Tuesday, 18 June 2024

The Veggie Girl: All hail the mighty kale!

"Veggie Girl" columnist Esther Oertel looks at local produce and how to use it in creative, delicious and healthy ways. Courtesy photo.



It’s not often that I refer to a vegetable as “mighty,” but it’s hard to resist calling kale anything else.

First of all, its sheer hardiness is unmatched by any other vegetable.

It’s rarely ravaged by pests or diseases, even those that strike other members of its family. It’s in the species Brassica oleracea, which contains a wide array of vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli and collard greens.

Kale, a spring crop, thrives in cool temperatures and shuns the warmer days of summer. Northern Europeans love it for its tolerance to cold winters; there it’s valued for providing an early supply of greens. Expose it to frost and its flavor becomes deeper and sweeter.

Kale’s cabbage-like, loosely arranged leaves are beautiful for landscaping, especially because its colors range from shades of green to rich purple. Some have ruffled leaves and the endearingly named dinosaur kale has leaves that resemble reptilian skin.

Kale is one of the oldest vegetables, having been grown in its present form by the Greeks over 2,000 years ago. Up until the middle ages, it was the most common green vegetable in Europe.

It’s also one of the most nutritious veggies on the planet. Full of vitamins K, C and A, a variety of minerals and an arsenal of cancer-fighting agents, it packs more nutrients into each calorie than anything we consume. In fact, it’s so full of Vitamin K (1,327.6 per cent of our daily requirement, to be exact), that folks on prescription blood thinners should stay away from its deep green goodness.

Kale is a powerful antioxidant. As well, it contains sulforaphane, a chemical released when kale is chopped that is believed to have potent anti-cancer properties.

There are so many culinary uses for this earthy, bittersweet vegetable that I was hard-pressed to pick just one recipe to share.

It can be sautéed, braised, boiled, stir-fried, steamed and roasted, added to pots of soups, stews and beans, and used in a variety of cuisines, including Northern European, Mediterranean, Asian, Caribbean and the Southern U.S. It can be made into pesto or thrown into a fruit smoothie to make a healthy green shake (but be sure to remove the tough center rib first).

It goes particularly well with white beans, sausages or tomatoes in a soup. When served on its own, a squeeze of lemon or a bit of red wine vinegar is nice as a seasoning. Kale does not work well when used raw in a salad, unless tender baby kale is used.

My favorite way of preparing it is simple: sautéed in a skillet with a bit of olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic. Water droplets on the leaves left from washing the kale provide enough liquid for the cooking process; however, if it becomes dry, add a bit of vegetable broth or some more water. After it’s had a nice sauté, finish the dish by covering the pan and steaming the kale until tender and sweet.

Keep in mind that kale takes longer to become tender than other greens such as chard or collards. Cooking it to a tender state removes some of the bitterness that may be present otherwise.

For an added treat, I combine the cooked kale with caramelized onions to use as a topping for polenta, to accompany roasted sweet potatoes or as a green bed on which to rest grilled salmon or chicken.

As our weather grows warmer, less kale will be available at local farmers’ markets. Judith Biggs, self-described “growing artist” of Bio Farm in Kelseyville, had plenty of organically-grown kale at her booth Saturday at the Steele Winery farmers’ market. Her supply will wane as our summer nears, so buy quickly! In addition to mature kale, she has baby kale available.

The recipe I’d like to share with you is unusual but tasty. Once you try it, it may become addictive. It’s a healthier alternative to potato or corn chips, so guilt is not necessary when indulging in this culinary treat.

Kale crisps with sea salt

For about three servings, use:

6 cups of firmly-packed kale, washed and trimmed

1-1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoon good quality sea salt

Toss kale with the olive oil and roast on a baking pan in a preheated 375 degree oven. Turn kale over and roast another 7 to 10 minutes until kale turns brown and becomes paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Best when served immediately.

Note: To trim kale, cut stems off and strip the leaves off the tough inner rib.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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