Kale — an unappreciated vegetable up until the last decade or so — is a nutritious, leafy staple that can be enjoyed either raw or cooked.
You can make kale in so many ways; some methods require more time and preparation, while others can be done in a flash (you'll find that using the microwave for kale recipes is surprisingly easy!).
Before kale entered the foodie zeitgeist, it was most commonly used as a garnish at restaurants, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But as more people became aware of its nutritional benefits and versatility, the vegetable has surged in popularity.
My, how far kale has come.
Kale Nutrition Info
Kale is a member of cruciferous vegetable family, making it a relative of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. It is a rich source of vitamins K, C and B6, as well as folate, manganese and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients make kale a great protector against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Kale is low in calories, too. The USDA lists 1 cup of loosely packed kale as having only 8 calories, much of which comes from its 1.4 grams of carbohydrates (with 0.6 grams of fiber and 0.4 grams of sugar) and its 0.7 grams of protein.
One cup of loosely packed kale contain:
- 6 calories
- 0.2 g fat
- 0.7 g carbohydrates
- 0.7 g fiber
- 0.2 g sugar
- 8.5 mg sodium
- 41 mg calcium
Kale Cooking Methods
There are a number of different techniques for cooking kale. You can cook red kale the same way you would cook green kale.
1. How to Cook Kale In the Microwave
Cooking greens in the microwave is a fairly simple preparation method that doesn't deplete too many nutrients. Cooking greens in the microwave resulted in less vitamin K loss compared to cooking other vegetables in the microwave, according to an April 2018 report in Food Science and Biotechnology,.
When broccoli, a relative of kale, is microwaved, its nutritional characteristics are not negatively affected, per a January 2016 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. Kale reacts similarly in the microwave, and does not lose any of its nutritional integrity when cooked correctly.
So, how to microwave kale?
You can microwave kale a number of different ways. If you simply want soft, wilted kale — similar to how it would get if you were to steam or sauté it — then put the kale in a microwave-safe bowl with 1 teaspoon of water, covering it, and microwaving for two minutes per 2 cups of kale, advises Purdue Extension. You can then drain and serve.
You can achieve more than wilted kale in the microwave. You can make kale chips by tossing chopped kale with oil and salt, then draping the leaves around the edges and base of a microwave-safe bowl or plate, per Colorado State University.
Microwave the dish on high for three minutes and check for crispness. If the kale leaves still need a little more cooking, put them back in for another three minutes.
Once you successfully microwave the kale, you can get creative with how you use it in your meal planning. Purdue Extension notes that kale pairs well with foods like brown rice, eggs and bacon, among many others.
2. How to Steam Kale
Steaming kale is a great way to prepare the leafy green; it'll be softer and easier to chew while lending itself to many different flavors.
Steam kale by filling the bottom of a pot with salted water.
Place a steamer basket in the pot, making sure that the water does not come up over the bottom of the basket. Bring the water to a boil and add the kale to the basket. Cover the pot and steam the kale for 5 minutes or until it is tender, but still slightly crisp.
Steaming Purple Kale
Purple kale responds well to steaming as it tenderizes the leaves without compromising the color or flavor of the vegetable. Use purple kale as you would regular kale in your favorite recipes.
3. How to Sauté Kale
Sautéed kale has great flavor. It can be mixed with other veggies and protein for a nutrient-rich stir fry — the options are endless.
To sauté kale, add it in a skillet coated with olive oil and brought just to its shimmer point over medium-high heat.
You can add onions and garlic for a bit of extra flavor and season the kale with sea salt, pepper and the herbs of your choice. Cook the kale for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it is cooked to the level of softness that you prefer.
4. How to Make Kale Chips
In the mood for a crunch? Kale chips have got you covered. Here's how to make them:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make kale chips by tearing kale into small pieces or using small whole leaves.
- Place the leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer with a little space between each leaf. Sprinkle the kale with olive oil and sea salt and bake in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Rotate the tray and cook the leaves for another 3 minutes, or until they are crisp. Carefully remove them from the hot tray immediately so that they don't continue to cook.
Mix kale chips with paper-thin sweet potato chips for a colorful and healthy snack.
5. How to Cook Frozen Kale
Kale is most readily available fresh in spring and fall, but frozen kale is available year-round. Keeping a bag or two in the freezer ensures you always have it available when a recipe calls for kale.
- To cook frozen kale, place 1 cup of water in the pot for every 2 cups of frozen kale. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in each cup of water.
- Cover the pot with a lid. Heat the water on medium high until it comes to a rapid boil.
- Immerse the kale in the boiling water. Cover the pot and allow the water to return to a full boil.
- Boil the kale for eight to 12 minutes, or until it's heated throughout and tender, but still bright green in color.
- Drain the kale in a colander at the end of the cooking time. Avoid leaving it in the hot water, as it continues to cook and may become overdone if not quickly drained.
How to Massage Kale
If you've never heard of massaging kale, this technique may sound a little confusing to you.
But massaging your kale is an important step if you're planning to eat the greens raw; massaging will break down the cell structure so that the kale is has a slightly softer texture and is easier to chew, according to Oregon State University Extension.
Here's how to do it:
- Wash and remove the stems from a bunch of curly kale and tear or chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces. (You can discard or compost the kale stems, or save them to use for making vegetable stock.)
- Place the kale into a bowl and add ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and 2 teaspoons olive oil.
- Massage with your hands for about 3 to 5 minutes until the leaves are sweet and tender.
- Now you can add any other salad ingredients you wish. Massaged kale will hold up in the fridge for a few days.
As you can see, there are a bounty of various ways to cook kale. There are also endless ways to dress it up! Here are some of our favorite kale recipes to ignite your kitchen creativity.