Growing Kale At Home for Better Health
Kale has been neglected too long! One of the earliest cabbage family plants grown, it has origins in pre-Christian Greece and kale was the most common vegetable grown in Europe for centuries. Lacinato Kale, also called cavolo nero or Tuscan Kale is an important variety used in Italian cooking. Parts of Germany have annual Kale Festivals and Premier Kale (also called Early Hanover) hails from there. In Russia its hardiness is appreciated and Dwarf Siberian Kale is one of the best garden varieties. Red Russian Kale is no dwarf, reaching three feet with enormous leaves, but it is an excellent garden variety too. Speaking of tall, some kales reach 12 feet and are even grown to produce walking-sticks!
Since kale is the perfect fall and winter vegetable but does poorly in hot weather, it is best to focus on growing kale for those seasons. Growing Kale is easy and the plants are very cold-hardy – indeed, the flavour improves after the plants have been exposed to frost. The great benefit of growing kale at home is that you can have guaranteed organic, super-fresh kale straight from your garden to your kitchen.
Seeds can be sown outdoors from early July until late October, depending on the severity of winter in your area. Choose a sunny spot and add manure or compost and some garden lime to reduce disease. Rich soil and rapid growth will produce the best quality for the kitchen. Plants can be protected with straw in milder areas to give you leafy crops in early spring. Most varieties mature in 50 or 60 days, so regular sowings will keep a fresh supply coming from your garden straight to the kitchen.
The Health Benefits of Kale
Not only is kale easy to grow, it is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. The health benefits of kale are numerous. It is rich in vitamins A, C and K, anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. It has more calcium per calorie than milk and more iron than beef. As a vegetable source of iron it beats spinach, as the oxalic acid in spinach prevents a lot of its iron from being absorbed. It also contains the anti-cancer agent sulforaphane which is best preserved by steaming, rather than boiling your kale.
Use Kale in the Kitchen and Enjoy Tasty Kale Chips
There are so many good things to do with kale in the kitchen that the health benefits of kale can be enjoyed regularly without getting bored. Because it is so easy to grow kale it is associated with traditional home-cooking from around the world.
Chopped finely and steamed it can be mixed with mashed potatoes to make the Irish dish colcannon.
The same mashed potatoes and kale, flavoured with olive oil and turned into soup by adding a good broth, gives you the Portuguese caldo verde. Carnivores can add the traditional sliced spicy sausage for authenticity.
Put it into a soup with navy beans and other winter vegetables like carrots and onions and with pieces of stale sourdough bread added and you have the Tuscan ribollita. Using lacinato kale for this gives you the most authentic version.
It can also be cooked like collard greens, which it is very closely related to, for a variation to your Southern dishes.
The strong flavour combines well with peanuts and tamari almonds in salads. Using lemon juice with olive oil in the dressing will ‘soften’ the flavour.
Most amazingly of all are kale chips! Forget the Fritos and tear the leafy parts of kale into rough 3 inch pieces. Toss with a little olive oil and sea salt. You can add some smoked paprika or chili powder for flavour variations. Spread on a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes at 275oF until crisp. Enjoy, think of the long history of this amazing vegetable, and crunch down those kale chips.