, clusters of tender florets, and asparagus-like stalks. If you harvest the main head, several side shoots will follow in short order.
Sauce For the Goose
Here are a few basic treatments that will help you fall in love with any of these splendid cole family creations. There are so many great ways to enjoy these veggies that it’s almost impossible to go wrong. The worst you could do to coles is to overcook them; almost anything else will have a desirable outcome.
Best Ever Basic Broccoli
4 cups broccoli florets
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Put broccoli in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover pan, reduce heat to medium and steam for 3 minutes. Immediately plunge broccoli into a bowl of very cold water and let cool for about 10 minutes (about to room temperature). Drain well and serve with a sprinkle of sea salt. Addictive!
Super Sprout Salad
2 cups sliced sprouts (any of the above)
2 cups sliced Crimini mushrooms (or any kind you prefer)
2 tablespoons avocado oil (or olive oil)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon flaked nutritional yeast (optional)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
1 cup grapefruit sections, peeled and chopped
1 Opal or Honeycrisp apple, diced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro OR Italian parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped roasted almonds or hazelnuts
In a serving bowl, gently toss sprouts and mushrooms with oil, half the lime juice, nutritional yeast (if using), maple syrup, and salt and let stand for 15-20 minutes. (This marinade “pre-cooks” the sprouts and mushrooms and mellows them considerably.) Add remaining ingredients, toss gently and serve. Serves 4-6.