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Kale 101: What is it, How Did it Suddenly Become Cool, and How Can I Get My Family to Eat It?

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How the heck did kale get so popular so fast? Five years ago, it was near impossible to find kale when you went out to eat. Now, just about every restaurant’s menu has at least one kale-based dish—400 percent more restaurants than four years ago, according to a recent NPR report.

But why? Was it cross-bred with a super strain of bionic lettuce infused with vitamins and a magically delicious flavor? Nope, kale has always been dense with nutrients and antioxidants–as for its taste: still bitter.

Some suggest that its use by famous chefs like Jamie Oliver and influential celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow put it in the spotlight. Whatever it is, kale (called “the new beef” by some aficionados) has blown up in popularity which makes this farmer really happy. So let’s sort kale out a bit…

1. THE MANY VARIETIES OF KALE
Just like any veggie, kale has lots of varieties–here are just a few…

Dinosaur Kale (Lacinato)
Dino kale is an heirloom variety native to Italy with a hearty broccoli flavor than other varieties and a bumpy leaf texture with tender ribs. Good with strong cheeses and citrus. My favorite dino power breakfast: sautéed dino kale and caramelized onions folded into brown rice topped with a poached egg.

Green Curly
Green curly has a mild flavor and tender texture. It works best with raw salads and seasonal fruit with a light dressing complement. It’s the best type of kale for chips due to the curly leaves that hold savory coatings.

Red Russian
Look for dark purple stems and ribs with gray-green jagged leaves. Red Russian is milder than dino, but stronger than curly. A good universal kale—you can’t go wrong here.

Red Bore
Red bore looks like a bit like curly kale, but dark purple. It has anthocyanins due to the dark pigment therefore contains antioxidant properties.

2. HOW TO CHOP KALE

Studies show that cutting kale into small slices breaks down cell walls and releases enzymes which helps nutrients be absorbed in the body. After you cut it, let it sit 10 minutes before use to allow for maximum vitamin absorption.

3. SNEAKY WAYS TO GET KIDS (AND RESISTANT ADULTS) TO EAT KALE
No one wants to trick loved ones into eating healthy, but until raw kale gets off the “acquired taste” list…

Mac & Cheese & Chard
Boil noodles and put one bunch of chopped, de-stemmed chard in the hot water for the last 2 minutes. Strain both in a colander and add your cheese as usual, coating both noodles and chard. Shoot for half noodles and half chard.

Mashed Potatoes meet Kale
Finely chop your kale and fold it into hot mashed potatoes. Add a bit of butter, garlic, salt, and pepper

Power Lasagna
Instead of spinach in lasagna replace with chard or kale. Simple, no?

Collard Wrap
Tenderize collard leaves with a mallet until soft. Use them as wraps instead of tortillas–add protein, vegetables, and the sauce of your choice. Or stuff the leaves with sandwich fixings. Better yet, fill ’em with rice and beans for a collard burrito.

Blueberry & Greens Smoothie
Blend one bunch of greens in a ‘milk’ of your choice (almond, rice, etc.), add frozen blueberries and a dash of maple syrup or pitted dates.

Kale Stem Asparagus
Toss left over stems in olive oil with crushed garlic, red pepper flakes (optional) and salt. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees until slightly crisp. Shake some nutritional yeast on the spears. Eat while warm.

Jamie Collins is the owner of Serendipity Farms and has been farming organic row crops at the mouth of Carmel Valley since 2001. She’s also an organic farm and process inspector for California Certified Organic Farmers.

Photos: Getty Images, except #4 by Jamie Collins

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