Friday, January 30, 2009

What's in kale? Indole-3-carbinole

(Photo - the first kale harvest from our 2008 garden)

Indole-3-carbinole? What's that?

Indole-3-carbinole (also abbreviated as I3C) is a molecule found in the cruciferous vegetables that belong to the brassica genus, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale (of course!), along with many others. Here is a list of brassica vegetables that are easily found in the US, including your local Farmers' Market at various times of the growing season:

arugula (rocket),
bok choy,
broccoli,
broccoli sprouts,
brussels sprouts,
cabbage,
cauliflower,
Chinese cabbage,
collard greens,
daikon,
horseradish,
kale (multiple varieties),
kohlrabi,
mustard seeds and greens,
napa cabbage,
radishes,
rapini,
rutabaga (my husband's all-time favorite!),
tat soi,
turnip roots and greens,
wasabi,
watercress,
and I am sure I have overlooked at least one or two others.

Why is I3C important? Research has identified several possible ways that I3C or its metabolites work in our body to prevent or interrupt the cancer process, such as converting estrogen to a less cancer-promoting form, killing cancer cells directly, or preventing damage to DNA through its anti-oxidant activity, as just a few of possible beneficial results of eating these vegetables.

One recent research study showed that I3C inhibited the growth of the T-cell lymphoma cells in mice who were fed isolated I3C, leading these researchers to believe that this molecule could be developed into a chemotherapeutic agent in the future.

My advice? I will likely come to sound like a broken record as you read future posts on this blog, but DON'T WAIT for that to happen - start incorporating all of these health-promoting vegetables into your diet on a daily basis (i.e., the inspiration behind the concept of 365 days of kale, or an equivalent vegetable!).

There is more than I3C in these vegetables, and the health benefits from consuming these vegetables may very well come from and only be optimized by the intake of the whole foods (not isolated compounds like a dietary supplement or a drug) with the subsequent synergistic actions of all of these molecules in our body. I'll comment on all of these nutrients and molecules in future posts (along with more recipes for all the vegetables listed above), but if you can't wait, here are two great sources that give an overview of the benefits of eating cruciferous vegetables for you to read now.
~Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
~Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University

Where kale is more than decoration on my plate,
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kale on Pizza? "Yes, we can!"

Yes, yes, yes, it can be done! I'm not suggesting that (almost President!) Barak Obama does this, but I do and encourage you to do the same. Adding kale on top of pizza is barely noticeable taste-wise but adding some is worth it because the kale leaves are both beautiful and healthy.

I have used all my fresh home grown kale, but here is an easy way to use some of my own frozen kale.

Here is what I did last night for our homemade pizza. Is it time consuming? Not really. Virtually all ingredients were in the house ready to use, so no trip to the grocery store was needed.

Use a frozen pizza crust, whole-wheat pita bread, English muffins, or make your own crust like I do. There are recipes for homemade pizza crust everywhere on the internet, but I use one is made with half whole wheat flour from a favorite vegetarian cookbook of mine called Fix-It-Fast Vegetarian Cookbook: Tasty nutritious meals in minutes, by Heather Houck Reseck, RD.

Toppings for 2-14 inch pizzas:
• pesto (4 ice cubes worth, so that would be ~1/2 cup total or 1/4 cup for each pizza)
• kale - fresh chopped small or frozen pieces thawed (about 1 cup)
• red pepper pieces sliced (1 large pepper) - can use fresh however I used the organic roasted red peppers that I made and froze last fall
• pinto beans (1 cup, cooked, drained) or any other type of cooked dried bean for a healthy protein source
• carmelized onions and garlic (I used 3 large yellow onions and 8 cloves of garlic) - Eek! isn't this time-consuming? I sliced and carmelized the onions while the pizza dough was rising. Yes, I could have (should have) been dusting or something like that but carmelizing onions makes the house smell so good and is much more satisfying!
• cheese - about 2 ounces of freshly grated smoked gouda - Eek! Only 2 ounces for 2 pizzas?, plus isn't this cheese expensive or high in fat or somehow bad for you? True, I don't eat much cheese in general due to its high content of saturated fat, but when I do, I want it to really taste good so I can appreciate the flavor with just a little bit. Expensive? I have thrown away the wrapper that had the cost so I cannot make a true price comparison between what I used versus a typical package of pre-shredded mozzarella used by most people for their homemade pizza, but I will venture a guess that I didn't spend any more money by using less of a much more tasty cheese.
• Italian herbs - I heartily shook a jar of dried herbs (no added salt) over the entire pizza as the final ingredient

Spread out the pesto on your choice of crust.

Then top with the vegetables, adding cheese and herbs last.

We cooked the pizzas in our oven on a pizza stone at 450 degrees for ~12 minutes each, eating most of the second one cooked (i.e., the hot one!) and freezing the first one and the pieces left over from the second one. Now we have our own frozen pizza pieces ready to reheat for lunches, another quick supper, and yes, even breakfast.

If desired, serve with a salad or some fresh fruit to your meal. Not much else is needed since pizza such as this is a delicious, filling, and healthy all-in-one-meal containing whole grain, vegetable protein sources complemented by a small amount of animal protein, and multiple vegetables. I cannot count the number of health-promoting nutrients and phytochemicals in this meal that come with very little work, no more and likely less cost than pre-prepared pizza, plus without the typical over-dose of calories and salt in store-bought, restaurant, or delivery pizzas. However, no one needs to worry about the nutritional analysis of this homemade pizza that is both beautiful and delicious. Even this morning, my husband looked at the pieces I was wrapping to put in the freezer and remarked about how "festive" the pizza looked with the combination of green kale and red peppers.

I suppose the final question or comment might be "I'm willing to try this , but will my kids and husband or wife eat this?" or "I (or my kids or my spouse) won't eat this". Well, first of all of course, nothing ventured, nothing gained. :-) I never had kale to eat when growing up. In addition, my two boys are now young adults who both love experimenting with foods, but even when they were much younger, I rarely heard that "oh mom" complaint when served new, healthy foods. My advice is two-fold: it is never too early to start exposing yourself or your family to new foods and healthy ways of eating along with the encouraging thought that it is never too late to do so also. Yes, you can! :-)

Where kale is more than decoration on my plate,
Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beginning with the end - Our last fresh kale

On this blog, I will share 365 days worth of information about kale, including growing it in my garden, delicious recipes for eating it, and interesting tidbits of research and useful information about why I try to eat kale (or any of its many plant relatives) nearly every day of the year, thus the name of this blog "365daysofkale". It may take me more than a year to actually make 365 postings, but let's get started now!

Beginning this blog with a posting about the end of our 2008 kale harvest is as good a place to start as any! We have a garden in southeast Michigan where I last harvested kale in mid-December during a short thaw between snowfalls during this very cold and snowy winter (see above photo). I am passionate about kale and its many varieties, the beauty of each variety's differently shaped leaves, its ease of growing and hearty, unique, delicious taste, the wide array of uses, the long time it stays fresh in your refrigerator, and last but not least, it's true star power in terms of many essential nutrients and health-promoting molecules.

Unlike store-bought fresh spinach, which seems to get slimy in the refrigerator within just days of purchase, kale seems to last for weeks and weeks. I harvested a huge bag of kale during a brief lull in our cold snowy winter last month in December, which I have been using over the last month. This is a photo of the last of that harvest. You can see how crisp and green (or red) and fresh the many shapes and sizes of the leaves look. It has been in my refrigerator in a plastic bag for almost four weeks. Being harvested well after a good frost (in fact being harvested after being covered with snow and even ice), the taste of this kale is almost sweet, certainly "kale-tasting" but without any harsh and strong flavors that so often cause people to simply prefer their kale as decoration on their plate.

What to do with my last kale? So many options, what else do I have in the house to use? Some potatoes from our Thanksgiving CSA share are still waiting to be put to use as is some vegetable broth in the freezer, a bit of milk, a few strips of frozen red peppers, and plenty of garlic from our garden. Not much else is needed for terrific potato-kale soup, a classic recipe that is easy, delicious, and healthy, healthy, healthy.

Recipe: Potato-Kale Soup

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 quart vegetable broth (could use chicken broth or water)
4 cups of washed and chopped kale (large stems removed, but small stems are fine)
2-4 cloves of garlic, smashed or cut fine
2-3 cups diced potatoes
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil, add garlic to brown slightly (be careful to not burn). Add broth to soup pot and potatoes. Cook for 10-20 minutes (depending on size of potato pieces) until potatoes are almost tender. Then add kale leaves, red pepper pieces, and milk to soup pot. Heat until kale leaves are tender and soup is hot but not boiling. This won't take long if kale leaves were small and tender to begin with. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

Serve with a salad, fruit, and fresh bread or muffins. Here you can see we ate this soup with some roasted Brussels sprouts (the final ones from our Thanksgiving CSA share) with some olive oil to dip them in, a pumpkin-flax muffin (recipe in an upcoming post on my other blog), and my husband's homemade "fire in the belly applesauce". Yum, yum!

Feel free to make any additions like adding onions, celery, or any other vegetables, even dried beans to this classic delicious soup.

Where kale is more than decoration on my plate!
Diana Dyer, MS, RD