The crucifer family has become better known in America's kitchens in the past few years, as its cancer-fighting properties have been heralded by nutritionists. Two members of the family, cabbage and kale, thrive in Alaska's gardens.
Kale is also cousin to collards, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. It's a non-heading type of cabbage, a loose-leafed vegetable which often sports leaves as ruffled as fine lingerie.
Master gardener Susanne Williams of Douglas grows both white kale and red Russian kale. The latter was introduced to Alaska by Russian explorers, she said. "It's just yummy in stir fries."
Laura Joralemon has been growing kale in her Juneau vegetable garden for about 14 years. She leans toward red Russian kale, a flat-leafed variety. "I think it is easier to clean," Joralemon said. "I like the flavor, which is very similar to the curly kale, but more to my taste. It's very easy to grow here, and you can gather the seeds the second year if you leave some in the ground and you will have enough seeds to last a lifetime."
Joralemon's Kale Soup gets raves from all who have tasted it. There are long and short versions, depending on whether you make your own soup stock.
"This recipe has evolved and changed," Joralemon said. "One of my sisters started cooking it, and it went around the family, being adapted and changed." Both her husband Jon and her daughter Brianna, 8, enjoy the soup, although Brianna generally prefers her vegetables raw.
Cook potatoes in broth about 10 minutes. Joralemon often uses marble-size new potatoes from her garden; these can go in whole. Then add sliced pepperoni. (She prefers the kind you slice yourself, because "the pre-sliced seems to lose its flavor.") Cook another 10-15 minutes, and "dinner's ready."
White beans may be added to taste. Salt is not necessary because of the salty pepperoni.
The long version of this recipe begins with the making of Hock Stock. Take some smoked pork hocks and some unsmoked hocks and simmer with leeks for 4-5 hours. Discard bones and skin. Freeze stock until needed. Use half of this and half of chicken stock with a pinch of white pepper in the Kale Soup above.
Joralemon's Kale Soup is very similar to Caldo Verde, Portuguese kale soup, considered by many to be Portugal's national dish. Caldo Verde includes garlic, Spanish onion and diced chourico sausage. There are versions of the soup with bacon and/or lentils, too. In other words, adapt this soup to the ingredients you grow and your family's tastes. The kale for Caldo Verde is cut into extremely fine slices or julienne, which give it a distinctive character.
A half cup of cooked, chopped kale contains 21 calories, 1.2 grams protein, 3.7 grams carbohydrate and 0.3 grams fat. It is also a good source of Vitamins A and C. Glucobrassicin occurs naturally in all cruciferous vegetables. This substance seems to have a role in preventing cancers, especially breast cancers. Kale will grow at high altitudes, and frost only improves its rich flavor. Commercially, kale is grown in Virginia and on Long Island. Kale grown in Washington state is available June through September.
Kale is one of the earliest members of the crucifer family to be cultivated. It came to America with European settlers. Once kale was known as "borecole," but the Scots, who consume record amounts, gave it the name "kale."
When choosing kale in the supermarket, look for dark green leaves with crisp, rough edges. In market or garden, avoid greens that are wilted, yellowing or have dark green patches of slime on the leaves.
If you want to try this recipe and lack kale, use spinach or collard greens.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com