Ode to Kale
Oh, Kale- that status symbol of the health conscious, that survivor of the winter garden, that food which my children will pick out of any dish I attempt to sneak it in to.
Love it or hate it, kale has a long and storied history beginning as early as 600 B.C. The Ancient Greeks supposedly boiled and consumed it as a cure for drunkenness (a far cry from the common American cure for drunkenness-- a trip to Waffle House at 4am). In Scotland and Ireland, young folks would use kale stalks to predict their future husband or wife. And during World War II, kale was encouraged in British and American Victory Gardens alike, due to its inherent toughness and nutrient density.
But perhaps most fascinating of all, is that despite all the beautiful variations of leaf texture and color in modern kale varieties, it has actually changed little in thousands of years. These leafy, non-heading cabbages have persisted in their ‘primitive’ form largely unchanged since early times, due to their worthiness as a garden vegetable.
I will admit, kale is not my most favorite vegetable for fresh eating. But added to soup (Zuppa Toscano anyone?), hearty winter salad (the secret is the addition of an acidic dressing and massaging the leaves to hasten the breakdown kale's tough fibers), or zesty kale chips, it's a delicious treat indeed.
And- there is a kale for every usage. Some of my all-time favorite varieties include:
Casper- this gorgeous, frilly leaved kale is unique in that it was bred for sweet and tend midribs- the part of the kale that is typically discarded because it is too tough to eat.
Mamba- a 'dinosaur' type kale, also known as Lacinato or black palm.
Sunbor- the best purple kale on the market, Sunbor's unique coloration only intensifies with the cold (as is the case with most kales).
Rainbow Candy Crush- Looks like an ornamental kale, right? This whimsical variety is not just a pretty face. That lovely rosette form and brilliant color belies its tender texture and sweet flavor. Bonus- it's one of the most cold-hardy kales I've ever grown!
When my garden enters ‘the season of kale’… the chilly time of the year during which very few vegetables survive, I am thankful that this ancient vegetable persisted into modern times. What are YOUR favorite kale varieties?