Hearty collards and kale provide a burst of flavor after winter survival


Nutritious greens, such as this collard plant growing in a backyard garden on the south side this month, can typically survive a Spokane winter and produce fresh, tasty leaves throughout the year. (Mike  Prager)
Nutritious greens, such as this collard plant growing in a backyard garden on the south side this month, can typically survive a Spokane winter and produce fresh, tasty leaves throughout the year. (Mike Prager)

If you are serious about vegetable gardening, don’t be lulled into thinking your harvests are limited to spring, summer and fall.

There are several hardy vegetables that if grown properly can provide table fare from November through March.

Collards, kale, leeks, parsley and some herbs are reliable producers through the winter even when temperatures drop below zero. Snow cover often helps them to survive.

I particularly like collards and kale because they are large plants capable of producing lots of nutrient-packed greens. I’ve been known to dig through snow to harvest a few of the big leaves.

The reason I bring this up now is twofold: it’s time to plant a new crop, and last year’s plantings are just getting their second wind for early-season harvest.

It is important to understand that kale and collards grow as biennials. They produce only leaves in their first growing season. Those leaves can be harvested as the plant grows. Keep the main shoot intact and the plant will continue producing more leaves.

The plant will slow down in the fall and stop growing altogether in the winter. But to survive the cold, the leaves will concentrate their plant sugars to protect the cell structure. In the process, the leaves become thick, tender and sweet.

Then, as the soil warms in spring, the plants burst back to life with new, tender growth and flower buds.

The buds emerge initially as tiny florets that are similar to broccoli with one main bud at the center of the plant. Pick the main bud as the shoot develops, and within days, new shoots will appear from dormant leaf buds along the mature stalk.

The older leaves and newer leaves are tender and delicious. I like eating them straight from the garden in April and May while I’m working on spring planting.

I started growing collards and kale in the mid-1990s, and have learned to appreciate their profusion of growth in spring.

Give them a try now so you can enjoy this early bounty next spring as part of your garden rotation. But be sure to get them going by late spring so the plants have time to develop some size.

Plant the seeds or starts with compost and organic fertilizer. Rather than thin the plants, you can dig around them and transplant the little ones in open spots in the garden. Try adding kale to flower borders for additional production.

Kale survives even the coldest winters, especially the blue curly and Russian varieties. Italian kale, also known as black kale, is not nearly as hardy and usually dies off, although it is a very attractive plant by late summer.

Collards and the others may succumb to the worst of our cold, but they survive often enough to make them useful for fall, winter and early spring harvests.

Leeks and parsley also send up flowers during their second spring, and can be harvested for the kitchen. The tender stalks of parsley buds are great. The same goes for emerging flower stalks above the leaves of leeks and garlic.

For more off-season variety, add oregano, thyme and sage to the garden.

Cilantro is another herb that may survive if started in late summer. The key is to seed it in late summer or early spring. As they go to flower, the immature seed pods can be harvested and used as seasoning, and the mature seeds will self-sow.

These plants can be eaten fresh from the garden, used in salads or combined with soups and stir-fry dishes. Stems and trimmings are great in soup stocks, along with the herbs. Vegetarian cooks will find them very useful.

Large kale leaves can be tossed with olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt and maybe chili powder and roasted in the oven for crispy vegetable snack.

The chopped leaves can also be coated with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and massaged so they soften. Some onion or other seasonings will round out the flavor of the salad.

Cooked collards are high in protein, vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, folate, calcium, iron and manganese. They are considered strongly anti-inflammatory and have a low glycemic index.

A cup of cooked collards has about a quarter of the daily recommended allowance of calcium, making it a good source for the important mineral, especially for vegans.

Kale is similarly nutritious and even higher on the anti-inflammatory index. A single one-cup serving of cooked kale has 354 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A and 1,354 percent of the daily allowance for vitamin K.

A great resource for nutritional information is NutritionData at http://nutritiondata.self.com/.

If you grow enough vegetables, you can save more than a few dollars at the grocery store.

On the downside, collards and kale may be susceptible to aphids, mildew, slugs and earwigs. Aphids can be controlled with soapy water, insecticidal soap or a strong spray from a hose.

Leaves showing mildew should be removed and discarded. A small amount of baking soda mixed with water can be sprayed on the leaves to slow mildew growth.

Earwigs and slugs need to be hunted down since they only forage at night. They will hide in damp spots along the ground, under leaves or wood, or in cracks in wood or concrete. Corn leaves at their axils often harbor earwigs in summer.

Soapy water on contact kills earwigs while a little ammonia in water (up to 10 percent) will kill slugs if applied with a spray bottle. I mix some of both in a solution when I go hunting. Caution: Avoid applying soapy water when it’s hot.

If you use slug bait, always select the environmentally friendly products such as Sluggo, which contains iron phosphate.

Massaged Kale Salad

Recipe courtesy Aarti Sequeira, www.foodnetwork.com

1 bunch kale (black kale is especially good), stalks removed and discarded, leaves thinly sliced

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons honey

Freshly ground black pepper

1 mango, diced small (about 1 cup)

Small handful toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), about 2 rounded tablespoons

In large serving bowl, add the kale, half of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a little kosher salt. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside while you make the dressing.

In a small bowl, whisk remaining lemon juice with the honey and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Stream in the 1/4 cup of oil while whisking until a dressing forms, and you like how it tastes.

Pour the dressing over the kale, and add the mango and pepitas. Toss and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Quick Beans and Greens

From the Orange County Register.

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

Pinch dried red pepper flakes

3/4 to 1 pound kale, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard or turnip greens, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped (see note)

2 to 4 tablespoons water, as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans or cannellini beans

1/2 to 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth, optional

Optional garnishes: Lemon wedges, grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil (depending on the volume of greens to be sautéed) on medium-high heat. Add some minced garlic and a pinch of dried red pepper flakes.

When garlic has softened but not browned, add the greens. The greens will probably crowd the pan, but as they wilt they reduce to a fraction of their original size; if you can’t fit all the greens in the pan at once, stir in a portion of them until wilted and add the rest. Fry the greens on medium-high heat, stirring almost constantly. If mixture seems too dry and greens start to scorch, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of water.

Remove from heat and season greens with salt and pepper. Add balsamic vinegar to taste. Stir beans into greens and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Depending on how soupy you like the mixture, you can add either vegetable broth or chicken broth to reach the desired consistency.

Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with a wedge of lemon. Pass grated Parmesan cheese.

Note: If using kale, collard greens or Swiss chard, the leaves need to be removed from the tough stems. Run a sharp knife down both sides of each stem to remove leaves on either side. Rinse leaves and stack them, about 5 at a time. Cut crosswise strips about 1 inches wide, then roughly chop the strips.

Yield: 6 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 308 calories, 8.7 grams fat (1.4 grams saturated, 25 percent fat calories), no cholesterol, 489 milligrams sodium.

Pancetta and Swiss Chard with Soft Polenta

From www.cookinglight.com. Any bitter green makes a great companion for the rich, creamy polenta. Choose kale, broccoli rabe or mustard greens in place of the chard.

2 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Cooking spray

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

8 cups coarsely chopped Swiss chard

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups Soft Polenta (recipe follows)

1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved fresh Parmesan

Cook pancetta in a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat until crisp (about 10 minutes). Remove pancetta from pan.

Add garlic to drippings in pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add broth and thyme; bring to a boil. Cook until mixture is reduced to 3/4 cup (about 5 minutes).

Add chard, salt, and pepper, tossing to coat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until chard is tender. Serve over Soft Polenta (recipe follows); top with pancetta and parmesan.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup chard mixture, 1/2 cup polenta, and 1 tablespoon parmesan)

Approximate nutrition per serving (including polenta and parmesan): 322 calories, 10.5 grams fat (5.9 grams saturated, 29 percent fat calories), 23.5 grams protein 35.9 grams carbohydrate, 37 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 955 milligrams sodium.

Soft Polenta

From www.cookinglight.com

2 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

3/4 teaspoon salt

8 cups water

Place cornmeal and salt in a large saucepan. Gradually add water, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium. Cook the polenta 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 (1-cup) servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 158 calories, .7 grams fat (.1 gram saturated, 4 percent fat calories), 3.7 grams protein, 33.5 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 2.2 grams dietary fiber, 221 milligrams sodium.

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