In this week’s veg* food post, we’re going to get leafy green and highly scientific. Kale is a wonder-green that’s jumped into the public conscious relatively recently. While some find its luxurious folds enticing, others are intimidated by its unique taste and overwhelming vitamin load. No matter where you stand, let me show you how science and people get together to make delicious eats.
Kale is a leafy cabbage plant that instead of forming a head (like a head of lettuce, not like a head of state), just lets it all hang out. It’s a cultivated version of Brassica oleracea, a plant in the mustard family. Now, many mustard plants have chemicals in the leaves that make the leaves taste bitter or sharp. This deters leaf-eating insects who would rather not deal with the havoc those chemicals could wreak on them, but it did nothing to curb human appetite or ingenuity.
See, over years, decades, centuries of carefully selecting for specific types of Brassica oleracea, humans have managed to take that one species and create a series of cultivars, or cultivated plants, out of it. Prepare your mind because it is about to be blown: cauliflower, kale, broccoli, and collard greens are ALL THE SAME SPECIES. Yeah, I know. Talk about diversity, right?
Farmers have been selecting for different traits (big ol’ leaves for kale, big ol’ buds for broccoli) since basically forever. Kale is supposedly one of the older cultivars, but it has become super popular all over again. Fashion is cyclical and so is food ““ watch out, Jen’s bizarre molds are going to be coming back in style soon (Jen is a Persephone food soldier, putting her tongue on the line for us every week). Kale was probably introduced to the United States from Europe (Kai-lin from China is similar but not quite the same). It was super popular since it would grow in the winter when nothing else would even be starting to sprout from the earth AND it is high in important vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C and calcium.
Kale can be eaten either raw or cooked. I prefer raw because I am developing a real fiendish love of Large Fancy Salads. I think Elaine Benes was onto something with all that Big Salad ordering she did at the coffee shop. The local food co-op here makes a fantastic kale and beet salad with sesame seeds and bits of red bell pepper, so if I’m feeling lazy, I go with that. Since kale has a lot of flavor, it’s easy to make a simple dressing for it, like the one on the Whole Foods website, and just dig in. I like adding nuts or seeds to the salad to offset the bitter taste of the leaf. I know some folks are into adding dried fruit, like cranberries or raisins, but that’s just not my bag.
And finally ““ let me make a plug for kale chips because one they are delicious and two they are healthy and three, if you want to make your own, they are easy to do. Just wash some kale, mix up a tablespoon of olive oil, and add salt to taste. Spread that concoction onto a cookie sheet, bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes or until the leaves are crispy but not brown. Enjoy forever.