May it Please the Palate

 Kale knocks out spinach

Nick Roumel, Nacht Law

How did kale get so popular? What made this ancient, hardy, vegetable recently explode in popularity, zooming past Popeye’s spinach on the way? According to Google trends, “kale” now leads “spinach” in searches, and has become the darling of hipsters everywhere. 

For answers I turned to my friendly neighborhood farmer, Tomm Becker, who with wife Trilby owns Sunseed Farm north of Ann Arbor. “Kale is great,” says Tomm. “It’s taking off because of the spike in small local farms and local food. It’s versatile, and can be produced in a diversity of climates.

“It’s easy to grow anytime, and anywhere if you have a hoop house” (a steel-framed structure covered with thick plastic, to enable four-season growing; Sunseed has two). “What’s more, a single kale plant continuously regenerates. We will harvest it weekly for 13 weeks, so we only have to plant it four times a year.”

Fussy spinach simply doesn’t measure up. Spinach literally has to be picked leaf by leaf. While the baby spinach plant can be harvested whole, it’s spent after one cutting. These smaller and more labor-intensive harvests make spinach expensive to produce, and that cost is passed on to consumers.

Spinach fares better in the nutritional “tale of the tape,” with more iron and magnesium, and a slight edge in potassium and fiber. But kale has more protein and calcium, and delivers a knockout punch with way more vitamin A, C, and K. “It’s amazingly good for you,” says Tomm. “It contains sulforaphane, which actually has DNA-repairing abilities that block the growth of cancer cells.”

What’s more, kale’s hardy nature actually improves its flavor. Our recent cold winter? No problem, says Tomm. “Kale survives cold by concentrating sugar cells within itself, to act as sort of an anti-freeze — which gives it a very sweet taste.” 

Kale is a member of the brassica family that includes other super-healthy cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Kale is the trendiest of the group, with books devoted to it such as Drew Ramsey’s “50 Shades of Kale,” who speaks in loving tones of the winterbor (curly green) and the rainbow lacinato (flat leaf). Holistic health coach Stephanie Pederson’s book calls it the “World’s Most Popular Superfood.”

All this adulation makes Ramsey “fear kale backlash … Because there are a lot of other great leafy greens. We’ve seen some blog posts recently; people saying, you know, what about collards?”

Until then, kale remains the hipster king. But does its taste justify its lofty status? While some prefer the more delicate spinach, Tomm will opt for kale every time. He describes a number of techniques that will break down kale’s fibrous texture. “Massaging” the dressing into the leaves softens it, and so does light steaming or sautéing — or simply leaving kale out at room temperature. This versatile food is delicious whether as a hot side dish, raw in salads, baked as chips, or even pureed into smoothies. 

Of all the dishes, our local farmer’s favorite is the traditional Portuguese “Green Soup,” or Caldo Verde. Here’s Tomm Becker’s version:


Caldo Verde


4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

6 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 quarts cold water

6 ounces linguica sausage, thinly sliced 

   (substitute italian sausage or 

    spanish chorizo)

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

ground black pepper to taste

1 pound kale, rinsed and julienned



1.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil for 3 minutes.  Stir in potatoes and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes more.  Pour in water, bring to a boil, and let boil gently for 20 minutes, until potatoes are mushy.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook sausage until it has released most of its fat, or about 10 minutes.  Drain.

3.  Mash potatoes or puree the potato mixture with a blender or food processor.  Stir the sausage, salt and pepper into the soup and return to medium heat.  Cover and simmer for 50 minutes.

4.  Just before serving, stir kale into soup and simmer for 5 minutes, until kale is tender and jade green.  Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and serve at once.

Join a CSA (community shared agriculture) like Sunseed Farm’s, and enjoy a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, like kale and its less popular cousins, every week, throughout the year. Visit to get started on the road to hipness!


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He has a blog at which badly needs updating!