Top | The Produce Diaries


(article, Kathleen Bauer)

The pickup: When I think of a meal, I tend to think "meat, vegetable, starch." And the vegetables that come immediately to mind are the usual suspects: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, peas, and beans. 

But because I've been trying to buy more local and seasonal produce, and we have two winter farmers' markets in our area with an abundance of gorgeous greens, the thick green leaves of kale have shouldered their way into my repertoire. 

A member of the cabbage family, kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Nutritious, easy to grow, and resistant to most pests, kale is a hardy plant that will keep producing new leaves far into the winter. (Kale grows year-round, but tastes best in winter after frosts have encouraged the leaves to produce more sugars.)

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Kale varieties you're likely to see in grocery stores and at farmers' markets include green kale, purple-tinged Russian kale, and the nearly black and bumpy-looking Tuscan kale (aka lacinato kale or cavolo nero). 

The results: All it takes to prepare kale leaves is a rinse under running water to knock off any dirt and then the removal of the tough central veins. Do this by stripping the leaves from the stems individually, or making a neat pile of the leaves and cutting the leaves away from either side of the stems.

Roughly chopped and sautéed in garlic and olive oil till wilted, kale makes a terrific side vegetable with any meat or fish. You can also stir those sautéed leaves in with pasta and sausage or beans for a simple one-dish dinner.

I love kale in soups, too — particularly in bean soups calling for winter greens, such as White Bean, Chard, and Pasta Soup; White Bean, Dried Bread, and Escarole Soup; and Tennessee Bean, Sausage, and Mixed Greens Soup — where the leathery leaves add wonderful color and texture, not to mention flavor and nutrition, to a wintry meal. Two other soups to try: Lentil Soup with Greens or Potato-Kale Soup.

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