Kale: Seeds of the Past, Food of the Future

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.


8 replies on “Kale: Seeds of the Past, Food of the Future”

I’m still not over the day when I found out what kale is. I mean, I read about on the Amarican blogs and the way people described it, it sounded like some sort of exotic veg. I just assumed it was one of these fancy things that I wouldn’t be able to get in a Danish supermarket anyways. And in my head I pronounced it “kahleh” (how do you actually say it?). Then, maybe some weeks ago, I googled it for the first time. It’s plain old “Grünkohl” and I was so…underwhelmed? I grew up with it, it’s one of the veggies I usually have during winter. One of the most old-fashioned foods that exist over here. Not exotic (whatever that means) at all.

But I love it :).

I’m not a big veggie eater (my 2 main food groups are bread and cheese) but I’ve been slowly trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Lately I really like spinach to make up a large portion of my salads, is Kale similar to the spinach flavor? Also I am very intrigued by the kale chip recipe. I know what I’ll be picking up at the grocery store tomorrow.

…I think Kale is more similar to spinach than lettuces, as it really does have more bitterness to it than spinach, but kale also has a much firmer texture to it than spinach.

Truthfully, when I use raw kale, I like to let it marinade in the dressing for a bit. I treat it more as I would a pasta salad, letting it sit in the dressing for about 30 minutes before consuming.

When cooking, (or at least sauteing) kale is very similar to spinach, the only difference being you need to leave it on the stove a bit longer.

I hope you give kale a try…I’m a reformed reluctant veg-eater who still forgets I like vegetables and greens.There are SO many ways to enjoy kale (ooh! Just remembered another, saute some kale with olive oil and garlic, then toss with pasta and parm. SO. Good.)

I add kale to just about everything now. Potatoes dauphine? Kale! Soup? Kale! That giant pot of jambalaya that I have bubbling on the stove right now? KALE!

I’m also a big fan of just sauteing a bit of kale and putting it on some sourdough toast with a poached egg on top. So, so yummy!

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