As a little kid, I was never fond of eating my veggies. It didn’t matter how many times adults insisted that they were good for me, or assured me of their flavor. I was resolute in my refusal to eat anything that wasn’t made of dough and covered in sugar. Getting me to eat anything leafy and green required skill (and bribery) on my parents’ part; more time watching the T.V. could be acquiesed by eating a spoonful more of green peas. My stubborn dislike of vegetables followed me well into young adulthood- I still am hesitant to trust anything green and leafy. Yet in light of my stubborn taste buds and childish palate, I recently decided to give kale a try.
Brassica oleracea, otherwise known as kale, has been making frequent appearances lately in health food blogs, cooking shows, and recipes shared on social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest. Although the vegetable seems to only recently be acquiring accolades in social media, it’s actually been a staple part of diets for thousands of years. It was the most widely eaten vegetable during the Middle Ages, and is a staple crop in Scotland due to its ability to withstand tough growing conditions. In fact, in Scotland, the phrase “to be off one’s kail” means to be too sick to eat. In parts of northern Germany, entire festivals are dedicated to the leafy vegetable, complete with young men and women being crowned kings and queens of kale.
So what exactly makes kale such a treasured food? It’s a nutritional powerhouse. Kale is full of nutrients that are absolutely essential to good health. It provides a multitude of vitamins in abundance, including Vitamins A, C, and K- which help to improve vision, strengthen your immune system, and protect against various cancers, respectively. It also contains plenty of iron, calcium, and fiber- a macronutrient that most of us don’t see (or eat) enough of. With such an array of nutrients, it’s no wonder that kale has been making its way into recipes for dinners, salads, and power-boosting smoothies. Yet, despite its benefits, the child inside of me screams internally at the sight of vegetables, and I was still reluctant to try the green vegetable.
Last week, I attended the Illinois Products Farmers Markets at the state fairgrounds, where I passed out samples of kale salad. As an advocate for kale, I realized that I’d have to try the vegetable myself before I tried to pass it on to others. So briefly before we set up, I forced myself to try kale- and I was met with all kinds of surprise. First of all, it wasn’t anything like I was expecting. Over the years, the word ‘vegetable’ had become synonymous with the word ‘bland’ in my vocabulary, and I was expecting to taste something like raw cabbage when I spooned the first bite of kale into my mouth. Our kale salad was seasoned with soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and garlic, resulting in a combination that was oddly pleasing to my particular taste buds. Kale is typically known for its bitter aftertaste, but with the right ingredients it tasted like something that I could make a regular part of my diet, and nothing like the nightmare I had imagined it to be. Our kale was raw, but if you’re extra-wary of its bitter taste, steaming it beforehand definitely helps. Check out the recipe below:
We had a huge bowl of kale salad, and even though I realized that kale was not the disgusting vegetable I thought it was, I was thoroughly convinced that there was no way we would sample out an entire bowl of it. Evidently, I was wrong. Not only did I underestimate the power of free food, but I underestimated people’s reactions to kale. Even the most skeptical passersby agreed to try a tiny bit of kale, and left with recipe cards and an enthusiasm to eat more of it. One elderly man eyed me suspiciously and asked if I really gave him kale, because “there’s no way kale can taste this good.” Rest assured, kale can taste that good if you’re willing to give it a shot. Perhaps the best moment of the evening came when a little girl tried some kale. She couldn’t have been more than five, and yet she ate up the kale with more enthusiasm than I could eat any vegetable at her age. Her mom informed us that her daughter had an uncanny appetite for vegetables before ushering her along to the next table. However, over the next half hour, the little girl sneaked back to the table five times to grab more kale when her mother wasn’t looking. Needless to say, kale is definitely a vegetable that will continue to make you come back for more.