How to Cook Kale

BY Melissa Breyer TIMESeptember 22, 2014 PRINT

Now that spring and summer greens are taking over where once only kale and cabbage sprouted, it is tempting to push kale aside and lavish attention on just the pretty young things. But if you’ve jumped on the recent kale bandwagon and aren’t ready to relegate it only to the chilly months; there are plenty of ways to continue enjoying it through all of the seasons.

Kale is such a tremendous powerhouse of nutrition, even compared to other greens. If Popeye had spinach, I’m pretty sure the Incredible Hulk was secretly doping on kale. In terms of its Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value – the measurement of its antioxidant level – put it this way: a serving of iceberg lettuce contains an ORAC value of 105, while a serving of kale has 1770. Spinach rings in next with an ORAC value of 1260. And accompanying all of those age-fighting antioxidants, kale packs in fiber, beta-carotene, iron, vitamins and folic acid.

Go, kale!

So if your only experience with kale has been limited to a sauté or store-bought kale chips (for which a king’s ransom is generally required) here are some other stellar ways to put this superhero to work:

1. The Quick Sauté

This will be new for those who traditionally give kale a long, slow braise. This method results in a bright green dish with a little more snap than a long cook. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan, add chopped fresh garlic and sauté over medium-high heat until it starts to sizzle and turn golden. Next, toss in a handful of cleaned and very dry kale leaves and stir a few times until they start to wilt. Continue tossing in a handful at a time. Adding them slowly will ensure that the water released cooks off before the next handful is thrown in, resulting in a distinct lack of sogginess. When all the kale is added, toss it with some sea salt and fresh pepper and serve.

2. The Slow Cook

For those who generally treat vegetables with a quick cook and shrink away in horror at overcooked vegetables, I feel your pain. But trust me, kale adores a long simmer. It has so much structure to begin with that it doesn’t turn to mush, and the bright flavors are reduced to a more earthy, almost nutty smokiness that is really lovely. And so simple: sauté garlic in olive oil, add cleaned kale, add one cup of vegetable stock. Simmer over low-medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more stock if it becomes too dry. When it’s ready, the stock should be reduced and all that remains is a pile of moist, tender yet toothsome, tasty greens.

3. Presto, Pesto!

There are any number of ways to switch up the pesto routine, one of them is to use vegetables other than herbs; and kale takes to this preparation like nobody’s business. Try this: In a food processor, add one bunch of cleaned kale (ribs removed), 2 cloves garlic, ¼ cup grated organic Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup walnuts, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Whir until pesto-y, salt to taste; serve on toast, with pasta, in sandwiches, tossed with grains, with eggs, or by the spoonful.

4. Kale Chips

It’s probable that kale got its huge recent bump in status due to the preponderance of kale chips now available in most health-minded stores. But with prices ranging in the $8-dollar range in many places for a small box or bag of the green gold, there’s no reason not to be making your own. In the simplest preparation, all you need to do is remove the stems, rinse and dry the leaves, spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and bake at a low temperature, turning occasionally, until they’re crispy and melt in your mouth. (Or here’s a recipe for a version that is seasoned with apple cider vinegar and sesame oil.)

5. Roast and Embellish it

There is the famous Catalan dish that combines spinach with raisins and pine nuts, but why let spinach have all the fun? You can follow a recipe and use kale for the spinach, or you can totally veer off the path with a method I came up with when trying to wow a determined kale hater. (It worked.) This is a take on kale chips, with a twist. The kale is cooked a bit less, so that it still has some tenderness, yet is crisp on the edges. To prepare, rinse and tear leaves from the ribs from one bunch of kale; pat dry and toss with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake at 375ºF for 10 minutes. Add a handful of raisins, bake for 5 minutes, add a handful of pine nuts, bake for 5 minutes. The result should be perfectly roasted kale with caramelized raisins and just-toasted pine nuts.

6. The Secret to Salad Success

Kale salads have been showing up everywhere, but sometimes they can be a lot to take. As lovely as kale is, when in its raw state, it can occasionally tend toward a little too much taste and texture. So here’s the trick. Start 20 or 30 minute before you plan on eating it; add an acidic dressing (even just a simple lemon and olive oil mix is great), and then submerge your hands in the bowl of greens and dressing and start squeezing and tossing for a few good minutes, then let it sit until you’re ready to serve. At that time, adjust seasonings and add in extras. I know it sounds crazy, but by adding some mechanical massaging to the greens, and then letting the acid of the dressing do its work, the result is an ever-so-slightly wilted kale that has soaked up extra flavor.

7. When all Else Fails, Cream it

Do you love creamed spinach? Do you hate when you prepare 10 pounds of fresh spinach for a dinner party and end up with, like, a quarter cup of actual creamed spinach? Spinach, as lovely as it is, reduces by volumes when cooked. Kale, on the other hand, shrinks much less, which is why it’s my choice for a creamed green; it also lends more flavor and a little pizzazz in the texture. Simply substitute kale for spinach in your favorite creamed spinach recipe.

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