While visiting my mom in Southern California a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of eating, get this, tomatoes from her garden. In February! For some of you this may seem normal. For those of us waiting out the snow in icy Northern climes it seems like a downright miracle, like Jesus on the toast or something.
It’s March now, and my California-calibrated internal clock tells me it’s time to pack up the sweaters and start eating juicy produce–but my New York farmer’s market is telling me otherwise. The market stoically states: “winter greens, roots, winter greens, roots, a few apples, winter greens, some fading hard squash, and … winter greens.” Let me translate that for you: Six more weeks of potatoes, cabbage, and kale.
But really, should I complain? Cabbage can be fun when you’re in the mood, potatoes have become celebrated enough that I now have about 600 varieties to choose from. And kale. I may momentarily fall for vegetables that seem more exciting, but I always go back to kale. Maybe it’s all in my head, but when I eat kale I feel vivid–I want to sing and do a little shimmy.
Maybe that’s because kale is humble, unassuming, not exactly glamorous–but absolutely bursting with nutrition and flavor. Kale is like the nice girl next store, who turns out to be a disco-dancing rocket scientist. Kale is loaded health-booming sulfur compounds, as well as vitamins K, A and C, manganese, dietary fiber, calcium, iron and potassium.
And then there’s the antioxidants. Blueberries, schmooberries–kale has the highest antioxidant level per serving on any other fruit or vegetable. Kale is head of the class in ORACs. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, and it is the measure of the ability of foods to subdue oxygen free radicals. For those of us not in lab coats, that means that a food’s ORAC level represents its antioxidant level–the higher the ORAC, the more antioxidants the food has and the better it helps to fight those free radicals that are expected to be responsible for maladies that tag along with aging, including diminishing mental capacity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Eating the recommended five-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables will ring up around 1750 ORAC units, but several studies suggest that antioxidant intake be increased to between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC units to have a significant impact on plasma and tissue antioxidant capacity.
Which means you need to eat high value ORAC foods, so whereas a serving of iceberg lettuce contains an ORAC value of 105 a serving of kale has a whopping 1770! With kale, getting your ORACs has never been so easy. That is, if you can manage to eat so much kale from November to April, which seems to be the plan that my Northeastern climate has hatched for me.
So I look to mix it up a bit. Kale can be tossed raw in salads, lightly steamed in salads, quickly sauteed, blanched and quickly sauteed, lightly simmered, and long simmered. I suppose since kale is one of the few vegetables hearty enough to endure the winter, it has done us the favor of being very versatile and accommodating–what a nice thing.
I find that quickly sauteed kale is great because it doesn’t lose its volume the way spinach does–it collapses, but doesn’t shrink to nothing before your very eyes. (How long did it take us to learn that two bunches of spinach sauteed makes about 2 tablespoons of spinach?!) If you blanch kale first, it decreases in volume a bit more, but still not as much as spinach. Long simmered kale loses it’s bright color, but doesn’t lose much volume–it loses some of its bright flavors, but those are replaced by a deep earthy sweetness that is hard to compare.
To prepare kale
Remove the tough stems and any grungy leaves. With tender greens you can leave the stems. Wash them in a sink full of water as they often are caked with dirt, and sand clings in those lovely, craggy crevices. For quick sautes, it is important to remove as much water as you can so that they saute rather than steam when they hit the pan. You can dry them in a salad spinner or spread them out on a towel and roll it up. You can even keep them in the fridge this way for a day or two.
Recipe for Quick Bright Kale
1 big bunch of kale, prepared as above
1-3 (depending on taste) garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 (depending on amount of kale) tablespoons olive oil
1. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.
2. Add chopped fresh garlic and saute over medium high heat until it just starts to sizzle and turn golden.
3. Toss in a handful of very dry washed kale and stir a few times until it begins to wilt.
4. Continue tossing in a handful at a time. Adding them slowly will ensure that the water released cooks off before the next handful is thrown in–no soggy greens!
5. When all your kale is added, toss it with some sea salt and fresh pepper and serve.
What does Dr. Brent say about kale?
If you’re not eating kale, perhaps it’s because you haven’t seen the light. Kale has more lutein and zeaxanthin than any other vegetable. These carotenoids help filter UV light, prevent sun damage to the eyes and may lower the risk of cataracts by 50 percent.
Visit Beekman 1802 for more about kale, gardening, and nutrition from Dr. Brent and to learn about The Oldest, Largest Garden Party in America’s History–submit your gardening tips there and become eligible to win some great prizes.