Try a new vegetable: kale
Kale, a member of the cabbage family, thrives in autumn’s lower temperatures.
“It’s much more vigorous in the spring and fall. It’s a cool-weather crop,” said farmer Garrick Veenstra of Rochester, Ill.
“When we have a milder summer, kale keeps growing, but it can get bitter in the heat. It’s at its best right now,” said Veenstra.
Kale, easily identified by its frilly leaves, has a mild taste similar to cabbage. It can be substituted for fresh spinach in any recipe and gives an intense shot of flavor to salads. Deep green in color, it’s a cruciferous vegetable that provides lots of vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium and iron.
Janet Fletcher is the author of “Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers.” The book was written for people who might not know what to do with lesser-known produce sold at farmers markets.
It’s also geared towards members of community-supported agriculture programs. CSAs pay a farmer early in the year and get boxes of the farm’s yield during the growing season.
“There are 2,000 CSAs across the country. Subscribers sometimes have this dilemma: ‘Here comes this produce in my box and what do I do with it?’” said the Napa Valley-based food journalist who is also a cook and master gardener. “Kale was a real discovery for me.”
An Illinois farmer once taught Fletcher that kale can be baked. “The leaves become crispy like potato chips. They’re delicious,” said Fletcher.
Tuscan and curly are two common varieties of kale. Flowering kale looks like a giant ruffled flower with a splashy white, pink or purple center surrounded by frilly green leaves. Often planted as an ornamental, flowering kale is edible.
Fletcher said kale is just one of many underused fruits and vegetables.
“A lot of us get into ruts. We eat the same fruits and vegetables again and again. Buy something you’ve never cooked before. If you don’t like it, it’s not a big loss,” Fletcher said.
If kale is on your first-time list, use it within two or three days (the flavor intensifies after that). Before using it, remove the tough center stalk.
Crispy Kale Chips
1/2 pound Tuscan kale or curly kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. With a knife, separate the kale leaves from their tough central rib and discard the ribs. Wash and thoroughly dry the kale leaves. Put them in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat them evenly with the oil. Arrange them on baking sheets in a single layer.
Bake, in batches if necessary, until the leaves become fully crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. You can serve them immediately or let them cool. They will stay crisp for at least a couple of hours.
Makes 4 servings.
-- “Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers” by Janet Fletcher
Kale and Potato Soup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 pounds kale
½ pound link sausage, cooked and sliced
Peel and chop potatoes. Combine with oil and water. Cook 20 to 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove potatoes, reserving liquid. Mash potatoes and return to the liquid.
Stir in salt and pepper; simmer 20 minutes. Wash kale, discarding the tough leaves, and finely chop. Add to the soup and cook 25 minutes.
Add sliced link sausage. Simmer gently 5 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.
-- Garrick Veenstra, farmer from Rochester, Ill.