According to my friend Lucas, rabe is the new arugula. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is delicious, and it's new to me.
My mom called about a month ago to tell me that she'd made the discovery. "I just bought the best thing at the winter market!" she gushed. "Kale rabe!"
"What's kale rabe?" I asked. She explained that it's the little florets that pop up when kale overwinters and bolts, or goes to seed. It's kind of like broccoli rabe, except a little more sweet. "Great!" I told her. "I just cleaned out my greenhouse and filled up my compost with kale plants growing that exact same thing!"
Oh well. As my mom says, there's always next spring.
In the meantime I've found it at the markets here too. Four or five vendors had it at the first Orleans Farmers' Market of the season last Saturday, and a few had it this week in Wellfleet. And not just kale: turnips and collards too.
Rabe can be loosely defined as the flower bud of anything in the brassica family. This includes turnips, kale, cabbage, Asian greens, mustard greens, collards, and a handful of other veggies. They're biennial, which means they flower in the second year of their lifecycle. So when you overwinter these veggies—which many people do, since they're cold-hardy—you get flower buds the following spring. I've got turnip rabe outside as we speak. According to Ben Chung, a grower from East Orleans, the way to harvest it is to snap up the stalk until you get to the first spot where it's tender. That's the part you want, just like asparagus.
There are all kinds of delicious ways to eat it. Anna Henning of Redberry Farm in Eastham juices it with beets, limes, cucumbers, and carrots. My mom subs it for mizuna and bok choy in this tofu stir-fry recipe. Lucas grills it with olive oil and salt, and Ben Chung steams it and serves it with a little oyster sauce in the traditional Chinese way. I've got my eye on this kale rabe panini, and the other night I sautéed a whole bunch of collard rabe in some leftover bourbon sauce— amazing ! I think it would also be great in omelettes and really in any old recipe where you normally use asparagus or broccoli.
What do you think? Have you tried it?