In Defense of Kale

In Defense of Kale

All right, I get it. You’ve probably had kale that was not the best. You might be one of the many people who have a severe aversion to kale, and who think of it only as a health food. But I’m here to tell you, kale is not just good for you. It’s delicious. It’s really fucking delicious.

There are not so good ways to have kale. Steamed is generally not that great, but let’s be honest, is there ANY vegetable that’s really great steamed? Unless, as my partner says, you just scare it. But oversteamed, wilted, mushy broccoli? Ew.

Kale is similar. You don’t want to eat it mushy. However: sautéed with garlic, so it’s just a little bit crisp? Yum. Made into kale chips? And yes, you will likely think I’m making things up, but a really well done kale salad? ALSO DELICIOUS.

I am not one for health trends. I think pretty much anything you buy at Whole Foods is probably ridiculous (Why I Hate Whole Foods, aka a ridiculous rant I wrote on the subject), and I suspect most of the anti-kale sentiment comes from people who have been shopping at Whole Foods and decided they are so over the kale thing. Or maybe it is because it’s a thing in restaurants? I have no idea, we can’t afford to go to restaurants. I only know that I grow it in my garden, and of all the things I have attempted to grow over the years, it has grown better than literally anything. I can’t kill it. I had some aphid problems this year? The kale attracted some kind of beneficial wasp that ate all the aphids. The aphids of course then proceeded to eat everything else in the garden. The kale survived.

I have left kale in the garden long after we have pulled out every other plant. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage (all in the same family, btw) bolt and get all leggy and unattractive. Kale? Keeps on going. The cover we put over the kale falls in and exposes the kale to frost? The kale? Keeps on going. It snows? The kale keeps on going. I mean I really cannot kill that shit. The secret is that kale is a biennial. This means that unlike most vegetables we grow in our gardens, it lasts for two years, not one. Most vegetables (peas, tomatoes, squash) are annuals- plants that only survive for a year, and don’t come back. Kale is a biennial, which will keep on trucking for two years, even through nasty cold conditions. It’s kind of a miracle.

So what do you do when you have a vegetable that is really seriously good for you, actually tastes fantastic (if cooked properly), and that endlessly grows in your garden, no matter how much you neglect it? You learn how to cook it in a million different ways.

My mother, who still refuses to actually eat kale (really, mom, you will love it if you try it!), found me a cookbook in a bargain bin that has been my savior. It’s called Kale, Glorious Kale by Catherine Walthers. I haven’t read most of the rambling about kale, but when it’s the dead of winter and I don’t have any fresh vegetables except the oodles of kale still going strong in our garden, it has given me endless ideas. Kale tart? Probably my favorite. Kale Spanish rice, various soups with kale, super easy kale side dishes- basically, this cookbook takes all the basic foods you would normally cook, and adds kale.

My all time favorite kale recipe, however, is this:
In a large pan, melt about 2 tbsp butter, add about half a large butternut squash (peeled and cubed) or one small one (or one large sweet potato, or pumpkin, or various vegetable along those lines). Cook until tender, about 8 min (for butternut squash).
Add garlic, chopped small, about 3-4 cloves and seasoning (I use red pepper flakes, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper, or whatever I am in the mood for- I have also used curry).
When garlic is cooked through add about 1.5 cup chicken broth (or vegetable if you’ve got vegetarians for dinner). When it comes to a simmer, add a smallish bunch of kale (destemmed and chopped lightly) and stir until it wilts.
Add a package of gnocchi (or make your own). Cover and cook until the gnocchi are cooked, about 5 min. Uncover and stir in some parmesan (or omit if you have vegans in your family) and another tbsp of butter (or some alternative, but butter is seriously best).
Transfer to a casserole dish, top with more parmesan, and bake under the broiler (I put it on low but my stove runs hot) and cook until golden and bubbly, about 5-10 minutes.
I have made this recipe for pretty much everyone (even my mother), brought it to Thanksgiving dinner, fed complete strangers, you name it. Even the handsome fella, who HATES squash, will eat this dish. I will often throw in whatever’s in the fridge- bell peppers, sausage, anything I feel like. But it’s fabulous for getting rid of copious amounts of kale. And yummy.

A final note on kale. We have grown many kale varieties over the years, but our all time favorite is called Winterbor. Starbor is a very similar variety that is very popular, but from our experience, Winterbor is just that much hardier and more persistent. I have tried one called Premier, which is just gigantic and the leaves wilted almost immediately, and of course I’ve done some of the lacinato (aka dinosaur) kales, which are fine for cooking but not as hardy. This year we’re trying a new, apparently Portuguese kale called Beira. I’ll let you know how it goes.

2 Responses

  1. I am planting this in my window sill garden this year for exactly this reason! YEY kale!

  2. I’m with you. Not fully convinced of the “delicious kale salad” but I like it most other ways I’ve tried it.

    I didn’t know it was a biennial. My last crop survived (though didn’t keep growing) through a Canadian winter for the last 2 years, which surprised me, but maybe that was the end.

    And, I do occasionally buy it from Whole Foods – but mainly because the supermarket near me normally carries that huge Frankenstein kale (twice the size that it should be and three times the size of the ones I’ve ever seen in a home garden) and I don’t trust it fully nor can I eat it all before it goes bad 🙂

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