Califonia Bountiful

Sprouting a new vegetable

January/February 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Kale sprouts combine the best of two worlds

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Farmer Jacob Perez grows kale sprouts for Ocean Mist Farms in the Salinas and Coachella valleys. The new vegetable hybrid, made by cross-planting kale and Brussels sprouts, has a crisp texture and sweet, nutty flavor.

It's the tastiest new vegetable you've probably never heard of. And to add to the intrigue, it goes by different names depending on where you shop. Say hello to kale sprouts—aka Kalettes, Lollipops, BrusselKale, Flower Sprouts and various other iterations.

But what is it? As the name indicates, kale sprouts unite one of the trendiest vegetables—kale—with one that also boasts a sizable fan base—Brussels sprouts. The result is a cute, compact package with big culinary potential.

"They're a lot of fun," said chef Tony Baker, who serves kale sprouts at Montrio Bistro in Monterey. "They combine the best of both worlds between Brussels sprouts and kale. They're easy to work with, they're great-tasting, very healthful. So this kind of makes something new and something exciting that's on the edge of those trends."

Salinas-based Ocean Mist Farms and Los Angeles-based 4Earth Farms are the two North American companies licensed to grow and market Kalettes, a kale sprout variety developed by British vegetable seed house Tozer Seeds. Lollipops is the name used by Salad Savoy Corp., also of Salinas, for a different variety.

The vegetable is a hybrid made by cross-planting kale and Brussels sprouts, a process that required about 15 years using traditional breeding techniques. It is the first new vegetable to be introduced since Broccolini in the 1990s.

Farmer Jacob Perez, a harvest commodity manager who oversees a diverse lineup of crops for Ocean Mist, said he is excited to add kale sprouts to the mix.

"I also take care of Brussels sprouts, cardoon, fennel, endive, escarole, rapini, cilantro, radishes—the list goes on and on," he said. "They're like my babies here. I look after them all day long."

Growing kale sprouts is similar to growing Brussels sprouts, Perez said. They are started from seed in a greenhouse, then transplanted to the field to grow for another 120 to 150 days.

Ocean Mist's Kalettes kale sprouts thrive in the cool, coastal climate of Castroville from April through December and in the Coachella Valley from mid-November through March. They grow on a stalk, just like Brussels sprouts, but with an extra-leafy exterior.

"I like how the Kalette on the plant looks," Perez said. "To me, it looks more like a flower—very open. It has that purplish color to it. It's just very intriguing to me."

During harvest, the leafy exterior is removed by hand to reveal the vegetable's true essence. Kale sprouts look a bit like baby kale, with a tiny Brussels sprout nestled in the middle. The frilly leaves are mostly green, with purple leaves accenting the sprouts.

The high nutritional value of kale has been carried over in the hybrid and combined with a sweeter, milder Brussels sprout taste that leads to many cooking options.

Monterey chef Tony Baker says he appreciates the vegetable for its novelty, taste and plate presence.

That takes us back to Montrio Bistro, where chef Baker offers a Kalette showstopper.

"We deep-fry them and sprinkle them with fresh lime juice and smoked Maldon sea salt and crispy quinoa, and serve them as a side dish," Baker said. "People go nuts for it."

But deep-frying kale sprouts isn't for the faint of heart.

"When you put them in the fryer, it's almost like an explosion. We actually say, 'Fire in the hole' when we drop Kalettes in the fryer," Baker said with a laugh. "They go pretty crazy, but so do a lot of other things when you deep-fry them."

The chef suggests roasting as an alternative for the home cook: "Toss them with a little bit of olive oil and salt, and pop them into a really hot oven—say, 425 degrees—for about 15 minutes. What happens is they kind of blister and get crispy on the edges, and tender in the middle."

Sweet, nutty kale sprouts can also be sautéed, steamed, grilled or eaten raw in a salad.

Still can't imagine such a vegetable? Both the farmer and the chef say there's only one way to satisfy your curiosity.

"You've just got to try it," Perez said. "Sometimes I'll hand them out to my friends and they all come back with, 'It's great,' and they ask me for more."

Baker added, "I'm a chef that focuses on ingredients, so I'm always looking for something that's creative, a little bit different and something that maybe the restaurant down the road doesn't have, so when guests come in, they're like, 'Hmm, what's this?' I think Kalettes offer that right now. They're still relatively unknown. It's a fun, new thing."

Barbara Arciero
Tracy Sellers contributed to this story.

Recipe: Kale sprouts and apple salad

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