Kale seems to top most people’s lists of healthy foods that they have no idea how to cook. I definitely understand. The sight of all of those prehistoric-looking leaves in the garden (or bundled in your CSA box or at the farmer’s market) can be daunting. The tough stems and fleshy leaves do require some special attention, but preparing kale is really not that difficult and can result is some very tasty dishes.
We should grow and eat more kale. Nutritionally, kale is among the most nutritious of foods. One cup of chopped kale provides an amazing 206% of your daily RDA of Vitamin A, 134% of your daily Vitamin C, plus 9% of your Calcium and 6% of the daily RDA of Iron. It’s fat-free, rates low on the glycemic index, and is packed with fiber. Seriously, what’s not to love?
Kale is a fairly easy vegetable to grow, but it does prefer cool temperatures. It will turn bitter in the heat of summer, so it’s best grown as a spring of fall crop. You can direct-sow kale seed right in your garden, or start kale from seed indoors, 4 to 6 weeks before you want to plant your kale outdoors. Kale is a great plant for container gardeners — grow it in a pot that provides at least 8 inches of soil depth.
The main pests you’ll deal with when growing kale are aphids and cabbage worm. Both are fairly easy to deal with, especially if you check your plants regularly for any signs of pest damage and remove them as soon as you see them. Aphids can usually be dealt with by blasting them of with a stream of water from the hose. Hand-pick cabbage worms, checking the undersides of leaves especially.
‘Lacianato‘ (also known as “dinosaur kale,’ “black Tuscan kale,” and ‘Cavolo Nero’) is a beautiful, blue-green leafed kale that lacks the frilly look of most other kales. It has a mild, almost sweet flavor (especially when harvested after a frost) and seems to stand up to heat better than some of the other kales, taking longer to turn bitter in summer.
‘Red Russian‘ has beautiful grayish-green leaves with dark pink stems and veins. I would grow it as an ornamental if it didn’t taste so good! This is another variety that stands up well to summer heat.
‘Winterbor‘ is probably the curly, frilly type most people think of when you mention kale. It has beautiful, deep green ruffled leaves and is very hardy. I’ve grown ‘Winterbor’ well into December here in my zone 6 garden with little to no protection.
What Does Kale Taste Like?
Kale is generally milder in flavor than spinach, with firmer texture. It has a bit of sweetness to it, especially when grown in fall and harvested after a frost.
Tips for Using Kale
- **If you are cooking with mature leaves, remove the tough stems before cooking — they are rather stringy and don’t add much flavor to the dish.
- **Young kale leaves can be eaten raw in salads.
- **If you end up with some bitter kale, you can still salvage it. Boil it in a bit of water to draw out some of the bitterness. Toss out the water, then add the boiled kale to soups, stews, or stir fries.
- **Store kale in plastic bags in your crisper. It keeps much longer than lettuce or spinach, so is more forgiving if you don’t get around to using it right away.
The easiest way to preserve kale is to freeze it. Wash the leaves thoroughly, and remove any thick stems. You can chop it or not. Blanch the kale for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drain it and let it cool. You can then pack it into freezer bags or other freezer-safe containers. Seal well, label, and freeze for up to six months.
Kale can also be canned in a pressure canner, if you have one available.
20 Recipes That Will Make You Fall In Love with Kale
- –Crispy, salty Kale Chips, via Tasty Kitchen
- –Garlicky Kale Crostini via Martha Stewart, originally published in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Cookbook
- –Hearty Winter Salad (via Everyday Food) features kale, parmesan cheese, and a garlicky vinaigrette.
- –Lemony Kale Salad (via Martha Stewart) pairs raw kale with a zingy lemon vinaigrette, parmesan, and hazelnuts.
- –For something a little different, try this Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing from Martha Stewart.
- –Hearty, healthy Sausage and Kale Soup from Everyday Food would make a great dinner, all by itself.
- –Acorn Squash Soup with Kale can be a great vegan recipe by omitting the bacon. What a great way to use two common fall vegetables!
- –Miso Soup with Tofu and Kale is a very healthy vegan option, via Whole Living.
- –Kale and White Bean Soup is a hearty, healthy lunch or dinner option.
- –Two-Bean Soup with Kale features both white and black beans — plenty of protein, healthy fiber, and vitamins!
- –Braised Lacinada Kale is a super-simple, fool-proof recipe for preparing kale.
- –For an absolutely delicious, super-healthy side dish or light dinner option, try Whole Living’s Sweet Potato with Kale and Ricotta.
- –Everyday Food’s Tuscan Kale with Caramelized Onions marries hearty kale, sweet caramelized onions, and tangy red wine vinegar for a flavorful side dish.
- –Cooking Light’s Kale with Lemon-Balsamic Butter would make a great side dish or healthy lunch option.
- –Tasty Kitchen’s Hearty Sausage, Kale, and Pepper Quiche marries kale with sausage, three types of peppers, and plenty of cheese and cream for a rich, delicious dinner.
- –Kale with Tomato, Garlic, and Thyme is a delicious, simple pasta dish from Martha Stewart Living.
- –Ginger Beef and Kale is a quick, spicy stir fry option that can be tailored to your tastes. Try it with chicken, or swap out the kale for another green, such as Swiss chard or collard greens.
- –Try this Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale and Fontina the next time you decide to have pasta for dinner. Absolutely delicious.
- –Irish Potatoes with Kale and Nutmeg is a healthier take on the traditional Irish Colcannon — but just as delicious.
- –Toss this Kale Pesto with your favorite pasta for a different take on a classic dish.
About This Series: The “Eat What You Grow!” series here at In the Garden Online is devoted to helping gardeners cook and enjoy some of the less-common vegetables we grow. Part of the reason so many of us grow the same things year after year is because we’re unsure what exactly to do with all of those other vegetables. Here’s hoping you find something here that makes you want to grow and eat some of those veggies you’ve avoided in the past!