You may have noticed over the last year or two that the supermarkets and vegetable stores now occasionally stock a rather funny-looking thing that looks like it might be the offspring of a lettuce that dallied with a cabbage. This rather wonderful vegetable is kale, and it is extremely versatile as well as being a nutritional powerhouse that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. If you can find a good supplier of fresh, organic kale then that is fantastic, and please let us know where you found it. If, however, you find it a bit tricky to find, consider getting started on your own continuous supply.
Why grow Kale?
Like any other vegetable, nothing beats the stuff you grow yourself without the use of poisons and commercial fertilizers and that you can eat literally minutes after harvesting. Kale would have to be the ultimate lazy gardener’s vegetable. If you are new to gardening, haven’t got a lot of time, or tend to neglect your plants – kale has a forgiving heart. It frosts where you live I hear you say? No problem – kale is a favourite in Northern Europe, where it (apparently) stays alive buried under snow. You forget to water your plants sometimes? Not a problem either – kale is quite drought-hardy and really doesn’t mind getting a tad thirsty. It also is also what is called a ‘cut and come again’ vegetable – this means you don’t need to pull the entire plant out when you need a bit for a recipe. You can simply remove a few leaves here and there, and the plant will carry on as happy as Larry.
How to grow:
The easiest (not to mention the most economical) way I find to grow my kale is directly from seed. I’m constantly amazed at how many people I see spending a fortune on those little punnets of seedlings from hardware stores and nurseries, when you only get 6-8 plants for the same price as you can pick up several hundred seeds. And they are easy to grow! I buy my seeds through Diggers, but there are a number of good seed suppliers on the net. Kale seeds are about the same size and shape as ‘hundreds & thousands’ sprinkles that you see on cupcakes, so they can be picked up and individually planted quite easily, or if you prefer you can just scatter some where you want them to grow, and lightly cover with some soil and sugar cane mulch. Kale isn’t too fussy about the quality of the soil that it requires, but it is a good idea to mix some compost or manure through the planting site before you start. You could also try growing your kale in good quality potting mix, providing you have a decent sized pot. Water the seeds once planted, and then at least every second day, and you should notice small seedlings starting to pop up in a week or so. Once the seedlings are established, remove any extra plants that you don’t need, or any that are not growing well (if you have planted by the ‘scattering’ method, you will likely have too many). The mature plant needs about 50 cm space between it and its neighbour (and will grow to about 50cm high), so try to keep this in mind when you are spacing your plants.
What’s so great about it?
Kale is high in the vitamins folate, beta-carotene (a precursor of Vitamin A), Vitamin C, Vitamin K and calcium. It is also one of the highest natural food sources of antioxidants, and contains fibre. If you are following a paleo-style diet, kale is the perfect addition as it is low in carbohydrate. Being a member of the cabbage family, kale is especially beneficial for women, as these types of vegetables help to keep the liver detoxification pathways working well and therefore encourage the healthy balance of female hormones.
Ok, I’ve managed to grow some. Now what?
I think some people are bewildered by what to actually do with kale once they have it in their hot little hands! Here are some good things to try. Bear in mind when harvesting that the top, inner leaves are tenderer than the outside leaves.
- Use in any recipe that calls for cabbage. Just make sure you slice it a tad thinner than you would for ordinary cabbage, as it is a tad tougher. Kale is a great inclusion in stir-fries and fried rice.
- The traditional European use is in winter soups and stews. Try Googling a few to find one that suits your tastes.
- If you have grown the crinkly, dark purple ‘Tuscan’ variety, you can use it to make cabbage rolls.
- Make into kale chips. Preheat the oven to 95°C, line a baking tray with baking paper. Cut the kale into pieces, place in a bowl and cover with a decent amount of olive oil and sprinkle with some sea salt (you could also try adding some herbs and/or spices). Spread the pieces on the baking tray and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the chips are crisp. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container. Or if you have a food dehydrator, you can try dehydrating the chips.
- Use the youngest, most tender leaves in a salad, in place of (or in addition to) ordinary lettuce.
- Steam it and serve with butter and lemon sauce.