The weather is finally warm, days are long and farmers markets are hopping. Strawberry season has come and gone quickly; same with local asparagus. For those who are members of a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, the summer provides a wonderful opportunity to try new vegetables that come along in the weekly share. I learned to love kohlrabi a few summers ago after it was included in my weekly box.
Along with some more obscure vegetables, most CSA members find themselves with a lot of greens, such as kale, cabbage and collard greens. These veggies are all members of the brassica family and are important crops in our part of the country. Though now cultivated and sometimes hybridized, brassicas grow extremely well in our temperate mid-Atlantic climate. Kale, often considered a “superfood,” is a hearty crop that can successfully grow and be harvested nearly all year long in the region.
What makes kale so nutritious? It is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! A one-cup serving contains nearly three grams of plant-based protein and almost the same amount of fiber, which is necessary for optimal gut health. Kale is super-packed with vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, as well as vitamins K and C. Furthermore, kale is an excellent source of folate, which is essential for brain development. It’s no wonder that kale has become the darling of the salad bowl in recent years.
Since kale grows so well and has risen in popularity over the past decade, farmers are planting more and more varieties of this hearty leafy green. Often, I notice three types of kale (curly, lacinato and red Russian) on any given morning at the farmers market; specialty farmers may grow additional varieties, such as Redbor, to entice kale enthusiasts. Baby kale has been marketed as a mild-tasting and more delicate variety of kale and can often be found in the packaged salad area in grocery stores.
There is a slight downside to summertime kale: the hot weather turns the leaves bitter, making raw kale salads less palatable than at other times during the year. Kale grows well in the summer heat though, so farmers continue to sell this popular crop and load CSA boxes full of leafy greens.
But sometimes there’s just too much kale—so what can one do with all of it? Luckily, it keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, since it’s not delicate and as perishable as summer’s herbs or berries.
Kale salad recipes are abundant, but there are so many other delicious ways to enjoy the abundance at any time of the year. I enjoy turning kale into a Creamy Kale Sauce, which can be used as a topping on White Bean and Kale Burgers, as a dressing for Roasted Beet and Sweet Potato Salad and even as a dip for carrot sticks and crackers. One large bunch of kale can easily be turned into three recipes, leaving room in the fridge for the rest of your CSA box!