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Kale – Have You Tried It Yet?  By Don Urbanus

           You’d think kale had just been invented with all the interest in it lately. However, kale originated in Asia Minor and has been eaten for at least 2000 years in the Mediterranean area. English settlers brought kale to the colonies in the 17th century. It is now grown around the world.

          Wild cabbage is the predecessor of our more modern kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and collards. Recently, these vegetables have been gaining more interest because of their health benefits. All of these plants are of the same species, Brassica oleracea – although the variation is amazing. Kale, with its leafy green leaves, is thought to resemble the wild cabbage more than the others.

          Kale is grown as a cool-season type vegetable. Planted now for an early fall crop or later for a winter or early spring vegetable, Kale is frost tolerant and actually gets sweeter with cooler weather or a good frost.

          There are several varieties of Kale including the curly kales like Blue Knight – a peppery and more pungent version of kale, Dinosaur (or Lacinato or Tuscan) kale with ruffled leaves and a sweeter more delicate flavor, Portuguese kale like Tronchuda Biera which has bigger flatter leaves and a milder flavor, and Russian or Red Russian kale, a larger sweet variety with oak-like leaves that turns purplish in the winter. There is even a variety called Sprouts Kollette which is a cross between Russian kale and Brussels sprouts. Instead of little balls of “sprouts”, this variety has small versions of baby kale that are harvested off the stem.

Ornamental kales, also known as salad savoy, which although very edible with a mild cabbage taste, are mainly grown ornamentally for their striking white, pink, red and violet leaves.  

          Kale has multiple benefits almost too numerous to list. First it helps lower cholesterol especially when steamed. Kale contains glucosinolates which help to lower the risk of cancer to the bladder, breast, colon, ovaries and prostate. Kale also supports the body’s detoxification system.

          Research has identified over 45 different flavonoids in kale. These combine to produce both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that would help someone with chronic inflammation.

          Kale is incredibly nutritious. It is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acid, and is rich in calcium. Kale, as well as other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Both vitamin K and omega-3 are said to provide anti-inflammatory benefits.

          Recently you may have heard or been warned about how kale and its cousins are really good at taking up thallium – a toxic heavy metal. That is true if there were any thallium in your soil to take up. As long as you don’t live near a cement plant, oil drilling well, a smelter or coal burning plant, you are not likely to have any thallium or at least not enough concentrated in your soil to do you any harm.

          When choosing kale to eat, pick the smaller leaves since these will be more tender and mild – especially through winter and into early spring. Avoid large, tough or yellowing leaves with holes in them. Do not wash them before storing in a plastic bag in the refrigerator since this might encourage spoilage. The longer kale is stored, the more bitter it can become so eat it fresh if possible.

          Rinse kale leaves under cool water before cooking. Chop the leaves into ½” slices and the stems into ¼” lengths for quick and even cooking.  Put an inch or two of water in a steamer pot and wait for the water to boil. Once boiling, toss in the kale and steam for about 5 minutes. It can be eaten plain or splashed with your favorite dressing, butter or whatever. This method is recommended for maximum nutrition and flavor.

          Looking for a way to have a healthy snack? Try kale chips. A good way is to rip off the leaves minus the stem, wash then dry the leaves. Massage with some extra virgin olive oil used sparingly, spread thinly on a cookie sheet and cook for 12 minutes at 250 to 300 degrees, then rotate the pan and cook for another 12 minutes. Let the leaves cool for a few minutes and the chips are ready to eat! Experiment with adding some garlic or onion powder, pepper or salt or some other tasty ingredient before you cook it.

          Easy to grow, tasty, many health benefits, nutritious, takes a frost, and can be grown easily from seed or starts at your local nursery. What’s not to like?

         

 

 

 

 

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