The new ‘it’ vegetable in South Jersey

A few years ago, who would have believed that kale would be a hip food choice? As impossible as it sounds, it seems to be true. Partly due to its power-packing nutrient punch and partly due to the growing popularity of kale chips among in-the-know 20-somethings looking for healthier snack options, kale seems to be the new “it” vegetable.

Kale is in the cabbage family and relative of collard greens and even the colorful flower-bed fillers your fancy neighbor planted to pretend it’s not winter. That ornamental kale is actually edible, but I wouldn’t suggest a midnight raid of the neighbor’s garden.

The stuff you’ll find in the grocery store is much tastier, and you won’t end up in custody for trespassing. Don’t worry, there’s no shortage of kale here in New Jersey. According to a Crop Profile published in 2006, the state ranks fourth nationally in kale production and all of that production occurs in South Jersey.

In New Jersey, kale is a cool season crop that is raised in the spring and fall. It’s known to lower the risk of at least five different types of cancer, not to mention help keep cholesterol levels down. You can read more about Kale’s super powers at WHFoods.org.

My roots go back to Germany, where kale is so highly revered that some communities hold festivals in which a “Kale King” (or queen) is named. (They take their kale very seriously). With that, I must make a confession: The first time I touched kale was a little more than a month ago. My New Year’s resolution to lose weight led me to the cruciferous corner of the produce aisle and there it was, staring at me. I had heard kale was “good for me” but I had no concept of how to prepare it or what the heck to do with it.

After a quick Google search, I had 2,410,000 recipe suggestions at the ready. I started with a soup recipe by Giada De Laurentiis that featured ground turkey and brown rice. It was very easy and the kale cooperated nicely.

After that initial success, I decided to give the recipe my own spin and add my favorite ingredients. It makes quite a bit of soup, which is great if you’re like me and like to graze all week. I also like things a bit spicy, so I added a can of tomatoes with green chilies and chose spicy sausage. If you lean toward the milder side, feel free to just use another can of diced tomatoes and mild sausage.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 – 4 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch coins

1 lb. turkey sausage, casings removed (feel free to use hot or mild, or a mixture)

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

8 cups chicken stock (homemade if possible)

One 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes

4 cups chopped kale

One 8 oz. can of Rotel or other combo of tomato and green chilies

salt and pepper

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and carrots and sauté until onion is translucent and carrots begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add turkey sausage and break up with spatula as meat browns. Add Herbes de Provence to browned meat and stir. Pour in stock, canned tomatoes, and kale and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and let cook for 15 minutes to an hour depending on your preference. (I prefer the kale very tender, so the soup cooks for quite a while.) Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

This recipe is very flexible, and you may find many ways to play with the ingredients. Try adding green beans, a bell pepper, beans, or brown rice. One bunch of kale will usually provide enough for two or even three recipes. Visit JerseyBites.com for more ideas about how to use all that kale, including kale and Cheddar cheese pie and, what else? Kale chips!

 

Deborah Smith is the executive editor of Jersey Bites, a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey.  They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and anything else that tickles their taste buds.

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