For the longest time, I’ve been seeing kale in recipes from all over—on the web, in magazines and on television. I wondered what it tastes like, what the texture is and what characteristics it has that makes it so versatile. How can a vegetable that’s good for making a soup also be a great raw salad ingredient?
Because kale doesn’t grow in the tropics, it’s not something that one finds in the market. So, my casual interest in kale has always been limited to wonderment. I wondered. And I wondered. Until a few days ago. We went grocery shopping at S&R and, on the vegetable shelf, I found kale.
It wasn’t as curly as the kind I often see in photos. Because it was a bit pricey, and considering how it might be the first and last time I was going to find kale in my part of the world, I decided to do a little research to make sure that the kale I bought wouldn’t go to waste.
Here are the things I learned.
There are several varieties of kale
Kale belongs to the Brassica oleracea species. The Brassica oleracea species also includes cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower.
There is more than one kind of kale. Kale can be categorized according to the physical appearance of the leaves (curly, bumpy, plain, etc.) or according to their commercial names, the most well-known of which are common curly kale, Lacinato kale (this is the variety I got from S&R), red Russian, savoy and kai-lan. Yes, kai-lan.
Chinese Broccoli (kai-lan or Gai Lan) is a variety of kale
Learning that kai-lan is a variety of kale blew my mind. And it debunked my belief that I had never eaten kale in my entire life. On the contrary, I have been eating kale in the form of kai-lan for a long time and there is quite a long list of recipes with kai-lan in the archive including:
- Chinese broccoli-wrapped mackerel with coconut milk sauce
- Tofu steaks with Chinese broccoli in mushroom sauce
- Baby corn and Chinese broccoli soup
- Chinese broccoli and tamarind soup
- Stir Fried Rice Sticks With Pork Cracklings and Chinese Broccoli
Kale can be eaten raw or cooked
Whether or not kale can be used as a raw salad ingredient or cooked in the pot depends largely on how tender the leaves are.
The younger the leaves, the more tender they are and the more appropriate for a raw salad.
More mature leaves are best cooked. They can be braised quickly but they are also hardy enough to withstand long and slow cooking.
Some kale varieties are grown as ornamental plants
Because some varieties of kale have attractive colors, they are often grown as ornamentals. They are still edible though but there are claims that the truly pretty kale varieties are not as tasty as the ugly looking ones.
I just cooked a soup with Lucinato kale, sweet potato and sausages, and I have to admit that I love Lucinato kale more than I love kai-lan.
Now that I know more about kale, and now that I am aware where I can find at least two varieties, I hope to be able to cook more dishes with kale.