In the time that has elapsed since my last visit to Session Kitchen, there have been several dishes I haven’t stopped thinking about. Among them: chef Scott Parker’s griddled kale hearts salad. As I praise in our June review, the salad was a gorgeous tangle of textures, flavors, and colors. It turns out the dish was even more special than I knew: kale hearts—also called BrusselKale, Kale Sprouts, and Lollipop Kale—are a precious commodity and I was lucky to get the chance to taste them.
During the dinner when I tried them, our server told us that the vegetable is the lower stalk of a baby kale plant, a description that piqued my interest. I did a little digging, and BrusselKale is actually a “new” vegetable that is a cross between Russian red kale and Brussels sprouts. Kale and Brussels sprouts have been so popular on restaurant menus in recent years that it was only a matter of time before clever farmers crossbred the two items. While I’m usually a bit wary of such modern tinkering, I admit that in many ways the combination of these two members of the Brassica oleracea family create an intriguing marriage. Together, the veggie has the deeply flavorful, peppery notes of kale, with—like Brussels sprouts—the structure to retain its textural bite even after cooking.
The problem? BrusselKale is scarce and expensive. In part because this hybrid has such a long maturation period, there aren’t very many growers working with the plant. “It takes five to six months from seed to harvest so growers are reluctant because it ties up that dirt for a long time,” Grower’s Organic co-founder Brian Freeman says. Furthermore, farmers are hesitant to grow a new product with a demand that is still in its infancy. “Sometimes a leading edge, is a bleeding edge,” Freeman’s growers have told him. Peter Braidman of Fresh Guys, who has supplied Parker with the vegetable since the chef cooked at Table 6, told me he does not, yet, have any other Denver chefs asking for them.
Home cooks clamoring to try the next new thing can order a 3-ounce package of BrusselKale (known by this supplier as “Kale Sprouts”) from Melissa’s for $14.49, plus two-day shipping. Keep in mind, however, that Session Kitchen’s recipe for one Staub pot of griddled kale heart salad calls for 4 cups of the vegetable. Most of us might prefer to just keep a laser-like focus on menus around town. Should you spot this cabbage combo (mentioned under any of its many names), order it without delay.