The Kale in Kalevala

Almost every Wednesday I travel by tram to my organic food co-op, from which in the late summer into this darkening November I was able to get beautiful Finnish kale, both the typical bright green curly kind, but also silky dark green Lacinato kale. Almost every time, a Finnish person asked me “What do you do with that? How do you eat it?”. This happens to me at normal markets, too, about Lacinato kale especially. “What is that? How do you eat it?” And I answer passionately as best I can in my bad and broken Finnish.

Here is why this is so strange, once one starts digging deeper. Up until the middle ages, kale was likely the green that people ate most in Europe. While it is exactly the same species as our quotidian cabbage (as are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts…), kale, and collard greens (and the delicious spring greens that can be found in Britain) are closer to the wild forms of that nourishing vegetable.

You may start to wonder, given that they are all cultivars of the same species, whether there is anything special about Kale. I’m not the first to be skeptical. However, it seems to actually hold up to scrutiny. A comparison using USDA data shows raw kale to have significantly more vitamins A and K than raw savoy cabbage. Perhaps this is because it is closer to the wild form, not bred to last long on the shelf.

In Finland, the lack of acquaintance with kale is all the more curious, given that it rests at the root of the Finnish term for all Brassica oleracea. Observe for example:

Finnish Literal Translation English
Kukkakaali Flower cabbage Cauliflower
Parsakaali Asparagus cabbage Broccoli
Ruusukaali Rose cabbage Brussels sprouts
Lehtikaali Leaf cabbage Kale
Mustakaali Black cabbage Lacinato (dino) Kale*
Kaali Cabbage
*Also known as Tuscan kale. Interestingly, I recently realized that it’s Italian name, Cavolo nero , is identical to the Finnish: black cabbage.

It is neat that in Finnish, these cultivars are named in a way that acknowledges their close relation to each other, something that is obscured in English. And it can be no coincidence that KAALI is so close to KALE . Perhaps it is a forgotten echo of when the the Brassicaceae found it most pots would be something quite different from the pale heads of stiff cabbage most common in stores today. Something foraged and wild. Something closer to kale.

Whatever the cultural, environmental or economic forces, kales were forgotten, although they grow well in this climate, and are even made tastier with a little bight of cold. Now their comeback is tinged with the annoyance of their trendiness. A signifier of a certain lifestyle. An annoying one.

Really, kale is old, old news–part of the unglamorous past of Northern European cuisine. In the south of Sweden, kale is part of a traditional Christmas dish, called långkål , a tradition that allegedly is particularly strong in the free Hanseatic state of Bremen, which resonates with me for familial reasons…

Anyway, långkål involves, kale, butter and cream and I will be inflicting it upon my family this yule. But before that, I wish all four of my readers, who are very dear to me, and from whom I will be separated this Thanksgiving, the best of all days on Thursday and feasts if you have them, filled with love.


Yes. I just wrote a long long post about KALE. I didn’t want to; it compelled me. It began when a friend noted that perhaps there was a hidden meaning in Kalevala. It started showing up in fine art:

2014.11 Kale Paulette Tavormina

This by Paulette Tavormina via Glutton for Life

It came in the post.

2014.11 Kale TJ

I began to see it everywhere.

I heard about a new form of kale, kalettes, that was created by a liason with my other favorite cabbage, brussels sprouts.


Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Maybe now it will now let me rest. This is dedicated to L who discovered the title of this post, and whose magic set this in motion and M & Y who were once brave enough to come to a kale party, and R for the kale chips, quickly devoured, and P for making and sharing the first, delicious and beautiful, raw kale salad I ever had.

2014.11 Kale Card

Uncovering local brews

At first, I didn’t realize there was any interesting beer in Helsinki. Then some appeared, expensively , when visiting Juuri or Valimo on Suomenlinna.

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter's), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter’s), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Maybe it is just my obsession with nokka (nettles), but I thought that one was particularly wonderful. An interesting alternative to a green smoothie. These all came from the K-Market that is near the entrance to the underground in Kamppi, at reasonable prices.

Get thee to Forum Box!

This is the last weekend for a fun show at gallery Forum Box in Hietalahti!!! It features two artists, but the show is cohesive, playful and beautiful. Read more about it here.

 mobile sculpture of birds made of recycled materials-- Purhonen and Korhonen

Jesus sculpture made of cardboard-- Purhonen and Korhonen

Sculpture made of metal lids-- Purhonen and Korhonen

The artists are Kalle Turakka Purhonen ja Mauri Korhonen. I have been twice!. And while you are in Hietalahti, not only is there the water and the lovely market hall, tomorrow there is a special brunch at the boat cafe Nikolai II, featuring fresh produce from the gardens of Siippoo. I am excited by what they are doing with that boat– local organic when they can + live music. Let’s enjoy the ephemera of summer while we can.

Paradise: Rosendals Trädgård, Stockholm

It has been a while since I posted. I was having too much fun, it was Midsummer with enthusiastic sauna-ing and swimming in icy water… and then I got sick. Completely worth it, however : )

So this draft has been sitting here for a long time. Rosendals Trädgård is one of my favorite places in Stockholm. It is on Djurgården, an island that can be reached with regular public transportation, as well as the public ferries that run to the island. So, you can walk there from Helsinki.

Djurgården is home to great museums as well as the famed amusement park, Göna Lund. Rosendals is deeper into the island, an organic, biodynamic farm with a cafe and bakery in a greenhouse, tables in the orchards, and the most amazing bread . Absolutely idyllic.

A vineyard at Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

Along with edibles, beautiful flowers.

Blue, deep violet flowers in the gardens of organic biodynamic Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

A dramatic pink and black poppy in the gardens of Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

But they are probably best known for their food. The farm has a cafe that serves lunch, sandwiches and pastries along with teas, coffee, and a wonderful assortment of local and organic juices. These can be enjoyed in the greenhouse cafe or in the gardens, orchards and lawns.

Salad at Rosendals Trädgård in Stockholm

The salad was a little bit heavier than we would have liked. The blue cheese dressing was intense. But the fresh pea soup was a fantastic take on a Scandinavian classic, and the bottle of apple cider was arguably the best we had ever had. It was from Linas och Binas. Important note: Those people also run Bee Safaries!

Picnic Benches in the Orchard of Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

The bread is haunting. Fermented, baked in a wood fired oven. You can see the fermentation in the air pockets and chewiness of it.

Levain bread from Rosendals Stockholm

We took some with us for later. The expensive nut seed and berry mix we picked up at the shop next to the cafe was also very very good. Simple, humble food that is absolutely sublime.

David Lebowitz has a nice post about the place here. He got a special tour of the bakery. The butter he mentions is also incredible: creamy, fresh, irresistible. Barring deathly reaction to wheat and dairy, this is worth the indulgence.

Bright green fresh pea soup and buttered organic bread
Yes, that amount of fresh whipped butter was perfect!

Yards and outbuildings of Rosendals Trägård Stockholm

Fennel for late spring

Spring is officially here. The late spring as the weather struggles towards summer can be rough, the body feeling depleted of nutrients, vitamins, sunshine. A couple weeks ago I got delicious organic fennel from my food co-op. It was Italian. Here are some things that I did with it:

Duck breast and fennel

Duck breast and fennel

Duck breast is really easy– pan friend, excess oil scooped out and used to cook the carrots and fennel. Then I put it all in the oven to get it extra crispy. The juices of the duck added to the vegetables when served.

It has also been asparagus season in Europe:

Asparagus and fennel

Asparagus and fennel

However, the most spectacular was an easily roasted chicken, using my slapdash interpretation of Marcella Hazan’s famous and foolproof roast chicken with lemons. (Here recipe is all over the interwebs, but that link is to a no-frills posting of it on the New York Times). My lemons were too large, so I had to cut them and only used one. The fennel was cooked beneath the chicken; this must be one of the best ways to cook fennel.

Organic Finnish goat quark (rahka)

Recently I chanced upon some kutun rahka or the Finnish version of quark made with goat milk, on sale. It was from a lovely Finnish creamery, dairy and cheesmaker Saloniemi (Saloniemen Juustola).

Local, organic Finnish goat quark

Local, organic Finnish goat quark

The prices for their products are high, but so is the quality. If my budget allowed, I would likely be a regular consumer. This was DELICIOUS. If you are a fan of chevre, it had a similar light goat-y taste, and it is full of protein. It mixed well with pesto, eaten on those amazing, sweet Finnish carrots.

Finnish carrots dipped in goat quark and organic pesto.

Finnish carrots dipped in goat quark and organic pesto.

It would also have been fantastic with fresh fruit or fruit preserves. For example, fig jam or fresh strawberries. Anything that would work with chevre would also work here. Yum.

Their products are available at most larger super markets (K-supermarkets, S-markets) and many specialist grocers like Ruohonjuuri and Anton & Anton. I also want to consider using rahka instead of quark in English; I think it sounds more inviting. “Quark” reminds me too much of quorn, the fake engineered meat pioneered in the U.K.

Steel-cut oats in Helsinki

Organic, Finnish oats from S-Market

Organic, Finnish oats from S-Market

These are what I have been using in our morning porridge lately. It is the closest I have found to steal-cut oats in Helsinki.

My father has favored steel-cut oats for many years, but they have become increasingly lauded by celebrities and doctors alike. I am sure you’ve heard about this, but if you need convincing:

+ By Dr. Robert Lustig, a prominent anti-sugar campaigner and Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Program at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Interviewed here by the fabulous Leonard Lopate of the radio station WNYC in New York:

+ By Bobby Brown, no less, the beauty magnate, from her book On Beauty: “ I love slow-cooked Irish Oatmeal (you can make it the night before and reheat it the following morning). I load up on calcium with plain Greek yogurt flavored with cinnamon and slivers of roasted almonds.”

And many others. The trend does not seem to have infiltrated Helsinki yet. I don’t quite believe that the health benefits can be so dramatic as to make consumption of rolled oats out of the question. Personally, my strong preference is due to the better texture. The flavor seems richer, the oats are more toothsome and chewy. And–really–not that much trouble.

In Helsinki, I have so far found one relatively affordable source. The oats pictured above, local and organic to boot, are available at the Bulevardi S-Market, which as a surprising number of treasures.

Organic Finnish Oats

Organic Finnish Oats