Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Kale is the new black

A humble veg becomes trend-setting royalty

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In case you haven't heard yet, we're ringing in the New Year with a veg this year. Pantone has named Kale as one of the top fashion colours of the year for 2017 (and, yes, in this context it's capitalized).

So you'll be right on trend grabbing a bunch of humble, lower-case kale from your local grocer or, if you're lucky enough to have some growing, your own garden and holding it up to that website you're designing or your favourite jeans and seeing if you like kale in the mix.

Calling it a "lush and fertile natural green shade" that works as a foil to the other more vibrant tones in the 2017 palette, Pantone says Kale is "evocative of the great outdoors and a healthy lifestyle." How Whistler can you get? Companion colours of the year include a denim-y blue called Niagara, a bright, fuchsia-like Pink Yarrow, and a flat beige called Hazelnut that, honestly, evokes really bad pancake make-up.

The thing about naming a colour Kale, though, is that real-life kale comes in so many varieties and hues, cooked and raw, it's impossible to pin one down. None I've ever brushed shoulders with comes even close to this muddy green, which is more like martini olives.

But never mind fashionable Kale. While kale in its usual veggie form is far too ordinary to make the pages of 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, it remains royalty in my books. Kale is one of the healthiest, tastiest and most versatile veggies you can get, especially this time of year. Plus, it's one of the cheapest available in winter, even the organic stuff, mainly because of its enormous productivity and capacity for easy storage.

Fresh kale will keep in your fridge a good week to 10 days, especially if you don't mess it up by washing it first and it's stored in a nice, airtight container or one of those special "green" produce storage bags that let it breathe. Properly prepped, it will last a year or more in your freezer. These inherently good "keeper" properties make kale one of the hardiest and most prolific choices for your balcony or regular garden. It actually thrives in winter months plus cold sweetens the flavour! In Holland, kale or boerenkool is a classic winter veggie, typically served with potatoes.

Curiouscook.com and former New York Times columnist, Harold McGee, tells us that of all the members of the Brassica or cabbage family, kale, collards and Portuguese tronchuda cabbage most closely resemble wild cabbage, which is native to the Mediterranean area before it was domesticated some 2,500 years ago. But it's their tolerance of cold weather that's made them such an important staple in Eastern Europe and other places with long winters.

Like other members of the Brassica family, seeds can be sown right from early spring through to late August. If you're lucky, or at least located closer to the sea end of Sea to Sky Country, even one kale plant will give you tons of fresh leaves for a good two years, including right through both winters. Kale is a big hit in Whistler's Community Gardens. Once you get it going, it will even self-seed. I've had plants almost as tall as me growing in containers and throwing off little sprouts all over our communal garden.

Curly kale, black kale, purple kale, red Russian kale, Ethiopian kale, dwarf Siberian kale — so many varieties to chose from and so little time to grow and enjoy them all. West Coast Seeds, located in Ladner and specializing in heritage and organic seeds, offers two dozen varieties, some of them producing smaller, delicate leaves more like the ones used in commercial salad mixes.

And that's usually the rub with kale, isn't it? All that greenery in your mouth, and we ain't talkin' colour here. One reason kale and its cousins are so good for us is precisely because of all that fibre. Also, 100 grams of kale delivers 200 per cent of your daily requirements for vitamins A and C, and more.

On the flavour side, Brassica members, kale included, have a complex chemistry. In his classic, On Food and Cooking, McGee calls them "formidable chemical warriors" that use "two defensive chemicals in their tissues." These are flavour precursors and enzymes that act on the precursors to liberate reactive flavours. When the plant's cells are damaged, even through the simple act of chopping them, the enzymes can start a chain of reactions that generates bitter, pungent, strong-smelling compounds.

Most of us have learned to add a bit of kale to our cooking, in stir-fries or lasagnas, for instance, but usually leave a full side of it alone. So here's a trick: try braising your kale.

Use medium-high heat and a pot or pan with a tight-fitting lid and. Heat about a tablespoon of oil till veggies sizzle when added. Throw in some chopped onion, if you like, then your clean, chopped kale and keep the heat cranked, stirring as it sizzles and braises. Add some acid, like your favourite Nonna Pia reduction or lemon juice, and a couple of tablespoons of water for steam, then slam on the lid for just a minute or two. Finish it with some good salt or a tch of fresh, minced garlic and you'll have kale you love.

For more tasty, easy recipes, check out Sharon Hanna and Carol Pope's The Book of Kale & Friends. They even have a recipe for your best friend — Kale Doggy Biscotti.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who eats kale like a rabbit.

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