The first time I saw it, I thought it was too ugly to eat. Really. A bundle stood tall on the back of the Rainbow Whole Foods produce counter—huge dark green/blue/gray leaves with purple veins and fleshy bulges all over them. Ick. And they looked chewy, too. I wasn't into chewy green things at the time, so I passed them by.
Those particular icky leaves belonged to lacinato kale, also called "dinosaur kale." I'm not sure whether the name refers to its ancient origins or the resemblance to the skin of T-Rex, but you get the idea. Since then, however, I've learned to like it and other green leafy things that keep us healthy. Go figure—a Southern girl eating greens. But these greens are different from the chopped, boiled, and fat-backed mush we've all seen.
This year, in my tiny little garden, I've grown turnips, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli raab and, you guessed it, dinosaur kale. I finally got bright and remembered that trees drop their leaves in the winter. That means the garden can actually get a little sunshine in spite of the sweet gum trees. Greens love cool weather, and this year mine are going to town. We've had just enough cool to make them sweet.
Don't get me wrong, this is no fancy garden. It's just a little of this and that, mixed all up. In my view, gardening is an art not a science and, like art, it's supposed to be fun. No hours of hoeing and grass-pulling in my little plot. Four-by-four-foot raised beds make everything reachable. And this year I have incorporated containers because I can move them around to chase the sun. Nothing expensive, just those three-gallon things they sell trees in.
Everything is organic. I'm not into eating pesticides if I can help it. As I see it, gardening is good for the soul and greens are good for the body. I have a wall hanging that says, "One is nearer to God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth," and I believe it.
But back to the greens. Todd Goode, produce manager at Rainbow Whole Foods and a vegan, says all green leafy vegetables are important to a balanced diet, but the main reason he eats kale is the calcium. "Kale has more useable calcium per cup than milk," Goode says, and calcium is a major concern for anyone giving up dairy. He puts kale near the top of any balanced diet because in addition to calcium it contains high amounts of vitamin A and a good amount of vitamin C as well as fiber and phytochemicals.
Goode says he cooks all his greens the same way. Using a heavy wok or cast-iron skillet, he sautés a whole onion and three or four minced garlic cloves in toasted sesame oil and tamari. He says the sesame oil adds a hint of ham flavor. When the onions are about half-cooked, he adds the stems of the kale because they need extra time to become tender. After the onions and stems are done, he chops the leaves and adds them to the mixture, then covers the wok and turns off the heat. After about five minutes toss everything together and serve. For lagniappe, you can add things like water chestnuts or baby corn.
In our house, we often mix greens. I roam the garden and choose a few leaves from everything out there. We steam them over boiling water, often with sliced turnip roots and eat them with a little butter. Sometimes we sauté them in olive oil with garlic and serve them over pasta.
Kale is an excellent addition to any diet. Eat it by itself or mixed with other green leafy vegetables. But if you don't have kale, just eat your greens, for goodness sake. As my southern Mississippi cousin says, "Greens is greens."