WASHINGTON -- If there were a popular girl of the produce aisle, local farmer Eli Cook says, it would be kale.
"I can think back 10 years ago, when you couldn't give kale away. Nobody wanted it," says Cook, owner of Spring Valley Farm, near Romney, W. Va.
But over the past three years, the demand for kale has increased dramatically, and, Cook says, he doesn't see the trend slowing any time soon.
Last year he had a hard time meeting the demand he saw from the seven D.C.-area farmers markets where he sells fruits and vegetables from his 255-acre farm.
This year he planted 30,000 new plants, which will yield about 800 pounds a week for the spring, summer and fall market months.
"And kale's pretty light, so that's a lot of kale," Cook says.
Cook attributes the vegetable's recent popularity to a few things, starting with its health benefits.
One cup of kale contains 9 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium, 206 percent of vitamin A, 134 percent of vitamin C and 684 percent of vitamin K, all for a total of 33 calories, WebMD reports.
Kale is also a good source of iron, potassium and other essential minerals. Cook says kale's preparation is appealing to consumers, too. It can be used in everything from shakes to chips and salads. It can be cooked and it can be served raw.
Cook says he's seen a decline in the more "traditional" vegetables, and lists green beans as an example.
"People don't cook like they used to," he says. "The things that can be used raw, like in salads or different things like that, that's where I've seen the trends over the past couple of years going."
Other vegetables surging in popularity include sugar snap peas, baby vegetables and rustic salad mixes.
"Fifteen years ago, it was green beans and tomatoes and corn, and the standards now are more greens and raw, baby vegetables," Cook says.
As other farmers and those in the industry try to predict what the "next kale" will be (Swiss chard has come and gone in phases over the past few years), Cook doesn't see kale taking a back seat any time soon.
What the Kale Do You Make With It?
Looking for a way to dress up kale and incorporate it in your diet? There are lots of ways the leafy green vegetable can be enjoyed. Here are a few ideas from local chefs, cooks and bloggers:
2 lbs. curly kale, washed and chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
2 bunches radishes, sliced into thin rounds
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
1/4 cup currants, dried
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a pot and bring them to a boil, then pour over the kale to lightly wilt it. Add the rest of the ingredients to the kale and let it sit for 15 minutes.
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup mint, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp. cumin, toasted and crushed
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Smear the yogurt onto 4 plates, taste and re-season the salad if necessary; place it on top of the yogurt.
Kale Balls with Creamy Dill Dip
From Aviva Goldfarb, The Six O'Clock Scramble
1 lb. kale
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 piece wheat bread
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion, chopped
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white or black pepper
1/2 cup nonfat sour cream
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh dill, minced, or 1 Tbsp. dried
1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Toast the bread.
Stem the kale to remove the thickest stems by sliding your thumb and forefinger up the stems to remove the leaves. Steam it in a microwave-safe dish, covered, for three minutes or until it is completely wilted (no need to add water if the kale is wet from washing -- otherwise add 1 Tbsp. water).
Transfer the kale to a cutting board and chop it well, then transfer it to a food processor. Chop and add the toasted bread, the cheese, egg, garlic, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. Pulse it until it is thoroughly combined.
Using wet hands, form the mixture into golf ball-sized balls and put them on the baking sheet. (It should make about 20 balls.) Bake them for 20 minutes until they are puffed and lightly browned. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce by combining the sour cream, mayonnaise, dill and garlic. Add salt and pepper if desired, or 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately.
Kait Fortunado, Rebel Dietitian
Toss kale with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast it at 400 degrees until crispy. This makes for a crunchy snack bursting with health benefits.
Where to Find Your Kale
Most of the seasonal farmers markets in the D.C. area are back up and running. Below is a map of some of the city's markets and their hours.
© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.