As someone lucky enough to have worked in the organic produce industry for much of the past 15 years, I’ve seen many vegetable trends come and go. Arugula was the “in” vegetable of the early 90s, heirloom tomatoes hit the big time in the mid-2000s, even celeriac and kohlrabi had their brief heydays. Though these veggies have been available and as tasty as ever for hundreds and even thousands of years, it wasn’t until recently that they became the darlings of celebrity chefs and food writers and added to the repertoire of many American home cooks—the hipsters of the vegetable world.
Kale may be one trendy vegetable that’s here to stay
Though many nutritionally minded foodies were discovering kale as much as 10 years ago, it didn’t really take off until more recently, and my goodness, how it has taken off. Over the past five years, kale has seen an amazing 400% increase in appearance on restaurant menus and, according to the US Department of Agriculture, farmers were growing 57% more kale in 2012 than they did in 2007.
Turns out there are some great reasons for kale to be at the top of our vegetable list. It’s a nutritional powerhouse! One cup of kale has 33 calories, and is packed with over 130% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamins C and K. Add to that 2.9 grams of protein, 2.6 grams of fiber, and a healthy dose of potassium, iron, calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids, and you’ve got one of the most nutrient-dense super foods you’ll find anywhere.
Another reason that people (myself included) have grown to love kale is its beauty. Kale comes in many different colors, textures, and leaf shapes, all of them gorgeous. In the local season (June–October), you’ll find more varieties on our shelves, but through the winter we generally carry at least three:
These varieties trace their roots to Northern Europe, Scotland, and Ireland, where they were important staple crops for thousands of years. Kale is in the brassica family (along with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts). The curly kale varieties have the slightly bitter, earthy, peppery taste that’s characteristic of all of the brassicas, along with a good sturdy, crisp texture.
Also called “Dino Kale” or “Tuscan” kale, this beautiful variety was developed in Italy and is a traditional ingredient in many Italian dishes including minestrone soup. Lacinato’s leaves are long and slender, with a crinkly texture and deep green color. This kale variety tends to be more tender than the curly varieties, and the flavor tends to be a little sweeter.
Another option for those who find the bunches to be too much to deal with is to purchase a package of “baby kale.” Like our other packaged salad greens, this product is pre-washed, and ready to add to your next stir fry or green smoothie. The young kale leaves have all the nutrition of their grown-up relatives, but tend to be sweeter and more tender.
Uses for Kale
Another reason that people have grown to love kale is its versatility. It can be eaten in a myriad of ways: raw, sautéed, steamed, boiled, fried, grilled, baked into casseroles, stirred into soups, or blended into smoothies. My favorite recipes range from a traditional Italian white bean, sausage, and kale soup; to kale chips, a very modern (and tasty) oven-baked snack. Whether you’re a bacon-loving comfort foodie or a vegan looking to add extra nutrition to your diet, you’ll be sure to find a kale recipe that you adore. Happy cooking!