Cathy Walthers of West Tisbury is a kale fanatic. Before publishing her cookbook Kale, Glorious Kale in 2014, while testing recipes, she ate the green for 140 days straight. Kale is one of the only local greens available for most of the year, and it’s also wonderfully versatile.
“Kale is super popular now,” Walthers said, when I asked what drew her to the green in the first place. “There’s even a worldwide kale seed shortage—the Johnny’s Seed Company told me. But still, some people are unsure how to cook it, and some people have had bad experiences. So I wanted to give recipes and help with techniques for people who don’t think they like it, or don’t know how to use it.”
The thing about kale is there isn’t just one variety. In fact, in her research Walthers found over 50, each with it’s own unique texture and taste.
“You can break them down into three main categories,” she said. “And these all grow around here. One is the curly kale that we traditionally see in our gardens—that’s the dark green, they’re often called Scotch kale, originally from Europe. Then came the Red Russian kale. They’re flatter leaves, and they have that purplish red vein—very beautiful and really delicious. And then a really popular kale now is the Italian kale. It’s nicknamed dinosaur kale, but it’s really Italian heirloom kale, and it’s also called Tuscano or Tuscan.”
Within these three main categories there are all sorts of subvarieties—one farm on the Vineyard grows a whopping thirteen kinds of kale. As she tested recipes, Walthers used these varieties in all the ways you’d expect—kale soups and salads, kale chips—but also in some pretty unusual dishes. One I’d never heard of is kale granola!
“I don’t know what made me want to try it,” she said. “I guess the krispy kale, thinking would it work in a homemade granola—and I was so pleased that you can just add massaged kale, like you were going to roast in the oven, to the granola that you’re making. While the granola crisps, the kale crisps. It’s got a little bit of maple syrup and a little coconut, so the whole thing is really delicious. And it stays crispy for a couple days, putting it in a jar—surprisingly. It’s really delicious.”
Walthers also recommends her recipes for kale latkes, a coconut kale smoothie, and an Asian peanut noodle and kale salad. She says kale holds up great to heavy salad dressings—hence the kale Caesar salads that are all over restaurant menus these days—and also roasts nicely with mixed vegetables in the oven. One chapter she wasn’t expecting to write is kale cocktails.
“Somebody made a kale margarita, and I tried it, and it was really delicious,” she explained. “So, for fun, I did a few kale cocktails. It’s a chapter, but it’s not a big one. You can use your leftover juice from the morning.”
Walthers came up with four other kale cocktail recipes. My two favorites are the Emerald Gimlet, which calls for gin, kale juice, ginger, lime juice, and simple syrup and the Kale Mary, a twist on the original tomato juice and vodka cocktail involving tomatillo, kale, and celery juices. The good news is that even in a not-so-wholesome cocktail, kale is still a nutritional powerhouse.
“It’s amazing how truly nutritious kale is,” Walthers said. “One of the things that I’ve found is the Andy index. Whole Foods uses this it’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. So they rated vegetables and fruits, and actually other foods too, on a scale of one to one thousand. And kale comes in at one thousand. It’s almost a vitamin pill in itself.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest also ranked kale as the healthiest of 83 vegetables. It’s high in vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, iron, potassium, and a laundry list of other essential vitamins and minerals. Walthers said whatever you’re going to do with kale, now is the best time of year for eating it—the green is sweeter after a frost.
You can expect to see kale at most winter farmers markets, and you can find Cathy Walthers recipe for Kale Latkes on Elspeth's blog.
This piece first aired in December, 2014.