I am guessing that kale is one of the top picks on every nutritionist’s list of power foods. This vegetable is packed with nutrition — high in many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. We should probably eat this “leaf cabbage” vegetable much more frequently — but then I have such bad memories of being served overcooked, strong flavored kale in school lunches. That memory is about to change. I stumbled upon tiny Red Russian kale seedlings at my garden center and planted them in my autumn garden this year. I am pleasantly surprised with how well this variety of kale grew. The leaves are tender enough to be eaten raw in a salad and they are slightly sweet. Today I am making a kale salad and I am paring this simple dish with apples, cheddar cheese and almonds along with a lemon vinaigrette dressing.
The salad is crisp and refreshing. It is easy to mix up in a hurry. It is easy to like kale when prepared in a tasty salad. No overcooked flavors of canned, boiled kale.
There are several basic varieties of kale based on leaf shape: curly kale, bumpy Tuscan kale (Dinosaur kale or Lacinato kale), plain leaf kale and ornamental kale. Dinosaur kale with its dark, bumpy leaves is probably the most common variety found in grocery stores and used in recipes. Red Russian Kale is a smooth leaf kale with dark purple ribs. The smooth leaves are variegated and remind me of an oak leaf shape. The ribs are too tough to eat and must be cut out before using the kale. But the leaves are tender enough to be eaten raw in salads.
Kale is a food which has been consumed for centuries — as early as 2000 B.C. During the Middle Ages, kale spread from the eastern Mediterranean region and Asia Minor to other parts of Europe including Scotland, Germany and Russia. It was a staple food in the diets of these people for centuries. In fact in Scotland, kitchen gardens in called “kale yards,” because so much kale is grown in them. The kale yards were built next to the home and a rock wall which help cut the harsh winds and shelter the life-sustaining kale in the wintertime.
Kale belongs to the Brassiaceae family and the Brassica genus, along with collard greens, cabbage, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable- named because the flowers have four petals and resemble a Greek cross. Well, this kale plant “bolted” in my garden the warm 80 degree December heat, you decide if it looks like a Greek cross.
Red Russian Kale was brought to this continent, specifically Canada, by Russian traders in 1895. This variety of kale is originally from Siberia and also goes by the name of “Ragged Jack.” Like other varieties of kale, it is a hardy, cool weather plant. In Louisiana, you can grow kale in either a fall or early spring garden. I planted this kale in the middle of September.
Kale has gained in popularity in recent years. It is packed with nutritional value and has up to 6 times more calcium than broccoli, high levels of antioxidants and high vitamin A, C and K content.
Now that kale is on everyone’s list of “most healthy foods,” we need to find ways to use it. My kale, apple and cheddar cheese salad is one recipe. I love the flavors of apples and cheese when combined together. Adding the Red Russian kale and a mild dressing works well together. Since there are only two of us living at home, I’m making a small salad.
To make the salad, use part of this bunch of kale. Wash all the leaves well (both sides), rinse, drain and dry. Place the kale which you are not using in a plastic zip lock bag in the humidified section of your refrigerator. For the salad, fold each kale leaf in half lengthwise. Use a large kitchen knife and slice up the length of the leaf to remove the purple center stem. Then stack the two leaf halves together and roll up into a tight cigarette-like roll and cut crosswise into rounds. Cut across the rounds to make small kale strips.
Place the kale strips in a medium-sized bowl along with the other salad ingredients — cored and diced Gala apple, cheddar cheese cubes and coarsely chopped smoked almonds. The smoked almonds give a great flavor kick.
I used a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Let the salad chill for at least 15 minutes prior to serving so the lemon juice can help soften the kale leaves. No need to massage these kale leaves — as is typically done with kale salads — Red Russian kale is tender as picked.
If you are luck enough to find Red Russian kale at a farmer’s market or grocery store — I wouldn’t pass it up. This mild kale is easy to use in either raw or cooked dishes. I’m glad I planted these small kale seedlings to have a continued winter supply of Red Russian kale. It is a delightful, mild variety of kale. Hey, I’ve learned to like a new vegetable — yes, we can do it!
- 1 cup (about 2 ounces) Red Russian kale, after washing and stemming (several large leaves kale, as purchased)
- 1/2 Gala apple, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 ounce (1/4 cup) medium cheddar cheese, cubed into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 Tbsp coarsely chopped smoked whole, salted almonds
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
Method and Steps:
- Thoroughly wash kale under running water. Rinse, drain and pat dry. Fold each kale leaf in half lengthwise. Use a large kitchen knife to slice and remove center stem. Then stack the two leave halves on top of each other. Roll up like a cigarette roll and slice across roll into rounds. Then cut rolls crosswise into strips. Place kale strips in medium-size bowl.
- Prepare remainder of salad ingredients: Core and cut Gala apple into 1/2 inch dice — no need to remove peel. Cut cheddar cheese into 1/2 inch cubes. Coarsely chop whole almonds. .Add these ingredients to kale in bowl.
- To make dressing, whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive in another small bowl.
- Add dressing to salad and toss well to coat.
- Refrigerate salad with dressing about 15 minutes to soften kale leaves prior to serving.