Kale: The Perfect Winter Crop
November is the perfect time to celebrate kale. Believe it or not, despite the fact that we plant and grow it over the summer here in Vermont, kale is a perfect winter crop as it can survive frosts and even be harvested while surrounded by a blanket of snow. Surprisingly, kale can last through temperatures as low as 10 degrees below zero! Kale is actually not very heat tolerant and grows and tastes better when cultivated in cooler weather. In fact, a heavy frost can actually enhance its flavor because it encourages the plant to transform starches in the leaves to sugars. As kale is such a sturdy vegetable, it makes sense that this member of the cabbage family was one of the earliest vegetables cultivated by man in the Mediterranean region.
Kale’s Nutrition Profile
Kale is a nutritious as it is hardy in the garden. One cup chopped packs more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamins A and C and about 100 mg of calcium for only 33 calories! It is also a good source of fiber, vitamin B6 and the minerals potassium, manganese, and copper. Like other members of the Brassicaceae family, kale is an excellent source of antioxidants and other phytochemicals that can improve health and help ward off disease.
How to Prepare Kale
A secret to preparing raw kale is to massage it for a bit after chopping it up. That may sound crazy, but we all know that a little massage helps us mellow out and kale is no different! Massaging the chopped leaves with your hands helps to begin the process of digestion by breaking down the slightly bitter and tough leafy green just like our teeth do when we chew. You will see that the kale will become a deeper and more brilliant shade of green as you massage and the leaves become softer and more palatable. This is because you are breaking down cell walls and releasing enzymes, some of which split up bitter-tasting compounds. After a quick massage, the kale will be ready to use as you would any fresh lettuce or green.
Another way to enjoy kale raw without having to get your hand too messy is with this month’s harvest recipe – kale pesto. Typically, pesto is made with herbs as the base, most often basil. This pesto is a little bit more robust in flavor due to the kale but the other ingredients are almost identical to a traditional pesto and include lemon, parmesan cheese, olive oil and plenty of garlic! For some added flavor and heart-healthy fats, try adding toasted nuts like walnuts or almonds to the mix before you puree everything in a food processor. This pesto is delicious when enjoyed as a dip for bread or crackers but can also be used as a sauce on pizza or pasta, drizzled over grilled meat or seafood or as a “dressing” for an orzo or quinoa salad. Stir a spoonful into plain hummus to change things up a bit or spread over a baguette and toast in the oven for a fun twist on garlic bread. It also freezes really well so you can enjoy the fresh flavors in different ways for months to come!
Visit the Vermont Harvest of the Month website for more information about kale including recipes for a delicious kale salad and one even your kids will love – kale chips!
- 1bunch of kale
- 3/4cupolive oil
- 1Tbspfresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1cupparmesan cheese
- 2garlic cloves
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Blanch de-stemmed kale for 30 seconds and drain.
- Purée garlic and kale in a food processor, gradually adding oil, parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Serve with crackers or bread.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.