Cooking with Kale
Tips for buying and cooking kale, along with some delicious kale recipes.
Kale is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance! Curly and colorful, showy and robust, this green makes a strong visual statement. And the distinct, delightful flavor—which ranges from ever-so-slightly bitter to ever-so-slightly sweet—enhances everything from pizza to pasta and pesto.
You'll find kale, most often with silvery green ruffled leaves, at most grocery stores. But there are many more varieties to discover at your farmers' market (or grow yourself), including plum red Redbor kale, red Russian kale, dark green cavalo nero, and even white kale with frilly green edges.
Look for kale that's brightly colored, fresh and crisp, with few yellowing or wilted leaves. And buy plenty, because it cooks down. (For a very rough guideline, one pound of kale, cooked, will serve two or three people.) Keep in mind that the smaller leaves will usually be more tender and milder than the larger leaves. (And the larger leaves may take longer to cook, too.)
All varieties of kale can be used much the same as other greens. Start by washing the kale in lukewarm water, as dirt and sand tends to stick to the leaves. Shake it dry. (Don't wash the kale before storing; it'll keep better if you wash it just before use.)
Cut out any large, tough stems. (Or hold the kale upside down by the stem and pull off the leaves.) Save the stems to chop and toss in soups, if you like. Then roll the leaves up and cut them with a sharp knife.
Kale is easy to cook and very forgiving. (This hardy green can even stand up to long cooking without becoming bitter.)
To blanch, simply place the kale in boiling water for two minutes, then submerge in cold water. Note that some cooks prefer to blanch kale leaves before sautéing, grilling, or serving in other ways. This preserves the color and flavor, reduces any bitterness, and softens the leaves a bit. And it only takes a couple of minutes (which you can shave off the sautéing or grilling time).
To sauté, place in hot olive oil for just a few minutes, until the leaves are tender and wilted. Seasonings (garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne) can be added at any time. Tamari is another nice addition.
To braise, place your kale in a saucepan with liquid—cider, or chicken stock work well—and seasonings, such as red pepper flakes. Cook until tender but not mushy, about 10 to 20 minutes. Of course, you can also toss kale directly into soups and stews, where it holds up well.
To grill, toss the kale with oil and seasonings, then place on a grill for a couple of minutes. Chop it up and serve as side dish, or on salads or over pasta.
Here are just a handful of the many ways to serve this versatile green:
* In soups and stews, especially minestrone and bean soups and hearty stews, such as this Fabulous Lentil Stew.
* In a salad (Kale partners well with strong flavors, such as mustard and lemon, red onion, walnuts, and cheeses.)
* Roasted into chips. This recipe for Roasted Kale Crisps with garlic and sea salt provides the how-to.
* As a side dish (alone or sprinkled with grated Parmesan and plenty of freshly ground black pepper).
* As a base for pesto, as in this Vegan Falafel with Kale Cashew Pesto.
* With eggs (in omelettes, frittatas, quiches, etc.).
* With pasta (in casseroles or in pasta sauces). In this recipe for Braised Seitan, kale, Brussels sprouts and sun-dried tomatoes form a medley that's delicious served over pasta.
* On pizza (as you would spinach, but sauté first).
* With rice and other grain dishes. This recipe for Mean Greens and Beans makes a perfect topping for rice or quinoa.