What Is Kale?
Although kale has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, American cooks seem to just now be taking it seriously as something more than a garnish. It's a good thing they are, because kale has the health advantages of a cruciferous vegetable in lowering cancer risk, and it's an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K as well as a very good source of fiber, potassium, and calcium. Kale is a member of the cabbage family and has a cabbagelike flavor. It thrives in cold climates and is in season in the winter months, although it is available year-round and can be grown in warmer climes as well. Kale leaves are long and frilly, with a tough center stalk, and can vary in color and texture (see varieties below). Kale can be used similarly to spinach. The kale chips (below) are a healthy, salty snack, but we'll also show you how to cook kale three different ways for entrées or sides.
Types of Kale
The three main types available in the United States are:
- Curly kale: Ruffled leaves, fibrous stalk, and deep green color with the most pungent flavor of these three varieties.
- Ornamental kale: Mellower flavor and more tender leaves than curly kale. The leaves can be green, white, or purple. Also called salad savoy.
- Dinosaur kale: Dark bluish-green leaves on lighter stalks with pronounced texture and a slightly sweeter taste than curly kale. Also called Lacinato or Tuscan kale.
Selecting and Storing KaleGet the recipe for Winter Slaw with Kale and Cabbage
Not every green was created equally. Here's what to look for when choosing what kale to buy.
- Opt for crisp, tender leaves that are richly colored and stems that are moist and fresh-looking. Avoid wilted or yellow leaves.
- Smaller leaves will be more tender and have a milder flavor than large leaves.
- Store unwashed kale in a plastic storage bag for up to three days in the refrigerator. The longer you store kale, the stronger and more bitter the flavor becomes.
How to Prep and Clean Kale
Kale has often gotten a bad rap because it's sturdier than it looks, which is why preparing kale properly is so important.
- For large leaves, cut away the center stalk. You can cut away just the base for smaller, more tender leaves. Trim any bruised leaves.
- Wash thoroughly in cold water several times, and drain well on paper towels or spin in a salad spinner. Cleaning kale is key because the green can be gritty if not washed well.
- Tear into pieces; 12 ounces kale equals about 12 cups torn or chopped, or four servings.
How to Boil KaleGet the recipe for Sesame Kale and Edamame
In a large saucepan bring a small amount of water (about 2 cups) and a little salt (1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon) to boiling. Add 12 ounces torn kale. Return to boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain.
How to Sauté KaleGet the recipe for Sweet Potatoes with Honey, Prosciutto, and Kale
In a large skillet heat 4 teaspoons olive oil. Add 12 ounces torn dinosaur or curly kale. Cook, covered, for 1 minute. Uncover and cook and stir for 1 minute more or just until wilted. If desired, season the sautéed kale with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
How to Slow-Simmer KaleGet the recipe for Sausage and White Bean Stew with Kale
This kale recipe makes a potful and will serve 8 to 10 plus leftovers. For a meatless option, swap in vegetable stock for ham hocks and increase the seasonings.
- In a large deep pot heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium. Thinly slice 1 medium onion. Peel 2 cloves garlic and smash them using the side of a knife. Add the onion and garlic to the hot oil, stirring to coat. Add 2 large ham hocks (about 1-1/2 pounds) and 2 bay leaves. Cook about 10 minutes or until the onions are softened.
- Meanwhile, starting with 5 bunches kale, stack a few leaves at a time and cut crosswise into ribbons. Add the kale to the pot, pushing the leaves down to pack them in. Add 3 quarts reduced-sodium chicken broth, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
- Bring the mixture to boiling. Cook for 10 minutes or until the greens start to wilt, then turn the greens over with a wooden spoon and reduce the heat to simmering. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Season the broth with salt to taste. Cover and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove the bay leaves and serve.
How to Make Kale Chips
Preheat oven to 300˚F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 2 cups torn kale leaves on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until crisp.
To make sure you get the crispy snack you're craving, here's a step-by-step guide to make kale chips.
Kale Recipes to Try
Cooking kale completely unleashes its possibilities (and releases most of its bitterness). From using kale in soup to roasting kale to making a kale frittata, these recipes prove the green is way more than just salad.
Kale Smoothies, Salads, and More
Now that we've shown you how to cook kale, here are a few just-as-delicious kale recipes that don't require you to turn on your oven.