Carol Stein grows it
In Southern gardens, winter means planting pansies for color in a barren landscape. But in my winter garden, kale is the new pansy. And it tastes better, too.
I haven’t forsaken pansies altogether. I add them sparingly among the kale plants, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors – bright magentas, deep purples, lush greens and frosty blues. Some have variegated leaves in green and white, or bluish green with cranberry-colored veins. Leaves can be wide and ruffled or tall and arrow-straight.
For sheer prettiness, mix Kamome Red, which has pink centers and green outer leaves; the taller Redbor, with blackberry-colored leaves; and the forest-green Lacinato (dinosaur kale). And they’re all delicious.
Kale grows easily in most soils. Amend sandy or clay garden soils with organic compost or soil conditioners. Fill containers with potting mix containing water-retention granules and fertilizer. In both the garden and containers, add mulch to maintain even moisture.
Plant kale transplants from now until mid-March. Space plants 4 to 6 inches apart in containers or garden areas with plenty of sun.
To plant seeds, scatter them atop the soil and cover with a quarter inch of potting mix or organic compost. Lightly water the seeds daily until they germinate, which usually happens within 10 days. When seedlings are 8 inches tall, thin them to 6 inches apart.
Clip the outer leaves or harvest whole plants any time during the growing season.
This spring, I will allow about half of my kale plants to flower, to attract pollinators for the coming growing season, and then let them go to seed. The tall stalks with spiky seed pods look terrific in fresh or dried flower arrangements, a tip I learned from the head floral designer at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.
Debbie Moose cooks it
If you listen to the nutrition claims about kale these days, you’d think it will cure anything from wrinkles to baldness. But when a vegetable tastes as good as this leafy green does, eating it is certainly not like taking medicine.
People are blending it raw into smoothies, baking it into crunchy chips and sneaking it into pasta sauces. It has a mild flavor – less sweet than spinach but not as strong as collards – so it’s a good gateway green for those who have been leery of them.
Kale is part of the same vegetable family that includes Brussels sprouts and broccoli. It’s packed with vitamins A, C and K – in some cases, many times the suggested daily amount in a single cup. Kale is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are thought to be important for eye health. But beware if you’re on anticoagulant medications, because the high levels of vitamin K might interfere with them.
As Carol points out, there are many kinds of kale. Lacinato kale (also called cavolo nero or dinosaur kale) has long been used in Italian cooking and is very tender. I think the less-ruffled leaves of Siberian or Red Russian kale are tenderer for overall uses. The traditional curly kale is my least favorite but would be fine if you’re going to throw it into a blender.
Whatever kind of kale you use, you must remove and discard the tough center stalks of the leaves. They won’t taste good. Trust me.
You can store kale in plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days, but be aware that the flavor may become stronger after two or three days. If a few leaves in the bunch have gone a little limp, they can sometimes be revived with a soak in cold water. But if they remain limp, don’t use them.
Do not wash the leaves until you’re ready to cook them; if they sit in bags while wet, they will quickly rot. Give them a quick rinse under cold running water before cooking or preparing.
It’s interesting that science is discovering what my parents and grandparents knew instinctively: that the dark leafy greens of winter would sustain them through cold days. This hearty cold-weather soup will do the same.
Reach Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at email@example.com.
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