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Kale is an archaic type of cabbage that grows loosely furled leaves, rather than forming a head. The leaves have a distinctive ruffly appearance that distinguishes the plant from a close relative, collard greens. This vegetable tends to be a little bit bitter in flavor, although this bitterness is tempered by washing, cooking, and using younger leaves. It is also extraordinarily nutritionally rich, even among the leafy green vegetables.

People have cultivated this plant for over 3,000 years; and it was extremely popular in ancientGreeceandRome. In medieval times, kale was sometimes the only vegetable eaten, because it was easy to grow, tolerant to cool climates, and delicious. While it is less popular than headed cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and other relatives, the plant has numerous merits that are beginning to endear it to consumers again.

Most kale is eaten cooked, although very young leaves may be trimmed from the stalks and used raw in salads. When cooked, it can be mixed in with soups, used in mashed potatoes, roasted on pizza, and eaten plain as a side dish. It’s important to be aware that the stems take more time to cook than the more delicate leaves. Some cooks trim out the largest stems to be cooked longer or discarded, to avoid soggy leaves and woody stems.

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