Lollipop Kale Is the Best New Vegetable You’ve Never Heard Of
by Hugh Merwin
As with anything, they are excellent with Sriracha and lime juice. Photo: Hugh Merwin
Recently, in food circles, there had been whispers of a vegetable called lollipop kale, supposedly a mythological-sounding cross between Russian red kale leaves and conventional Brussels sprouts. They cooked, and tasted, like both vegetables, and looked like they’d sprung from the mind of Dr. Seuss. In short, the sprouts seemed destined for culinary superstardom in the near future, the kind of thing you first notice on great menus and then, a few months later, on every good menu. But when I asked around, chef-friends pleaded ignorance. Some doubted they were even real. Sarah Kessler, a friend at Manhattan Fruit Exchange who sells specialty produce, said they sounded familiar and she’d try to get some, but a few weeks in, the chase started to feel hopeless. “We tried last night and will try tonight,” read one of Kessler’s emails. “This item has done this for a while,” she wrote in another. “Comes around, then disappears.” Was I hunting for kale, or Bigfoot?
Internet searches offered the origin story: A British company called Tozer Seeds developed the hybrid and sold it exclusively at department store Marks & Spencer in 2010, under the name Flower Sprouts. Vegetable message boards (yes, those exist) indicated the seeds had actually been available for years, but home gardeners were turned off by the relatively high cost ($11 for 40 seeds) and the long growing period, which can stretch up to four or five months.
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Finally, on Twitter, I found proof that a handful of chefs were using it in SanFrancisco. Eventually, I was led to Salad Savoy, a 30-year-old producer in Salinas, California, that currently markets the sprouts under the trade name Lollipops. Bingo. Soon, with Kessler’s help, I had a case of Lollipops en route to my apartment in Brooklyn.
The four-pound box that showed up contained about 250 individual sprouts. They looked a little like Brussels sprouts that had gone on a diet: slender, with purple stalks and green leaves that turned out to be chewy and appealingly bittersweet. I cooked them every way I could think to: pan-roasted, with kimchi puree and brown butter; julienned and tossed with fish sauce, lime, and green chiles; roasted into tiny little kale chips; simply steamed; roasted. There was no bad way to use them.
Lollipop chips. Photo: Hugh Merwin
Part of the cooking appeal is that the sprouts belong to Brassica oleracea, the same plant species that’s responsible for hot-ticket veggies like collard greens, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and — of course — kale and Brussels sprouts. In other words, it’s all of the ingredients that fill restaurant menus and food-magazine pages alike. Farmers, aware of oleracea’s appeal, are constantly cross-breeding the species’ characteristics to try to create the next big thing. It was only a matter of time before someone hit upon a kale-Brussels combo that clicked.