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All Hail Kale

New Leaf Market E-newsletter February 27, 2012

By Gretchen Hein

KaleKale, a member of the crucifer family (think broccoli and cabbage), is a descendent of the wild cabbage believed to have originated in Asia Minor. It made its way to Europe around 600 B.C. thanks to groups of Celtic wanderers. It was a popular vegetable of peasants in the Middle Ages and a quick glance at its nutritional profile will explain why it became an essential vegetable in their diet. Kale arrived in North America in the 17th century and is growing in popularity. A few of the more recent varieties, such as Lacinato kale, are making their way to the top of the list and science continues to uncover additional information about it benefits.

Nutritionally, kale shines in three basic areas: It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, has many much-needed micronutrients, and is a rich source of cancer-preventive nutrients called glucosinolates. One more noteworthy mention is kale’s vitamin K content, providing nearly twice the amount of vitamin K as it fellow crucifers.

In the produce department look for kale with firm, deep green leaves with moist hardy stems. Smaller-sized leaves are more tender and mild in flavor. While kale can often be found year-round, it is more widely available and is at its peak in our area from late fall through the beginning of spring. This is the best time eat kale. You’ll be eating closer to home, an important concern. Purchasing seasonal, locally grown produce means local growers are supported, few petro-carbons are used in transport and what you eat contains higher nutritional content.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at gardening, kale is an easy to grow, easy to harvest, “hard to go wrong” kind of plant. You can start with sets found all around town or from seeds. I grow two different kinds in my garden, the more common curly leafed kale, which is used in a variety of dinner recipes, and the Lacanito, which is my morning delight. I wander out to the garden in the morning’s early light, snip a handful of Lacanito leaves and pop them into my blender for a green smoothie—my first meal of the day. The fresh greens wake me up and I feel like I’ve taken a bit of sunshine deep in my belly.

There are kale recipes galore available online (see below) and probably in your favorite recipe book. An old family favorite that I grew up eating was wilted (sautéed) kale with garlic and onions dressed with a sweet and sour bacon dripping dressing. My vegetarian version of that recipe is to sauté onions, garlic and shitake mushrooms, in that order, add chopped kale and a small amount of water, cover and steam until tender, stirring occasionally. Just before serving I season the greens with umeboshi vinegar and a handful of either blue or Gorgonzola cheese.

I’ve made kale chips, an easy tasty treat that can be crumbled and served on popcorn for a nutritious snack. Kale can be tossed into a variety of soups, especially those containing beans and/or potatoes. For a more puritanical taste, try steaming chopped kale and add a few dashes of your favorite vinegar. The addition of a vinegar helps make some of the nutrients more available. Raw kale salads have become a wintertime favorite, especially when dressed with a lemon, olive oil dressing and sunflower seeds that have been soaked for at least four hours prior to draining.

New Leaf Market’s website (www.newleafmarket.coop/recipes) is a great recipe resource and offers several kale recipes: Kale with Coconut Milk, Tomato-Lentil Stew with Kale and Corn Grits with Sautéed Onion, Kale and Cheddar. Also try All Recipes or Real Simple for delectable kale ideas. Enjoy!

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