Kale: A Late Fall Treat

November 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm Leave a comment

Fall is heading quickly towards Winter (how ‘bout that snow last week?!) and this is the time of year to celebrate kale. This leafy member of the brassica family (which also includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli) is one of the season’s only green vegetables, a color we long for in the long slog from now until next season’s salad mixes arrive.

Kale is particularly hearty, and can often be harvested into late December, even, happily, after a snowfall. Though it can be grown throughout the spring and summer, kale benefits from some good hard frosts. Sensing that the real freeze is not far away, kale plants actually pump sugar into the water that is stored inside the leaves, thus lowering the temperature at which freezing begins.  Their survival scheme is our sweet treat – you can really taste the sugars in kale harvested from October on.
Varieties

There are three main varieties of Kale that we’re likely to stick in your produce shares – Red Russian, Toscano (also called Lacinato or Dinosaur) and Curly.  Curly varieties can take a bit longer to cook than Red Russian or Lacinato, so factor that into your cooking time.

Nutrition
Kale is a powerhouse of good nutrition, rich in Vitamins A and C, Calcium, Potassium and Iron. Surprisingly, it’s also quite high in protein – good news for vegetarians out there!

In the Kitchen
When it comes to cooking, treat kale gently. Steaming, braising and sautéing are all good ways to go. If cooked too long kale will begin to lose its color, texture and some of that great sweet taste.  As a general rule, don’t cook kale longer than 10 minutes, and remember that often, 5-6 minutes will do just fine.  As always, taste while you’re cooking! Once you get used to the way kale behaves you’ll be ready to do some real experimenting.

Kale should be stored in the refrigerator, in a plastic bag or damp paper towl.  If it dries out, the leaves will go limp quite quickly. In general, it’s best to strip kale leaves off the stems before cooking.  If the Kale hasn’t wilted, it’s very easy – just grasp the stem in one hand, and pull the leaves in the opposite direction with your other hand. Stems are perfectly edible and delicious, but since they’re thicker and tougher, they take longer to cook than the leaves.  If you want to use the stems, strip off the leaves, chop the stems, and give them 2-3 minutes of cooking time on their own before adding the kale leaves.

Cooking:
Saute It – Heat olive oil or butter over medium heat in a large skillet.  Slice an onion and add to the pan, stirring occasionally.  In the meantime, strip your kale leaves off the stems and chop them up. When the onions begin to soften, add your chopped kale (stems first, if you’re using them!).  At this point, you just want the kale to cook slowly, so be sure the heat is medium to low, depending on your stove.  Covering the pan will speed up the process, but either way, be sure to stir occasionally so that the heat is evenly distributed.  You’ll notice that the kale on the bottom cooks first and fast!  Season with salt and pepper.

Braise It – Follow the directions for sautéing but when you add the kale, also add about ¼ cup of apple cider, beer or white wine to the pan and then cover.  I tend to use whatever I’m drinking at the time.  Even water is fine!  5-6 minutes should be plenty of time.  Since liquid is added, you can keep the heat at medium.

Add it to Soup – Kale is great in soups, especially the broth-y variety.  You’ll want to cook your soup until it’s about 6-8 minutes from being done and then add the kale just for those last few minutes.

The possibilities with Kale really are endless.  Add it to a frittata or omelet, mix braised kale into mashed potatoes or include some sautéed kale in burritos or enchiladas.  There are even recipes for raw kale salads that are honestly delicious (here’s one that Anne discovered and wrote about a few years back for The Valley Table Magazine: Raw Kale Salad).

What have you been doing with kale?  We’re creating a database of member recipes to share with all of you, so email us at freerangefarmtruck@live.com with your own kale creations.

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Entry filed under: Vegetable Profiles. Tags: .

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