FAIRBANKS — We have had our last farmers market of the season, but if you planted kale this year, your garden may still have more to offer.

As important as it is to get a jump on the fall garden cleanup, let the kale continue waving its optimistic green or purple flag through frost or early snowfalls. Like lingonberries, kale may taste sweeter after a light freeze and can be harvested until the temperature reaches about 20 degrees (or until a moose has it for lunch).

Kale belongs to the same species of the mustard family as collards, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts — Brassica oleracea. Its leaves may be flat and oblong or curly and the color is most often a deep, dark green. The leaves may also be purplish-red. Though it probably originated in the eastern Mediterranean, kale grows very well in cool climates like Alaska’s and it is featured in cuisines of Britain, Denmark and Germany.

Kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables from the garden. One cup of this leafy green contains significant amounts of vitamins A, C, K and B-6 and of the minerals potassium, calcium, iron and manganese. It is also a good source of dietary fiber.

One serving of kale provides more than three-quarters of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C. Kale is especially rich in the carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect the eyes from both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Like other members of the cabbage family, the sulfur-containing compounds in kale are considered protective against cancer.

Many people are familiar with kale’s decorative use in gardens and as garnishes but fewer are accustomed to including it in their family’s meal plans. Kale has a mild, somewhat spicy flavor similar to that of cabbage. It is remarkably versatile and can be eaten raw, steamed, sautéed or added to soup or stew. Kale is often paired with potatoes and other winter vegetables.

Purchase or harvest kale with a bright color and with no wilted or bruised leaves. Plan to use it or freeze it within a few days. Keep the kale in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator or in a plastic bag to prevent dehydration. Before use, rinse the leaves under running water to remove any dirt or sand and trim the bottom of the stem. Some prefer to remove the thick midrib before cooking, although this is not necessary.

Freezing is probably kale’s best long-term storage method. To prepare kale for freezing, clean the kale as instructed above, removing the midrib and cut to desired size, about 1½ to 2 inches.

Blanch kale pieces in boiling water for 3 minutes, cool kale immediately in ice water and drain. Package in freezer bags or other containers made for freezer storage.

These are easy ways to use kale:

Add young rinsed leaves to salad with other baby greens for a peppery taste.

Make some kid-friendly kale chips — brush or “massage” large pieces of cleaned kale with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place on a baking sheet and roast in a 350-degree oven until darkened and crispy.

Chop kale and add to any vegetable soup toward the end of cooking.

Clean, chop and sauté kale. Add to cooked pasta dishes and toss with grated parmesan cheese. Season to taste with pepper and salt.

Microwave wedges of acorn squash and apples. Sauté chopped kale with garlic and add pieces of cooked squash and apple to the pan. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Leslie Shallcross is the Tanana District health, home and family development agent for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She can be reached at 907-474-2426 or lashallcross@alaska.edu.

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