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Sadly, there aren’t many above ground crops that withstand winter well. Cucumbers and zucchini have long since collapsed. Beet roots may be harvestable, but their greens – like those of most other leafy edibles – melt into the soil following icy weather. Yet, it is ever-reliable kale that is the most likely green to stand up tall and offer turgid, crisp leaves for our table mid-winter. Plus, these plants can provide unique color and form from season-to-season in just about any garden.
One of the tastiest kale varieties goes by many names: Black, Dinosaur, Palm Tree or Lacinato. This beautiful plant offers abundant, dark, long, rounded, flavorful leaves. When the plants are young – and before they meet with cold temperatures –Lacinato Kale leaves are delicate. They’re perfect to pick, wash, and tear into a mixed green salad. But, as the plants toughen up with age and to withstand the cold, the leaves take a bit more preparation to enjoy.
Winter Lacinato Kale Salad
10-15 large Lacinato kale leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ cup blood orange olive oil (or any extra virgin fruity olive oil)
½ cup dried cranberries, unsweetened
½ cup hulled, unsalted sunflower seeds, lightly toasted
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
Using a zester, gather about ½ teaspoon of orange zest. Then cut orange in half, squeeze half of the juice into a jar. Add zest and minced garlic to juice. Add a few grinds of pepper and a dash of salt. Stir. Set aside.
Pick over kale to remove insects and garden detritus. Tear leaves from mid-rib. Toss mid-rib into compost pail. Chop torn leaves into bite-sized pieces.
If the kale is very tough and you plan to eat the salad right away, place chopped leaves into a bowl. Sprinkle with dash to ¼ teaspoon of salt, and rub the leaves with the salt. This will help break down and soften the leaves.
Chop remaining half of orange. Add chopped orange, cranberries, and toasted sunflower seeds to chopped leaves. Add several grinds of pepper. Toss.
Whisk olive oil into the garlic-orange dressing. Add to salad mixture. Toss several times. (Hint: the more you toss, the softer the kale leaves will become. If you can set the salad aside for an hour or refrigerate overnight, the flavors will improve with time.)
Lacinato or other traditional kale varieities such as ‘Red Winter’ or ‘Curly’ may already be common additions to your garden. And, in many locales each may survive for multiple seasons without going to seed in spring or withering to the ground at the first sign of frost. While these may appear to be perennial food crops, new offerings like ‘Dick’s Pictoee’ Kale is a truer perpetual food source. This beautiful edible brightens up dark spots with its pale green and white variegated leaves. Plus, it remains hearty even in temperatures below freezing. So, on those cold days when you’re desperate for something fresh and green, this beautifully ornamental edible should be there, ready to clip for a nutrient-filled snack.
Bean & Bacon Soup with Crispy Kale Chip Garnish
20-30 Dick’s Pictoee kale leaves (or less of larger variety leaves), cleaned & washed
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 carrots, washed & thinly sliced
2-4 slices bacon, cut into ¼” pieces
1 16 oz can Cannellini beans (drained & rinsed)
4 cups prepared chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat oven to 375F.
Remove any tough stems from kale leaves. Tear any large leaves into 1-2” pieces. Place leaves in large bowl. Toss with 1 Tablespoon olive oil, a dash of salt and several grinds of pepper.
Spread kale leaves into a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in pre-heated oven for about 6-8 minutes. Toss. Continue to cook another 6-8 minutes or until kale becomes crispy but isn’t burned. Remove from oven.
Toss. Set aside.
In a warm soup pot, add bacon slices and cook until crisp. Remove cooked bacon from pan and set aside to drain. Remove all but about ½ teaspoon of fat from the pan.
Add shallot and garlic to soup pot. Cook until garlic has lost its rawness and shallot is slightly translucent. Add sliced carrot, toss and cook for about 3-5 minutes. Add thyme, a few grinds of pepper and bay leaf. Toss and cook for another minute or two. Add cooked bacon bits back into pot. Toss.
Pour chicken broth into pan and stir to deglaze, bringing up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Add in drained, rinsed beans. Stir. Simmer for 10-20 minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings as needed, removing bay leaf.
Ladle soup into bowls and top with crispy bits of toasted kale.
Learn more about growing kale and get more recipes.