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Russian Red Kale

Kale redRussian Red kale is thick, juicy and chewy. Match this kale with grilled sausages, pork or turkey. You can also match Russian Red with grains, roots, dried fruits and nuts.

Russian Red has silvery-green to blue-gray leaves that look like a cross between a turnip green and a highly lobed oak leaf. This kale doesn’t have the frills of the curly kales or the deep folded crinkles of Tuscan kale. Its flat and the lobes reach almost to the stem.

You’ll find Russian Red more magenta to ruby red about the veins, particularly in early spring. That’s what cold weather will do to this kale. When the weather moderates, you’ll find Russian Red more gray or green than red. Either way, after cooking this kale turns deep green.

Don’t expect Russian Red to be tender when harvested young like other kales. From the get-go Russian Red leaves are chewy. Don’t even think about sinking your teeth into the stems.

Here’s how to prepare Russian Red: strip out the mature stems, no amount of cooking will soften them. Hold the lower leaf base up in one hand and pull the stem downward with the other. Simply strip away the leaf. Be sure to rinse the leaf pieces.

Blanch Russian Red in salted water, drain then sauté. Sauté this kale in olive or nut oil, butter, bacon, or pancetta. You can season with olives, garlic, chilli, cumin, caraway, fennel, anise, or toasted sesame oil. If you want a stronger flavor, braise Russian Red in stock. Cook until tender, but remember this kale is not going to melt in your mouth like curly kale.

The very smallest Russian Red leaves can be used as garnish or in salad. When you pick this kale up at the farm market, pick up a little extra. Once the stems are stripped away the highly lobed leaves offer less leaf surface than other kales.

Similar cultivars to Russian Red are Siberian, Ragged Jack, White Russian, Red Ursa, and Winter Red.

The botanical name for Russian Red is Brassica napus, Paularia Group.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. I live in Idaho- zone 3-4 and this is the first year I’ve grown kale. Do I need to pull it up with winter on the way or will it winter over and start up in the spring like my sorrell and herbs do?
    Thanks!

  2. Kale is among the most cold-hardy vegetables. Like collards, kale tastes sweeter and better after a frost. If you properly mulch kale–use straw or dried leaves–it can be harvested through much of the winter. Direct-seed kale in the garden about 12 weeks before the first expected fall frost. Begin cutting leaves about 60 days later. Harvest the larger, lower leaves first. Don’t let leaves get too large or tough. Kale will easily winter over in mild climates with some mulch protection. In colder zones–such as 3 and 4–mulching the bed will extend the harvest into early winter. To harvest plants through the winter in cold zones, use plastic cloches or tunnels to protect them as you continue to harvest. Kale is a biennial so it will go to seed in the spring if wintered over in the garden.

  3. I have Red Russian that I planted back in November. I live in southern California, so the high temperatures are currently jumping between the upper 60s and upper 90s. If it is a biennial, I’m assuming it won’t bolt like my spinach does. Is there something it will do when it gets hot in the summer, or will I just be tossing it out when it gets too bitter?

    • The best strategy for tasty kale in warm to hot regions is to harvest cut-and-come again on a regular basis and let taste be your guide. It is likely that you will be unable to keep the leaves from turning bitter tasting in your very warm climate. So treat your kale like a cool-season annual–enjoy it in the winter and early spring while the weather is cook. You can attempt to keep the plant cool–shade and doses of cool water, but the effort might be greater than simply enjoying your kale during the cool time of the year.

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