Kale florets (aka kale buds or kale flowers) are the bolting, flower stalks of kale plants. Not only are they beautiful, but they’re also delicious when eaten raw or cooked.
One of the most rewarding things about gardening is that you can experience a plant throughout its entire life cycle: from seed to seed.
During that timespan, you have an opportunity for a lot of culinary exploration — often finding gourmet treats that you’ll never see available at a grocery store or even a farmers market.
For instance, we LOVE fresh cilantro leaves and dried coriander seeds. Both edible parts are produced from the same plant, they just come from different stages in the plant’s lifecycle.
Years ago we discovered that the soft, unripe green cilantro seeds that form about 10 days after the flowers are pollinated are by far our favorite edible part of the plant. The flavor is all the best notes of both the leaves and dried seed, but with sweet and fruity notes added.
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Want an amazing flavor experience you won’t get from a restaurant or grocery store? Pop a few young green #cilantro (aka #coriander) seeds into your mouth. It’s fruity herby deliciousness. Also makes a great addition to salads and salsas. #herbs #gardening #organicfood #permaculture #GrowJourney
Brassica oleracea plants: one of the most important edible plant species on earth
Brassica oleracea is one of the most popular and economically important edible plant species on earth. Popular cultivars of Brassica oleracea include:
- Brussels sprouts
Despite their vastly different appearances, these cultivars are basically the same plant, genetically speaking. In fact, if you’re a seed producer or gardener who saves your own seeds, you have to be extremely mindful that these plants easily cross-pollinate each other.
So when trying to save seeds from an open-pollinated broccoli plant, you might actually end up with a kohlrabi-broccoli hybrid if you haven’t taken certain precautions (isolation distance, covering/hand-pollinating plants, etc).
Eating Brassica oleracea plants throughout their lifecycle
We grow and eat dozens of varieties of Brassica oleracae plants each year. At each stage of their lifecycle, these plants offer unique benefits.
The seeds of any brassica plant, including Brassica oleracea, make excellent fermented products such as whole grain mustard.
Brassica sprouts and microgreens
Brassica baby greens
Baby kale leaves and the young greens of other brassicas are tender and delicious. Our personal favorite: young ‘White Russian’ kale leaves.
In the grocery store, you’ll find heads of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli florets, but where do the rest of these plants go?
Piles of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage leaves are left to rot in the field, even though they’re equally as delicious and nutritious as the parts of the plant that go to market. Snap off a broccoli leaf next time you’re in your garden and you’ll be shocked at how delicious they are.
If you’re a gardener, you can easily use every part of the plant.
The stems of most brassica plants are sweet, crunchy, and flavorful. In fact, kohlrabi is a cultivar of Brassica oleracea bred to form a giant engorged stem (called a meristem), even though kohlrabi is often mislabeled as a “root vegetable” at markets.
Shave off the fibrous outer skin of a broccoli stem and it tastes almost identical to kohlrabi, even though many people throw broccoli stems in the trash or compost.
Flower buds, florets, and flowers
Have you ever wondered what the heck broccoli actually is? Short answer: flower buds, aka florets. Broccoli is basically a cluster of unopened flowers. Same with cauliflower.
Left on the plant for another 10-14 days, broccoli florets would go on to form dense clusters of yellow flowers before forming seeds. Yep, Brassica flowers are edible too. They also make a beautiful garnish.
Broccoli and cauliflower are particular cultivars bred to form huge amounts of flowers relative to other Brassica oleracea cultivars. However, kale, kohlrabi, and their genetic peers also form beautiful and delicious florets in their own right, even though their florets are smaller by comparison.
Since most grocery shoppers only want to buy kale leaves (that’s what they’re familiar with), farmers usually only harvest kale leaves. Farmers then transition to other crops long before kale has had a chance to form florets/flowers.
That’s why you don’t see kale florets at market. Plus kale florets don’t weigh much so farmers wouldn’t make much money on a price per pound basis.
Gardeners’ Delight: Kale Florets
As a gardener, you’re not confined to convention, whims, or even market forces. You can be in a relationship with your Brassica oleracea plants throughout their entire life cycle, not just the early stages.
Another reason this information is important? Weird weather.
This year, our winter weather has been all over the place. One week, it’s in the 70s. The next, it’s in the 20s. The next, it’s mild and rains 5 inches. Then it’s dry and freezing cold again.
For plants (even those grown under polytunnels), mercurial/extreme weather conditions induce severe stress. Stress then prompts plants to go into seed-making mode. “Make babies now before this world kills you and your genes forever,” seems to be the memo that plants get from such conditions.
Thus, our kale, kohlrabi, and other cold season Brassica plants that went in the ground last fall are all bolting a couple months earlier than normal. Does this mean the end to our Brassica harvests? Heck no!
Instead, we simply cut off those delicious stems and florets for a meal. The plants respond by producing side shoots – more florets!
If we wanted to save seeds from some of these plants we’d obviously want to let these florets form flowers and eventually seeds, but until then, dinner calls…
Cooking kohlrabi and kale florets – a stupid simple, amazingly delicious stir fry recipe
Good food doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require good ingredients. Good ingredients = the freshest possible foods grown in living, biologically active soil. The more nutrition is packed into a plant, the more flavor and nuance it offers.
The kale and kohlrabi florets that we don’t eat fresh in the garden often end up going in a 5 minute stir fry recipe that has a whopping three ingredients.
5 minute kale floret stir fry
A simple three ingredient kale floret recipe that takes 5 minutes to make. Also works with other Brassica florets (kohlrabi, broccoli, etc).
- 4 cups kale florets or other Brassica oleracea florets
- 2 tbsp high heat cooking oil (such as grape seed oil)
- sea salt to taste
Put oil in wok turned to medium-high heat (7-8 on our stovetop).
Place florets in wok, and toss them every 30 seconds or so. Let them crisp up quickly on each side, over 3-5 minutes total cook time.
Plate the florets and sprinkle them with sea salt to taste.
*We prefer our kale florets to be on the crispy side, almost like an oven-baked kale chip. To get that consistency, you'll want to cook only a small bunch of florets at a time, no more than two cups.
The garden-fresh florets do all the work for us, but it’s mighty delicious work. We’re not trying to mask their flavor, we’re simply trying to accentuate them.
Oh, if you don’t have a good wok, do yourself a favor and get one. A wok is as essential to a kitchen as cast iron skillets.
Back to the garden… if your kale, kohlrabi, and other Brassica oleracea plants are going to bolt, be thankful not disappointed! Enjoy the new and unique flavors that each new season has to offer, and the unique edible parts offered by your plants at various stages in their lifecycle.