Kale just might be the food to save the planet.
It's green, loaded with nutrients and is so reliably hardy, it grows just about everywhere, especially in cooler climates. Grow some other greens alongside it and you'll not only have easy pickins for your meals, you'll be helping your local bee population do its thing.
The Book of Kale & Friends: 14 Easy-to-Grow Superfoods (Douglas & MacIntyre, 224 pp, $26.95) is the second cookbook by Sharon Hanna and Carol Pope to cover this superfood.
It builds on their previous book, The Book of Kale, which kept selling out. In addition to kale, this well-illustrated tome covers gardening and recipes for kale's super-buddies, including arugula, basil, chives, cilantro, garlic, lovage, mint, oregano, parsley and more. And the recipes are even simpler.
We spoke to one of the book's authors, Sharon Hanna, from her home in Vancouver and asked her our most pressing questions about kale.
"There is so much stuff that is not easy to grow. Except for kale. Kale is just absolutely idiot-proof. It seeds itself everywhere, it comes up everywhere," she says, adding that it's even growing in gravel where she landscaped her yard.
Having said that, this prolific self-seeder needs a little help to get it started.
"The key is to start it in early summer, end of May, early June because then it won't bolt. If you start it early, before the solstice, it will tend to bolt and set seed," she says.
And you can do a late season crop.
"You can raise transplants and stick them in the garden in early summer and early fall and cover them with cloth."
Hanna says she prefers to wait to eat kale until after it has been "kissed by frost."
"It needs to freeze in the ground," she says. "Then that sulphur-y taste disappears and it unmasks the natural sugar."
If you have a cold frame or a greenhouse, you can keep it going longer until you harvest and freeze the rest. And even if the deer get to it, you can just leave the stumps in the ground and they will come back.
When buying kale, Hanna says to look for bunches that are firm and springy with brightly coloured leaves, and plan to consume it promptly. Wash it thoroughly and "massage the leaves" a little, as water can roll off without doing the job. Insects can hide in the ruffles.
Cooking kale gives it even more of a boost.
"The vitamin A can be tripled by cooking quickly with little loss of vitamin C, and then save the liquid for soups," she says.
Hanna is also enthusiastic about what kale and its companion plants can do for the environment, especially for the native bee population, of which roughly 80 per cent are ground nesting insects.
"When we say Kale and Friends, the friends are the 13 other plants that are easily grown, and bees are the other friends," she says. "We really want people to help the bees by growing all these plants, because when kale goes to seed it flowers and it is a powerful bee supporter, and so is every single other plant that we put in (the book)."
Kale Chips Several Million Ways
(see cookbook for other variations)
60 ml (1/4 cup) cashews, hazelnuts or walnuts
5 ml (1 tsp) kosher or coarse sea salt
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) crema di balsamico (see below*)
2 l (8 cups) mature kale leaves, ripped into 5-cm (2-inch) pieces
Use mature leaves of flatter, thicker kale varieties like Tuscan or Rainbow Lacinato. Make sure leaves are washed and completely dry before tossing with dressing.
Grind nuts and salt into a coarse dust using spice grinder, or crush with a rolling pin. Set half the dust aside and whisk the rest with olive oil and reduced balsamic. Toss leaves in the dressing mixture until evenly coated. Arrange on parchment-covered trays (you may need to cook in two batches) and sprinkle with remaining nut dust.
Preheat the oven to 135 C (275 F). Place rack in middle of oven. Bake for 15 minutes, rearrange to ensure the leaves are toasting evenly, then continue baking, checking for doneness every 5 minutes or so (pay close attention to ensure the leaves dry evenly without scorching: the leaves should feel crispy, but not burned. Serve immediately.
* Can't find crema di balsamico? Cook down 125 ml (1/2 cup) regular balsamic vinegar (white or dark) or good white wine vinegar with 10 ml (2 tsp) of sugar until thick.
Kale and Coconut Cookies
Dried kale gives a crispier cookie, the fresh-kale variation will be more macaroon-like. A food processor whips these cookies up, making them ready to bake in five minutes or less.
375 ml (1 1/2 cup) unsweetened flaked coconut
125 ml (1/2 cup) dried kale flakes (*see below) or mince about 500 ml (2 cups) fresh chopped kale in food processor to make 125 ml (1/2 cup)
125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) coconut oil, or butter cut into chunks
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
375 ml (1 1/2 cup) flour
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) baking powder
Pine nuts or slivered pecans (optional)
Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 175 C (350 F).
Mix coconut, kale, sugar and salt in a food processor for about 20 seconds. Add coconut oil and vanilla, and pulse a few times. Add the whole egg plus yolk, and pulse until well blended. Add flour and baking powder all at once, then pulse just until combined -- do not overmix. If the dough seems too dry to form into a ball, add a little water and pulse lightly.
Using your hands, roll heaping spoonfuls of the dough into balls and arrange on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet. Leave them round; flatten them slightly; or use a fork dipped in water to press lightly. Poke a few nuts (if using) into each cookie.
Bake for about 20 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Makes 2 dozen 2-inch cookies.
*To dry kale: 1 l (4 cups) packed, chopped fresh kale 125 ml (1 cup) dried.
Rinse and dry thoroughly. Remove tough stems and ribs. Chiffonade kale by rolling it into a cigar shape and chopping finely. For quick drying, set oven to 160 C (325 F) with rack in middle. Spread kale on pan and bake, check for dryness after 10 minutes then continue every 5 minutes until dry enough to shatter. Pulse dried kale in food processor to desired consistency.
Minted Kale with Peas and Blue Cheese
Vary with arugula or other greens, but this needs the sturdiness of kale.
125 ml (1/2 cup) finely minced shallots
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
Scant 60 ml (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar
30 ml (2 tbsp) oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 ml (2 tsp) brown sugar
1 l (4 cups) packed kale in chiffonade
250 ml (1 cup) loosely packed mint leaves in fine chiffonade
60 ml (1/4 cup) thinly sliced sweet onion
250 ml (1 cup) fresh peas or chopped snap peas (or frozen peas thawed just before using)
60 ml (1/4 cup) mild blue cheese (try Cambozola or Roquefort or mild gorgonzola) or 125 ml (1/2 cup) goat's cheese
Pepper to taste
Sauté shallots in butter until softened. Add rice vinegar and cook down for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add oil while whisking, then add mustard and brown sugar. Cook until mixture is thick, remove from heat and cool.
Put kale, mint and onion in a mixing bowl and toss. Add dressing and toss again. Top with peas and cheese, and add a few grindings of pepper. Toss just before serving. Makes 3 to 4 servings.