In the 10/20 NYT Magazine, a piece by Pagan Kennedy, “Who Made That Kale?”:

Scientists disagree about when humans first tasted kale. But it is known that the ancient Greeks cultivated leafy greens, which they boiled and ate as a cure for drunkenness. And early Roman manuscripts include references to “brassica,” a word that encompassed wild turnips, cabbages and kalelike plants. By the Middle Ages, kale had spread through Europe and Asia. The Italians developed plants with “dinosaur” scales, while the Scots created varietals with leaves like frilly petticoats. The Russians produced kale that could survive in the snow. But by the time Tim Peters, who was then farming in Oregon, began experimenting with the plant in the 1980s, kale had become “boring.” “You only saw the green kind in the supermarket,” he says, “if you could find it at all.”

Classic green kale:


Kennedy continues:

To create his own varietals, Peters planted Siberian kale on his farm, and also along roadsides, so that bees could cross-pollinate the vegetables with neighborhood weeds. “I love working with bees,” Peters says. “They’ll do stuff that you didn’t dream of.” One day he noticed that some of his blue-green Siberians had produced “babies” that looked nothing like their parents — they were red, with vellum-thin leaves. “I’d never seen kale like that before. I sent samples to seed companies, and they told me that it belonged to the red Russian family.” Peters, it turned out, had created several new types of red Russian kale, a varietal that had been around for centuries. He named one particularly delicate strain Winter Red. As kale caught on, so, too, did Winter Red: some companies grew “huge productions of it and released it as ‘Red Russian’ or ‘Russian,’ ” he says.

When growers introduced America to a rainbow of kales, from pink to purple, they created a new appetite for it, according to Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist at Columbia University and a kale evangelist.

A new kale:


Wikipedia on kale:

Kale or borecole (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group) is a vegetable with green or purple leaves, in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms.

The species Brassica oleracea contains a wide array of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and brussels sprouts. The cultivar group Acephala also includes spring greens and collard greens, which are extremely similar genetically.

I am very fond of kale, in all its forms. It’s adaptable as a green in both Italian and Chinese cooking. And now is featured by Gordon Biersch in a quinoa and kale pilaf as a side dish. Seen here with the miso mahi and with the seared ahi tuna:


[GB puffery] Ancient flavors from South America and Japan combine in deliciously unexpected ways in this amazing seafood dish. Of course it starts with a premium mahi filet, glazed with miso and topped with marinated shiitake mushrooms for a huge, unctious flavors that contrast beautifully with the mild and flaky fish. Then, our housemade lime-infused soy butter sauce adds amazing complexity and even more flavors.


[more GB puffery] Pacific Rim flavors in full force. This chef’s favorite starts with a thick cut of premium ahi tuna, rubbed with sesame seeds and seared on the grill just enough to let the seeds release their oils and nutty aroma. For a side dish, we reach across the ocean to South America for a hearty kale and quinoa pilaf, and finish it all with a wasabi aioli that gives as much or as little bite as you desire.

(The red bits are cranberries.)

4 Responses to “kale”

  1. Tané Tachyon Says:

    My vegan younger son loves kale, he even has a “Only Kale Can Save Us Now” sign on the wall.

  2. Brian Ashurst Says:

    Kale is a common cattle feed in the UK. I’d rather eat it processed by cattle than on my plate. (But your photos were great!)

  3. Victor Steinbok Says:

    It’s interesting that Wiki mentions “borecole”. There are two components to this and both play an interesting role. I’ve always associated “kale” with “cole” and OED specifically blames Scots influence on Northern pronunciation for the transformation. To be more specific OED etymology mentions “kail[l]”. Given that all of these forms (and French “chou” and Italian “cavolo”, German “Kohl”, Dutch “kool”, plus “cauliflower”, “broccoli”, “kohlrabi”, etc.) go back to Latin Caulis, none of this is surprising. But back to borecole. I’m not familiar with this particular form (due to my limited dialectal exposure), but I do recognize it as being similar to Dutch “boerenkool”–the second main ingredient in the most common stamppot, along with potatoes (mashed together–other versions include other brassicas, such as endive, cauliflower, turnips–both greens and “roots”–sauerkraut (zuurkool–always with smoked sausage), but also spinach, squash, apple and carrot, although the last two versions have distinct names, hete bliksem and hutspot, respectively). Not to put too fine an edge on this, “boerenkool” is kale. But it translates as “farmers’ cabbage”. So it goes quite well with the rest of the Brassica assortment.
    [See here http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamppot%5D
    Also, a word on varieties. One of the most common varieties of the basic leafy kale is “Scotch Curled” (usually referred simply as “curly”), which serves as an odd pointer to the word’s origin. The curly kale also comes in “red”–which is actually purple. Two less common varieties are Siberian (smaller, more delicate leaves that are used in salads) and Tuscan (a.k.a. “lacinato”–the deeper, darker green leaves that are narrow, waxy and extremely “bubbled”). Turns out the Siberian is actually from different species–related to rutabagas, turnips and napa cabbage (Brassica napus). The more intriguing varieties include “dinosaur”, which is tougher, flatter (no curly edges) and much more wrinkled/bubbled (a Tuscan hybrid). If you go to Whole Foods late in the summer (or, for that matter, right now), you will regularly find at least four and sometimes as many as seven different varieties (some due to organic farms referring to them by different names).

  4. Paolo Says:

    Interesting that you associated it with Italian cooking. I’ve never seen kale on sale in Northern Italy,where I am from, and the only variety I am aware of is cavolo nero, used in Tuscan cooking, whose leaves are a much darker, almost blackish shade of green.

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