When Jess and I started the farm in 2009, we couldn’t sell a bunch of kale to save our lives (or our bank account). I remember distinctly a market going couple walking past the stall and acknowledging our large kale display. The wife said, “I wonder what that is.” To which the husband responded, “I don’t know, but I don’t like the looks of it.” And that pretty much summed up our kale sales.
Since then kale has become the darling of the hearty greens world. In the last year, with the rise in popularity of kale chips and “Eat More Kale” bumper stickers, we can barely grow enough. Which is great problem to have!
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Kale is a leafy green in the brassica family and is the garden/kitchen/health workhorse.
In the garden it outshines the other greens. Unlike the more delicate salad, it faces early spring frosts, stands up to hot summer days and will continue to grow even under a blanket of snow. Kale is hands down the one plant I tell all gardeners to plant. By harvesting the bottom-most leaves and simply snapping the stem next to the plant’s stalk, the plant will put energy into its new growth and by mid-summer you will have what looks like a kale palm tree that will last long into the fall.
Health wise, kale is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C and calcium. And in an era when we’re all trying to work vegetables into everything, a little bit of kale goes a long way.
In the kitchen, I love kale for it versatility and dependability. It takes to many different preparations—sautéed, caramelized, raw, and baked. If it gets wilty, it perks back up when soaked in cold water. If you leave it in the back of the fridge for a week, it holds. And its deep, rich flavor compliments both the rich foods of winter and the light, bright foods of mid-summer. I like to temper the “greenness” of kale with some fat, usually cheese or pork of some sort. If it tastes to earthy to you, a splash of vinegar or lemon juice will brighten up the flavor.
We grow three different varieties of kale—curly, dino and red Russian. Below are the three ways I prepare kale the most often and the variety that I like with each one. But remember any kale will work in any kale recipe, so don’t be shy!
Curly Kale Chips
I first heard of kale chips while cooking at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI. Every year we would do a large dinner featuring the produce of Tantre Farm and celebrating the farmers who grew it. Kale chips were the starter and we could barely make enough of them.
At Vie, one of the cooks went out to eat and came back the next day with his mind blown over deep fried kale. I responded, “Yeah, kale chips. You can do them in the oven too.” For the next year I was given a merciless hard time for simultaneously being a hippie farmer who eats nothing but kale and a kale curmudgeon who wouldn’t share her secrets. Such is the commroderie of the restaurant line!
Bottom line, kale chips are delicious and easy and a revelation for many. I like to use curly kale because it gives the chips a krinkly texture. And they are extra delicious with grated Leelanau raclette over the top, which also helps to undermine the flavor hating, “kale-eater” reputation.
The only thing to remember about making kale chips is to not overload the sheet tray. If leaves overlap, they will steam instead of roast making them more akin to potato chips left out on a humid day.
1 bunch curly kale
glug of olive oil
salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425F
- Strip the kale from the stem and leave in large pieces
- Wash the greens and dry completely—extra water on the leaves will make the kale wilt instead of crisp
- Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper
- Line a sheet tray with tinfoil and lay the kale out in a single layer
- Bake until the kale is light and crisp (I ‘em check every 5-7 minutes because I have tendency to let them burn when multitasking)
- Remove from the oven and grate the raclette over the chips
- If you want to make a lot and store them, simply keep them in an airtight container or they will get limp
Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
I first heard of massaged kale from my friend and fellow food eater, Rose Hollander. At market she bought 3 bunches of kale and said that she was going to try the new “back rub method” to which I responded, “What?” She explained it and for the next year it was the only salad I made at home. I wasn’t the only one. For a while on restaurant menus you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a kale salad. While this makes some roll their eyes over the modern hubbub over an ancient green, it is extremely delicious.
I like to use the Red Russian variety because the leaves are slightly thinner and breaks down more quickly. The key to massaged kale is the sprinkle of salt. The graininess of the salt and the agitation from your hands breaks the cell walls making it tender. Avoid adding olive oil before massaging because it makes it too slippery to breakdown properly. If the kale is not tender, keep rubbing. Chewing a tough kale salad always makes me feel like a grazing ruminant, which does not enhance the dining experience.
1 bunch Red Russian kale
2 T olive oil
1 lemon, zested and ½ juiced
salt and pepper
- Strip the kale from the stem, wash and dry completely
- Cut the kale into ribbons, sprinkle with salt and give it a back rub until it is dark green and tender
- Drizzle with olive oil, lemon zest and juice
- Taste and add more salt as desired
- Cover the kale with grated parmesan and several good turns of black pepper
This is one of my favorite fall dishes. It goes with everything from meats, roasted vegetables or can be turned into a soup by adding chicken broth and a grain. And it is something that can almost always be whipped up because you can use any sort of pork product (bacon, sausage, ham etc) and anything you’re already drinking (white wine, beer, apple cider or whiskey). If you don’t eat pork, smoked fish is a good substitution. If you don’t eat meat, onions and garlic will take the place nicely.
I like the dino kale (aka lacinato, black Tuscan or cavolo nero) because it has the smoothest leaf and holds its shape well when cooked for any period of time. I also always cook at least two bunches at a time because it will loose volume when witled.
2 bunch dino kale
1 onion, sliced thinly
4oz pork product
½ C white wine or beer or cider
salt and pepper
- Wash the kale but don’t bother drying, the additional water will help in the steaming process
- In a large frying pan, render the pork product until it is just crispy
- Add the onion, a pinch of salt and sweat until soft and translucent
- Add the alcohol and cook down until syrupy
- Add the kale and cover
- Cook until tender
- Remove the lid and evaporate off the excess liquid
- Taste and add salt and pepper as desired