These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more popular vegetable than leafy green kale.
A member of the Brassica family (and a relative of broccoli and cabbage), this hearty green – whether it’s lacinato, curly, red, or another variety – has significant amounts of vitamins A, C, and K as well as a slew of others. nutrients, like iron and calcium.
Kale’s nutritional merits? Well-known. The best ways to prepare kale and why? Not so much. The truth is, it can be confusing to know how to prep kale that’s not destined for a salad.
“I am always trying to get more variety of greens in as they are a pillar for a long healthy life,” says Bailey Ruskus, plant-based chef and author of “Cook. Heal. Go Vegan!”, Adding that she uses any opportunity to add kale to a dish.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to incorporate kale into your cooking repertoire, Ruskus walks us through some of her favorite ways to prepare this versatile green.
How to prepare kale for cooking
Before using any method below, be sure to prepare your kale for cooking. Wash the kale to remove any dirt, debris, or insects that may be hiding in the leaves. You’ll want to remove the stem of the kale by either cutting or pulling the leaves away from the tough center rib, which can be bitter, hard to chew, and difficult to digest.
Method 1: Steam it
Steaming kale is quick and allows the vegetable to retain its toothsome texture, earthy flavor, and bright color as long as it isn’t overcooked.
“You can steam kale in a traditional steamer basket with an inch of water for about 45 to 60 seconds,” says Ruskus. “Finished with a squeeze of lemon, salt, and black pepper, this is perfect for a simple side dish.”
Serve steamed kale on its own, or add it to salads, bowls, smoothies, sandwiches, or dishes that call for steamed spinach. Steamed kale can also be frozen and used up to six months later.
Method 2: Bake it
Baking or roasting kale allows the leaves to crisp up and gives them a different, crispier texture than you achieve with sautéing or steaming.
You can bake a tray of sliced kale for a side vegetable, or opt to make your leaves into chips. “Nothing is better than a crispy kale chip to eat by itself or to add as a crunchy topping to a dish,” says Ruskus.
For easy kale chips, drizzle large pieces of destemmed kale leaves with high-quality olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, then bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes while turning the pan in the oven halfway through to encourage even cooking.
Method 3: Skip it
“Sautéing kale works in almost any sautéed dish the same as spinach would,” says Ruskus.
“[This method] is quick and easy and only takes about one minute to get soft and wilted. “Unlike spinach, kale retains a lot of its volume, which means you don’t need as much to fill your pan.
Simply slice your destemmed kale into ribbons, then add to a frying pan with a bit of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Saute the kale in the oil, adding a touch of minced garlic and a pinch of salt to season.
Ruskus uses this method to include kale in a tofu scramble, yellow curry, or even tossed into a pasta dish, but the options are endless.
Method 4: Add it directly into soups or stews
Since kale is part of the same group of vegetables that includes collard greens and cabbage, it can be used similarly in soups and stews thanks to its toughness.
Try a kale-based version of collard greens, or substitute kale for cabbage in a borscht. Kale can be added to just about any soup or stew that could use a vegetable boost.
“This is a really simple way to add kale to a dish without having to think too much about the cooking process,” says Ruskus. “Just remove the leaves from stems, chop into small pieces and then add to the soup.”
Ruskus prefers to add the kale as the last step with the burner turned off, which helps retain some texture and color, but it can certainly be added earlier if you prefer it with a softer bite.
Method 5: Massage and eat it raw
The massage method is a popular preparation trick for those who want the texture of lightly cooked kale without having to actually expose the vegetable to heat, retaining its natural state and bringing out its flavor.
“Although this isn’t a cooking method, I look at massaging kale the same way I look at sautéing it,” says Ruskus. “When you add a bit of citrus juice and salt while massaging, you can break down that tough cell wall and easily wilt the kale.” You can use any acid, like citrus as Ruskus recommends, or try it with vinegar.
This makes the kale less bitter and easier to eat. Use this method for salads – you’ll be able to use less dressing and enjoy kale’s natural earthy character.
Kale is a highly adaptable vegetable that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Depending on how it’s cooked, it can vary in texture, color, and even taste. From steaming to sautéing, baked into crispy chips, added to soups, or simply massaged with salt and a touch of olive oil, you can easily enjoy kale in whatever style suits your food mood.