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Saturday, May 11, 2013

King of the Greens in all its Glory

Kale (Brassica oleracea acephala) is one of the leafy green vegetables belonging to the cabbage family. A powerhouse of nutrition, kale is called "King of the greens". It is even said that the absorbable calcium levels in kale can equal or exceed the absorption levels of milk. For people with lactose intolerance, this is a great alternative to dairy.

Considered a cool season crop, it grows best in the spring and fall with its taste improving after a frost. The time to plant kale is anytime from early spring to early summer. It is really a biennial, which means it completes its life cycle after two years.  It returns in the spring of its second year, upon which it flowers and goes to seed. In areas where the ground freezes during the winter, it's season can be extended with heavy mulch, but it is usually treated as an annual and people plant fresh seed each spring. Plant seeds 1/4  to 1/2 inch deep into well-drained, light soil.
Fertilizer should be 1 1/2 cups of 5-10-10 per 25 feet of row mixed into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil.
After about 2 weeks, thin the seedlings so that the plants are spaced out 8 to 12 inches.

Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand. Avoid picking the terminal bud which is at the top of the center of the plant. This will help keep the plant productive.

The small leaves are tender and can be eaten uncooked as part of a salad.
The larger leaves are better cooked like spinach. Remove the thick ribs before cooking.
To store, put the kale in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. It'll last about a week.

There is a limit to how much a family can be enticed to eat greens before tired of being told how good for them it is. Lucky for everyone, kale can be frozen. Wash and cut off the stems. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes, then submerge in ice water. Spin in a salad spinner to remove excess water. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and put in freezer until frozen. Put into an airtight container and return to freezer.

For those family members who turn their noses up at anything green and don't share your enthusiasm for eating healthier, try a few of these yummy recipes. Soups and juice blends are great ways to be sneaky if necessary. 

Baked Kale Chips
 Fresh kale is very voluminous but when cooked or baked, it shrinks down considerably. To make it worth your while expect to use a few bunches. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Wash the kale and tear the leaves into large pieces. Tear them off of the tough inner stems.
Dry off as much of the excess water as possible. A salad spinner works well for this or dab well with paper towels.
Put kale pieces into a large bowl.
Toss with olive oil, starting with about 1 tablespoon and be your own judge. You want a light coating but not too much or the chips will be greasy and limp.
Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to your own taste preference.
Layer the leaves onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lay them in a single layer so as not to be overlapping. They won't bake uniformly if too close.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, checking periodically to toss and make sure they aren't about to burn.
Remove from the oven and cool.

Sweet Potato Kale Soup
4 oz. fresh kale, coarsely chop, discarding the thick vein from each leaf
1 large onion, chopped
3 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsp. olive oil
3 (14 1/2 oz.) cans vegetable broth or your own version of stock
2 (15 oz) cans white kidney or cannellini beans or soak and cook your own beforehand
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
12 garlic cloves, minced (yes 12, not a mistake!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Coarsely chop kale and set aside.
In a large saucepan, saute the onion and Italian seasoning in the oil until onion is tender.
Stir in the broth, beans, sweet potatoes and kale. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Yields 2 quarts of soup.

Kale With Lemon and Garlic
 Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  3 to 4 pounds fresh kale
  Olive oil
  2 - 3 garlic cloves, minced
  Salt to taste
  Lemon wedges

Clean kale thoroughly, rinsing the leaves in several changes of cold running water. Strip leaves off stalks; discard stalks. Boil leaves, uncovered, in salted water to cover. Cook just until tender (20 to 25 minutes) and drain well in a colander. Transfer to a serving dish or mixing bowl. Drizzle on enough olive oil to coat, tossing leaves gently. Add garlic and salt to taste. Serve hot or cold with lemon wedges on the side.

Sauteed Kale
1 1/2 lbs kale, stems and leaves coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1/2 cup vegetable stock or 1/2 cup water
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. 
Add crushed red pepper flakes, if using, and let them sizzle a bit in the oil.
Add the garlic and cook until soft, but not colored.
Raise heat to high, add the stock and kale and toss to combine.
Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove cover and continue to cook, stirring until all (most) the liquid has evaporated.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and add vinegar.

Kale Harvest Pie
Kale tastes best after a light frost, making this a good late-season harvest dish. Include a mixture of other greens (Swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens) for varied flavor.
Yield: 6 servings

3 pounds untrimmed kale or other greens
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red or yellow pepper, finely chopped
1 medium zucchini, shredded
1 small carrot, shredded
2/3 cup fresh chopped basil
salt and pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Trim stems and ribs from kale and discard. Wash, drain, and chop into bite-size pieces. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add remaining vegetables and basil. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer gently until liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add eggs and pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish or pie pan. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Melt remaining butter in a skillet and saute bread crumbs until golden. Sprinkle over the pie. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Last we have juicing recipes:

Bone Builder's Cocktail
3 kale leaves
2 collard green leaves
handful of parsley
3 carrots
1 apple, cut into wedges
1/2 green bell pepper

Green Drink
handful of parsley
2 granny smith apples,cut into wedges
2 kale leaves
handful of spinach

Purple Cow
1/2 head of red cabbage, cut into wedges
2 kale leaves
1 red bell pepper, quartered
1 red apples, cut into wedges