Kale

Last week I had the opportunity to attend orientation day at the university that my child will be attending in the fall. Included in my registration fee was a meal ticket for lunch that could be used at any of the campus restaurants that my son’s meal plan would cover.

I was surprised and elated when I came across an option that served nutrition conscious bowls, often referred to as power bowls. I had a BLT at the place next door, mainly because the bowl line was long, and well, bacon!

The line was long because bowls are trending, and the healthier ones seem to contain a lot of the same ingredients such as quinoa or brown rice, salmon or chicken, sweet potatoes, edamame, Brussels sprouts and kale.

Kale is another ingredient that is currently trending. Just as navy is the new black and 50 is the new 30, kale is the new spinach and the veggie that is in the spotlight this week.

Kale has been referred to as “The Queen of Greens” and is inevitably on any list of superfoods. Kale is one of the most nutrient-rich foods you can find. It is low in calories, has zero fat, and is high in fiber. It contains a high amount of vitamin K, which is essential for bone health; vitamin C which aids the immune system; and vitamin A, vital for skin and brain health.

Kale is a heart-healthy food, can help lower cholesterol, aids in digestion, has been heralded to reduce the risk of certain cancers, and contains Omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in the body. Talk about a superfood!

Making it just a little more super is the fact that it is easy to grow. Kale can be planted twice a year, once in the early spring when it will grow until the heat hits, and in early fall when cooler temperatures bring out the sweet and nutty nature of the crop.

Kale can be started from seed or seedling at either time. Although mature kale benefits from cooler temperatures and even withstands frost, young seedling need to be protected from frost if planted in early spring.

Although a cool-season crop, kale needs to be planted in full sun, receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. It can tolerate partial shade, however, leaf production will not be as robust.

It likes fertile soil, so work compost into the soil when setting out seedlings. Kale also grows well in raised beds and containers, with its showy, curly leaves being both ornamental as well as edible. Note that there are purely ornament varieties that cannot be consumed. Space plants between 24 to 36 inches apart to leave plenty of room for leaves to develop.

Unless the soil is nutrient deficient, working compost or manure into the soil during planting should be sufficient. If you find the need to fertilize, the best time would be after the first harvest with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to promote green growth (10-10-10 would work fine).

Water to a rate of 1 to 1-1/2 inches per week. When harvesting kale, start with the lower leaves and work your way up, making sure to keep at least four center leaves. Kale can produce well into winter with proper care.

Curly kale is probably the most common kale found in most supermarkets. It has a peppery flavor that can become bitter as leaves mature. Blue Curled Vates kale is a curly variety perfect for making kale chips. Also, after removing the tough center stem, try “massaging” leaves with a little lemon juice. This will help remove the bitterness and make it a great addition to salads.

Tuscan kale, also know as dinosaur kale, has more slender leaves that are dark green in color. It is slightly less bitter than curly kale. Lacinato is an Italian heirloom kale whose bluish leaves have a mild sweetness, especially younger leaves that have been harvested after first frost.

Russian red kale is a little harder to find but worth seeking out. It has red tinted, fringed leaves on beautiful red stalks that have a mild flavor with a hint of pepperiness.

Kale is wonderful sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic, but if you’re new to kale, this recipe eases you in to the deliciousness of kale. Until next week, happy gardening and bon appetit!

Kale and Cauliflower Casserole

Ingredients

• 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets

• 1-1/2 pounds of red potatoes, quartered

• 2 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, washed and chopped

• 1/4 large onion, chopped

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed and chopped

• 3/4 cup milk

• 1/3 cup sour cream

• 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 cup bread crumbs

• 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

• 3–4 pats of butter

Directions

Add potatoes and cauliflower to a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, and set aside.

Place a large frying pan over medium heat; add olive oil, followed by the leek and onion. Sauté for 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the kale and sauté until wilted down, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer.

Stir in the potatoes and cauliflower. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream, salt, pepper and red pepper. Add mixture to a baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and parmesan cheese; distribute evenly over mixture and dot with butter. Bake until golden brown, approximately 30-35 minutes.

— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at kippirland@hotmail.com. For more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners, visit http://mg.aces.edu/limestone.