Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2010
Regional Report

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Tasty, nutritious kale deserves a more prominent place is our southern gardens.

King Kale

The cole crops- kale, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage and cauliflower- are all closely related vegetables. Among these vegetables, kale and collards are very similar with the primary difference being in the form of their leaves. Someone once observed that collards are popular in the South and kale is more popular up North. Well, I say it's high time we make room in our southern gardens for this outstanding cool season vegetable!

When it comes to being good for you, kale is the king of the garden. Nothing packs the nutrient punch and health benefits of kale. For example, one cup of kale provides well over 100% of the daily requirement of vitamin A and 90% of your vitamin C needs. It is also an excellent source of manganese and a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, and fiber.

Kale contains several different phytonutrients that fight various types of cancer and carotenoids that promote eye health. It offers all this for only 36 calories per cup.

There are many types of kale, varying in leaf form and color with considerable variation in flavor qualities. One general way of dividing the kales is into two types, the Scotch types that have gray-green and very curled foliage, and the Siberian types that have blue-green foliage that is less curled, and in some cases even flat, with deeply indented edges.

Once you try some of the better varieties of kale you will wonder why southerners use kale most often as a living plate onto which some meat salad or fruit salad is plopped, or worse yet, laid out to form a "pretty" blanket over the ice in a restaurant salad bar onto which less tasty, nutrition-lacking bowls of chopped iceberg lettuce are set!

I like to eat kale fresh as part of a salad mix, but it is great cooked. Avoid cooking it too long or much of the health benefits will be lost and the texture will turn to mush. The best approach is to cook it only enough to make it tender. If you select tender young leaves, the cooking time will be even shorter.

Kale is also good in soups, stir-fries and omelets. The most common method of preparation is to either steam or simmer it and serve it as a side dish. Sauteed with garlic is another great option.

My favorite two types of vegetable garden kale are Red Russian and Lacinato (also called "dinosaur" or "dino" kale). Red Russian is more tender than most kale varieties, with a mild sweet flavor well suited to salads. Lacinato's dark blue-green, savoyed leaves are slightly sweeter and more delicate in flavor than most curly types of kale.

Kale, like the other cole crops, does best in cool weather. It is one of the most cold hardy vegetables in my garden. We plant it from fall to spring and keep the plants on into early summer, although the flavor gets stronger when the weather heats up. The best flavor comes after some cool weather. Cold conditions convert starches in the leaves to sugar and also alter the protein flavor compounds.

Give kale a try this winter. You may discover a new found respect for this often overlooked cool season green. Hardy, tasty and loaded with nutrients and disease fighting compounds, kale deserves more respect and a prime spot in our southern gardens.

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