Kale and Chard

May 29, 2021

Today’s Main Ingredient is Kale and Swiss Chard!

Host Mikki Uzupes talks kale and Swiss chard with farmer Liz Krug of Fuller Overlook Farm in Waverly PA and CIA-trained chef Marcia Dunsmore of Myrtle Avenue Bakehouse and former chef at Settler’s Inn in Hawley PA. Registered Dietitian Carol Kneier shares the nutritious benefits of eating these delicious leafy greens.

Row of Swiss Chard at Phipps Conservatory


About Kale
Kale is easy to grow, and it stands up to cold temperatures. It can be planted in early spring or early fall. Kale is a member of the Brassica family that includes cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other common “cole” crops.

In many regions, kale is best when grown in autumn, when temperatures are cooler. In the fall, farmers and gardeners can plant outdoors 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost. Kale that matures in cold weather tends to develop a sweet, nutty flavor. Fall-planted kale survives until temperatures fall below 20F degrees.
Kale’s colors range from pale green to deep green to almost blue-green to purple; plants range in size from dwarf to gigantic.

Kale Varieties

Curly Kale by Oldiefan via Pixabay.comCurly Kale has frilly leaves that range from pale to dark green. Their taste is mildly bitter. Its stems are woody and tough; do not eat them raw. Most people throw the stems in the compost pile.

20170526-AMS-LSC-0326 (34137217614)Tuscan or Lacinato kale, sometimes called “dinosaur kale,” has flat, puckered-leaf foliage. The bluish, dark-green, wrinkly leaves of this Italian variety are mild and earthy and can be eaten raw in a kale salad or wilted into a soup.

Kale "Red russian"Red Russian kale has red-purple stems that are sweet and tender. Eat raw in your favorite kale salad recipe or sauté with some garlic and olive oil.

Brassica oleracea Redbor 0zzRedbor kale has deep-red frilly leaves. It has a mild, cabbage-like flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. When you do cook redbor kale, it does lose some of its beautiful color.

Planting Kale
Kale can be started from seed very early: indoors in February, later to be transplanted outdoors 3 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost. Alternatively, you can sow kale seeds directly in the ground in early spring, as soon as the soil is workable.
Kale does best in full sun, and it likes plenty of space between plants, 8 to 12 inches apart. Mulch not only helps keep kale cool, but also helps keep down weeds. In the fall, mulch again heavily after the first hard freeze; the plants will continue to produce leaves until temperatures fall below 20 degrees F.

Ideally, kale likes mostly neutral soil (on the pH scale of 1 to 14, it prefers soil pH to be about in the middle, around 6.5 to 6.8, but it can tolerate more alkaline soils up to a pH of 7.5). Based on a soil test, which you can obtain from your county’s cooperative extension, amend your garden soil with nitrogen-rich compost. (If you didn’t test your soil, mix in a few inches of compost).

Soil needs to drain well and should also be enriched to obtain tender leaves. If it’s a dry summer without adequate rain, provide about a gallon of water per square foot once a week.

Harvesting Kale
Kale is ready to pick when the leaves are about the side of your hand. Harvest the oldest leaves first. Discard yellowed or torn leaves. To harvest all season long, snap or cut off the lower, outer leaves, leaving the center leaves to continue growing until they are ready to pick another day. Because plants like kale recharge during the night after a day in the hot summer sun, many people like to pick their green leafy vegetables in the cool of the morning.

Preparing & Storing Kale
After the market, the first thing to do is strip the kale leaves from the ribs/stems. If you’re not saving the ribs for flavoring soup or making a vegetable broth, discard them, or you can freeze for future use. At this point, you can either refrigerate the leaves loosely in a plastic bag until ready to use or proceed to wash the leaves and parboil, which will save you refrigerator space.
There’s another reason for parboiling, too: Kale can be a pretty chewy vegetable, and parboiling is a helpful first step to soften the leaves’ tough fibers making them more pleasant to eat, especially for those who think they don’t like kale.

Parboil the leaves for 2 to 4 minutes and then plunge them into cold water (preferably ice water). This will stop the cooking and help preserve your kale’s bright green color. Next, drain, squeeze out the water, dry as well as you can with paper towels, and cut into ribbons or bite-size pieces on a cutting board. If not using right away, refrigerate or freeze this partly cooked kale in a plastic bag, removing as much air as you can.

A kitchen note: There’s a difference between parboiling and blanching: with blanching you skip the chilling step.

Simple Sautéed Kale
Sautéed kale (and chard too) are frequently paired with beans or grains. It’s easy to remember “greens and beans” and “greens and grains.” For example: adding cooked or canned white beans or cooked grains like barley or farro (a type of hulled wheat) or brown rice to sautéed kale makes a filling vegetarian meal all on its own. Served in a bowl, your presentation would be very trendy; check out chain restaurants like Panera and Chipotle, where bowl meals are all the rage these days.
For the children or fussy eaters, it’s a great idea to add raisins or Craisins to sweeten kale and chard dishes and/or nuts to give the dish some crunch. For the adults, add some minced garlic or onion and some hot pepper flakes, to taste.

Eating Raw Kale
The most common ways to prepare kale may be sautéed and added to soups, but some true-blue kale overs like to eat it raw. For example: tabouleh salad, which is traditionally made with chopped parsley, mint and bulgur wheat, could be made with very finely chopped kale instead.
Or try this surprising method of massaging the kale to tenderize it; this technique breaks down the cellulose fibers and that can make the raw kale tough. Here’s how:

• Wash using your hands, then tear the leaves into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl.

• Mix a Tablespoon or two of salad oil with an equal amount of lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of salt.

• Using clean hands, mix and massage the leaves between your thumbs and forefingers until you feel the leaves begin to soften.

• Test a piece from time to time; continue until the leaves turn silky, softer, sweeter, and more tender.

Swiss Chard

About Chard
Chard, also called Swiss chard, is a nutritional vegetable that does well in both cool and warm weather. It is not a Brassica (think cabbage, mustard greens, broccoli) but a member of the beet family, and both its stems and leaves can be eaten cooked or raw. The stems of Swiss chard come in a rainbow of hues—pink, yellow, orange, red, and white. Chard grows quickly and easily in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall and is more tolerant of higher heat than kale. Chard doesn’t have the bitter taste that a lot of greens have.

Planting Chard
In choosing a site, know that chard grows best in full sun, in well-drained soil, enriched by compost before planting. Chard prefers soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

In the spring, plant chard seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. In the fall, plant chard seeds about 40 days before the first frost date. Many varieties tolerate a light frost.

For faster germination, soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting, and then continue planting seeds in 10-day intervals for a month. Sow seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep, spacing them 4 to 6 inches apart in rows; space rows about 18 inches apart. Seeds come in clusters and multiple seedlings emerge from a single planting hole. Once the plants reach 3 to 4 inches tall, thin them (using scissors, so you don’t disturb nearby plant roots) to about 6 to 8 inches apart (or 9 to 12 inches apart if you desire larger plants). Crowded plants produce smaller leaves.

Mulch the plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Swiss Chard via USDA, Food and Nutrition ServiceThe leafy green is known for its bright colored stems. Here are a few of chard’s varieties: red (Ruby Red and Rhubarb Supreme), yellow (Bright Yellow), pink (Magenta Sunset), orange (Oriole), and white (Green Lucullus). You can also find blends of seeds, like Bright Lights that grow into a colorful mix of white, pink, gold, orange, and red stems. There’s even a variety with deep purple leaves.

Harvesting Chard
You can start harvesting when plants are 6 to 8 inches tall. Above 12 inches, the chard may begin to lose some of its flavor.
Chard is a “cut-and-come-again” crop: harvest the plant’s older outer leaves by cutting the stems 1½ inches above the ground; avoid damaging the plant’s center, so the younger leaves will continue to grow. Harvested regularly, the plants will produce continuously. When plants are about 1 foot tall, cut stems back to 3 or 4 inches to encourage new growth.

You can even grow chard indoors in rich potting soil in a container with drainage holes. Place in a sunny window and water to keep the soil damp.

Cooking Chard
Wash chard well and separate the stems from the leaves. Slice the stems across in ¼-inch (or larger pieces as you prefer).
The cooking time for leaves and stems differs, so either cook them separately, or first sauté the stems in olive oil (1 Tablespoon) until they are crisp-tender (7 to 8 minutes), then add the leaves to the pan with salt (¼ teaspoon) and cook until done (1 minute should do it). Toss with 1 Tablespoon butter and serve.

To smooth out chard’s minerally flavor, consider adding maple syrup (1½ teaspoons) mixed with balsamic vinegar (½ teaspoon) or honey and sherry vinegar. Adding minced garlic or sautéed shallots works well with greens.

If you have more than you can eat, you can blanch the stems and leaves and freeze them. The stems add flavor to soups or homemade vegetable stock.


Sauteed Greens – serves 4 to 6
1 bunch chard (about 3/4 pounds)
1 bunch kale (about 1/2 pound) stems removed, cut into wide ribbons
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

STEP 1 – Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt lightly. Separately wash the chard and set aside to drain. Wash the kale (should be about 10 cups), then drop them into the boiling water and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.

STEP 2 – Tear the chard leaves from its stems. Bundle the leaves and cut into wide ribbons. Trim the stems and remove any stings, then slice on a diagonal about 1/4 inch thick (should have about 8 cups of leaves and 1 heaping cup of stems).

STEP 3 – Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the chard stems and garlic, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pinch of pepper. Cook covered over medium heat, 2 to 3 minutes, until the stems are translucent.

STEP 4 – Turn the heat to medium-high, add the chard leaves and cook until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the drained kale and cook until all the leaves are completely tender, 1 to 2 minutes more.

STEP 5 – Add the lemon juice just before serving and season to taste.

Download Recipe

Kale à la Carolyn Comen
This recipe is offered by Marcia Dunsmore
2 bunches kale, stemmed and sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil or garlic oil
1/4 cup water, if necessary
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
salt and pepper to taste

STEP 1 – Cook garlic and oil together over medium-low heat until garlic begins to turn golden.

STEP 2 – Add kale and toss in the garlic and oil like a stir-fry. Cover and let kale steam until tender; adding water as needed to not let the pan go dry. There needs to be some water remaining in the pan for the next step.

STEP 3 – When tender add the cranberries and toss. Simmer until the water is absorbed.

STEP 4 – Toss in the peanuts, season and serve.

Ed. Note: This recipe works well with Swiss Chard also; just cook the thinly sliced stems with the garlic in Step 1. Also excellent with walnuts, chopped almonds, pumpkin seeds, and/or toasted pine nuts.

Download Recipe

Grilled Coconut Kale – serves 6
from Vij’s Restaurant, Vancouver, BC; adapted by Sam Sifton of the New York Times
3 bunches kale
3 cans (13.5oz ea.) coconut milk
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon mild paprika
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

STEP 1 – Wash kale thoroughly and cut out the stems. Cut the wide leaves into strips the same width as the smallest leaves.

STEP 2 – In a large pot on low, heat and stir the coconut milk until it is thoroughly mixed, i.e., no solids are visible, and just lukewarm.

STEP 3 – Transfer to nonreactive bowl and then add the remaining ingredients. Stir to fully coat the kale. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

STEP 4 – Preheat grill or cast-iron grill-pan over high heat. Remove the kale from the refrigerator and stir to make sure all the leaves are well covered in marinade.

STEP 5 – Using metal tongs, place the kale on the grill in a single layer. Cook for 45-60 seconds or until sizzling, then turn and grill the other side for another 45-60 seconds, or until leaves have visibly softened. Serve immediately.

Download Recipe

Oh, and all of us at Today’s Main Ingredient fully support Liz Krug’s mission to have more folks eat veggies for breakfast!!

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Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

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