Just for the kale of it

When it came time to plant our garden last year, we considered lettuce.

We changed our minds, though, when we realized that lettuce is cheap to buy in the supermarket, and even more importantly, it has a very short growing season; to have lettuce all season long you have to keep planting more seed.

Better we should plant kale, I said, because it sells for about $4 a pound and the plants keep producing until well into the fall, even after a frost.

Indeed, enjoyed fresh kale until late November!

We still like kale, even though it seems to have passed its peak as a trendy vegetable.

A few years ago you couldn’t turn around without bumping into food columns about kale and kale dishes galore in restaurants. Someone even invented kale chips by baking kale leaves; you can still find these in high-end food stores at hugely inflated prices.

This year’s “it” vegetable seems to be the humble cauliflower. Cabbage and brussels sprouts are also increasingly popular. One of the trends that’s bumping kale out of hipness is “kalettes,” a hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts, which produces clumps of small, curly leaves.

They’re all related members of the “cole” family, descended from wild cabbage, a group that also includes broccoli, kohlrabi and collards.

I thought I’d say something about kale before it totally disappears into mundanity.

Nothing new about kale

Until the end of the Middle ages, kale was among the most common green vegetables in Europe.

Kale was introduced into Canada and then into the U.S. by Russian traders in the 19th century, says Wikipedia.

Britain encouraged home cultivation of kale as part of the Dig for Victory campaign during World War II. Kale was easy to grow and provided important nutrients for a diet constrained by rationing.

When I was growing up, when the only lettuce we knew was iceberg and dinner vegetables came from a can or the freezer, no one ever mentioned kale!

Kale has lots of beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and it’s rich in calcium. Kale is also a source of lutein, zeaxanthin and su lforaphane, a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties.

So what do you do with it?

First of all, remove the tough stems. Then chop or shred the leaves.

You can stir fry it in a little olive oil, then add a splash of balsamic vinegar just before serving. Or, as in the photo above, add a handful of raisins and some toasted pine nuts.

Like cabbage and spinach, kale cooks down to a fraction of its raw volume so you’ll need a big bunch of it to serve just a few people.

Raw kale is very popular for salads, but it’s can be hard to chew and also somewhat bitter.

I like this salad recipe for “massaged” kale salad. Rubbing salt and lemon juice into the leaves softens them. Adding honey to the dressing and mango to the salad counteracts the bitterness. The result is a very attractive and healthful dish.