Kale certainly isn’t a new plant in this region, so why did it take me so long to discover its many charms?

Thanks to our farmers markets, kale has become our favorite green through the colder months — chopped, sautéed, added to a stew or even simmered slowly the Southern way. Kale is one of the garden’s most reliable vegetables, cold-hardy and not at all fussy about the condition of the soil. Kale actually tastes a little sweeter when picked right after the first freeze.

Red, purple, blue-green and black; ruffled, crinkly, smooth-leafed, kale is abundant and handsome in any backyard garden. A very popular variety is the dark greenish-black Lacinato, with its long tongue-shaped leaves. I find it the most tender and the easiest to work with, and the flavor seems milder.

Though kale salads are ubiquitous, I doubt they’ll become cliché given their many variations. And kale is chockablock with nutrients. It’s loaded with beta-carotene, vitamins K and C, as well as calcium.

To store kale, spritz or gently rinse the leaves, wrap in a clean dish towel or paper towels and place in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for at least a week. To prepare kale, remove the rib that runs down the center of the leaf. It’s too tough to eat and takes too long to cook.

Use this recipe as inspiration for your own version of a kale salad. Try using walnut oil or hazelnut oil, lemon juice or red wine vinegar. One of my favorite kale recipes comes from Atina Diffley, a farmer, author and amazing cook. “Just toss it with lots of dark sesame oil and garlic,” she said. “Of course, even gravel tastes good that way.”

 

Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor.