Kale: a healthy obsession

Greenhouse grown kale in pitchers on a counter

My intense feelings for kale only started a few short years ago; towards the end of our time as city dwellers we started our first garden and kale was something that I picked mostly because it sounded lovely and hardy. Red Russian Kale just sounded so alluring, for that was the variety I planted. We enjoyed some delicious kale dishes and my two or three plants produced enough of those lovely green, thick, fibrous leaves to share with family and friends on a couple of occasions.

The first year that we owned our new patch of land, before a house ever stood here, we cheerfully planted a couple of tiny vegetable beds out in the middle of a field that had once been tilled. It was miles to walk to it with our garden implements, and we almost never watered it, and it mostly was a failure, except for some random squashes and a bit of dogged kale.

Our first proper growing season here – just last year! – we planted some proper beds, mostly around our new house, and enjoyed kale alongside some new finds, chard and spinach. I had a bit of a fling with chard last year, and felt a bit disloyal to my kale, but in the end I’ve come back to kale (I won’t give up my love for chard however, as its delicacy is something quite special compared to tough old kale).

Here I am with an armful of the curly kale from two plants that have been growing prolifically, almost stupidly so, in a back corner of our greenhouse. (You’ve got to appreciate that this photo was taken, along with a few others, quite naturally by my 14-year old son. You might expect your average teen to raise an eyebrow or poke fun, but he took me quite seriously when I walked into the kitchen and said ‘grab the camera’. I think he’s perhaps been a little too exposed to my passion for kale.)

With bunches of kale grown in a greenhouse

I started these two plants inside the house in the dead of winter, just to see how they would grow. It wasn’t the pre-spring seedling preparation that we do each year, but rather just an experiment to see the rate of growth in winter. I now know from my reading that kale won’t produce new leaves in the winter months, but it will grow slowly and sturdily, preparing itself for the main growing season. Transferring those two small plants to the greenhouse was a bit of a lark, as kale is a northern plant that does just fine out in the elements and doesn’t need babying. It’s not a tomato or a melon for goodness sake.

But, oh my gosh. Well, I’ve said it before and I have to say it again, those two plants have gone bonkers, and just keep cranking out huge frilly leaves ready for picking. The harvest shown above removed about a third of what was growing on those two plants this evening, and I’ve already harvested loads from those plants for our own household as well as to give away. Those two plants are dwarfing the – not at all shabby – production of my eight or nine kale plants in my front (northern-facing) garden, up at the house. Which, as you can see here, is quite respectable.

Small vegetable bed with mostly kale and rhubarb

Yes, that’s the bed that made me write about being awash in kale and rhubarb a little while ago. I love that bed, whose existence is owed to my husband, a maverick willing to try different things. It’s a quiet and sheltered little haven for a small selection of very happy plants, including lettuces and other greens, some beans and a bit of chard. And it’s now been joined by a small herb garden across the path. I love being able to step out the front door and just grab something to incorporate in a dish or meal.

So, what is so great about kale anyway?

1. It’s beautiful, a true ornamental in the vegetable world.

2. It’s damn good for you, being a great cancer-fighter, high in Vitamins K, A and C, rich in calcium, and a great anti-inflammatory. But there’s more, as you can read here about the Top 10 Health Benefits of Eating Kale.

3. It’s easy to grow, easy to care for.

4. It’s incredibly versatile, cooking up on its own in a saute with garlic, adding goodness and flavour to pasta dishes, risottos, traditional dishes like Colcannon (where cabbage is the usual suspect instead of kale), potato and lentil-based soups, and much more. It even makes great chips and can be added to smoothies for a big boost (I must confess, the latter is not something that I tend to do, but I salute those who have, like Big Sis over at My Sister’s Pantry!).

5. It’s beyond easy to wash, cut up and bag for the freezer, creating a wonderfully healthy stash to draw upon in the non-growing months. Kale lasts a good few months in the freezer (I’ve stretched it as far as six or seven) and comes out of the whole affair unscathed. Grabbing a handful of frozen kale from a freezer bag is easy and brilliant.

Kale on the counter

Enjoying kale in the prime growing season is special, though. Just look at those flamboyant fronds, holding court on the kitchen island. It’s quite a sight.

I shared a recipe for a delicious kale frittata recently, which combines little flavour bursts from dried currants and cranberries with the nuttiness of parmesan cheese (although feta would be a nice contrast too).

Kale frittata with dried cranberries and currants

I’m planning to share more this season, including my take on Colcannon, my favourite spicy Caldo Verde soup (with chorizo sausage!) and a recipe for that orzo with kale dish featured in my weekend photos.

Do you have a favourite kale recipe? I’d love to know about it.

17 thoughts on “Kale: a healthy obsession

  1. I’m a kale convert myself too. I actually never heard of it before I started gardening. Unfortunately, it’s hard to grow here in Denver because it just gets too darned hot. Mine always gets infested with aphids. I read online that if you mulch them with dried banana peels it will repel the aphids – so I dutifully ate a banana every day throughout the winter, but either it’s a gardening myth or you have to have WAY more mulch than can be produced by one banana eater. Spraying with neem oil wiped them out, but it turned the leaves a funny yellowish color. Sigh.

    I’m drooling with envy over those beautiful frilly leaves!

    1. I hadn’t thought about it being hard to grow in a climate like Denver’s, especially given how happy our kale has been in an (unheated) greenhouse in the hottest months (it gets pretty hot and humid here). What about introducing ladybugs to control the aphids? I was reading on another blog about this recently and wonder if it might be helpful: http://aquaponicfamily.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/weve-got-more-bugs-good-bugs/. I’ve also tried collars for kale plants to keep other bugs from climbing onto them, though that wasn’t a complete trial by any means.

      1. Hmmm… I’ll have to look into that. It’s sorta hard to imagine having enough ladybugs to eat the volume of aphids that we get… I mean it’s sort of incredible. But maybe if they get to them early…

        Our weather has been really outrageous this year. Hottest June on record – 14 straight days with highs over 95F (35C) and two days tying Denver’s hottest temperature ever – 105F (40.5C). And no moisture to speak of. Oy! But fortunately our monsoons have finally arrived and we’re supposed to get some rain this weekend. Can’t get here soon enough for me!

  2. Hi, You have convinced me to freeze some then! Could you tell me your process for freezing kale? wash leaves, dry them, put them in zip bags? remove air from bag? …I would think they would “shatter” once frozen. Do you cut them up first into bite size pieces before freezing? Thanks!

    1. Hi there! You’ve accurately described the process: I cut the leaves off the heavy central ribs, which are discarded, wash and dry them, chop them up and place them in freezer bags, taking care to force out the air before sealing. Even with chopping the leaves (I don’t chop very small), they absolutely do ‘shatter’ into even smaller pieces in this state, but I find this really doesn’t matter for the types of recipes the kale leaves are tossed into, whether it’s an omelette, frittata, risotto, etc. I absolutely love this format compared to the blocks of frozen solid spinach that I bought once upon a time from the supermarket, forcing me to defrost the entire block regardless of how much I needed! Good luck with your kale and enjoy 🙂

      1. I don’t do that and find it doesn’t matter. I prefer not to blanch if I don’t have to as I don’t want to lose any nutritional value.

      2. You know, I’m totally confused about blanching. I’ve heard some people say that you somehow lose the nutrition if you don’t blanch, and others who say that you lose it if you do. I wonder if maybe it’s different for different vegetables or something. Hmmm… perhaps I should do some research.

      3. Me again on blanching. I just did this for green beans, as I understand that it’s an important step, but I went and did a bunch more reading and for kale it seems to be optional (although I think blanched kale may keep somewhat longer in the freezer).

  3. Terrific picture of you with the kale! I wish we’d thought to grow some here in Texas…maybe we’ll put in a few kale plants this fall.

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