How to Cook With Kale

Last Update: September 28, 2022

All hail, kale! From smoothies to chips—plus the ubiquitous kale salad available on restaurant menus across America—kale has been a healthy diet darling for years. (They even figured out how to grow it in Paris!) This green is here to stay, so if you’re not already riding the kale train, here’s everything you need to know to hop on board, plus kale recipes galore.

What is kale?

Kale is a dark, leafy vegetable that’s part of the cabbage family. Shades of green are most common, but it also grows in purple, white, and even pink! It’s a sturdy veg that can grow in a variety of climates, especially since its fibrous stalks are good at withstanding cold temps. It’s believed kale was brought to the U.S. by European settlers in the 17th century, adding another nutritious option to the garden.

How to choose, store, and clean kale

We don’t want you to overthink this, but a great kale dish starts with choosing the best bunch and treating it right. Here are some tips!

  • Color matters: Look for deep, vibrant color and firm stems (this goes for both fresh and bagged options). If you see any yellow on the stems or leaves, move on!
  • Chill out: Kale is sturdy and will keep in a crisper drawer, loosely wrapped in paper towels, for up to five days. Wet leaves will wilt faster, so make sure the bunch stays cool and dry.
  • Down and dirty: Both curly and smooth kale varieties have lots of nooks and crannies where dirt can hide. Either rinse the stems under cold water before cutting, or place chopped or torn kale in a salad spinner to make sure it’s squeaky clean.
  • So long, stems: When you’re ready to cook, remove the leaves by gently pulling them away from the tough stems. Massage, chop, and slice at will!

Raw vs Cooked

No matter how you’re craving it, kale can be enjoyed raw or cooked, and the microwave can help, too.

  • In the raw: Raw kale needs some extra love. Since the leaves can be thick and fibrous, it’s best to massage them with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt for a few minutes. As you work the lettuce with your hands, you’ll notice the pile soften and reduce in size as the kale tenderizes. With this trick, no one will complain about bitter leaves! It makes a great side for grilled chicken or steak, or enjoy on its own with a creamy tahini dressing, avocado, and quinoa for protein.
  • Nuke it: Kale in the microwave? It can be done! To make kale chips, add leaves to a microwave-safe plate tossed with extra virgin olive oil and salt. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, or until perfectly crisp. The only downside? It’ll make a smaller batch than what you can fit into the oven.
  • Apply some pressure. If you have a pressure cooker and aren’t afraid to use it, don’t hesitate. Nom Nom Paleo has a recipe for kale and carrots that’ll be ready in 15 minutes flat.
  • Stick with sauté. This is a tried and true method. Sautéed with fresh garlic, salt, and pepper until just wilted, kale makes a flavorful addition to any plate. It also stands up well to bold flavors like coconut aminos and sesame oil for some Asian flair.

Kale Salads

Get your greens on! From dairy-free Caesar to a colorful plate with sweet potatoes and cranberries, these kale salad recipes satisfy.

Dairy-Free Kale Caesar Salad

Ditch dairy, but still enjoy a creamy, savory Caesar dressing. Secret weapon? The umami flavor of nutritional yeast! Don’t forget to massage the kale with a little oil and salt! It helps tenderize the leaves so they’re easier (and more enjoyable) to chew.

Colorful Kale Salad With Sweet Potatoes

You’ll taste the rainbow when you fill up on this colorful salad! Green kale, ruby dried cranberries, and golden sweet potato cubes unite. Crunchy toppings like roasted almonds and pumpkin seeds make this recipe a winner.

Kale Snacks

Got the munchies? These wholesome options will fill you up—with nutrients, that is.

Everything-Bagel Kale Chips

There’s nothing wrong with a bowlful of kale chips, but everything bagel-inspired toppings take them to the next level. The homemade spice mix couldn’t be simpler thanks to sesame seeds, garlic powder, and poppy seeds.

Vegan Kale Nachos

Vegan can be vibrant, and here’s proof. Tender kale leaves are dressed in a vegan “queso” made with turmeric, mustard, apple cider vinegar, and soaked cashews for extra creaminess. It’s sure to hit the spot.

Sriracha Kale Chips

Because there’s more than one way to do kale chips, spice ‘em up with spicy sriracha! Coconut oil, sesame oil, and coconut aminos add a savory, Asian-inspired note. The best part? This snack is ready in 20 minutes!

Kale Smoothies

Adding greens to smoothies will boost any morning meal. You only need a handful to sip all the goodness.

Supercharged Green Smoothie

You’re five ingredients away from a wholesome start to the day. Just blend kale, coconut water, pineapple, banana, and coconut oil.

Avocado Banana Berry Green Smoothie Bowl

This drink combines a trio of green things—kale, avocado, and spinach—with loads of fresh fruit for a thick and creamy finish. Add vegan protein with hemp milk and seeds.

Kale Main Courses

When dinner calls, kale has the answer. Whip up dishes from pesto to polenta that’ll become new fave recipes.

Kale-Hemp Pesto Recipe

Bye, bye, basil! This mild pesto is ideal for everything from your favorite pasta to roasted veggies. Eating vegan? Just swap out the Parmesan and use nutritional yeast instead.

One-Pot Kale and Mushroom Pasta

Kale and pasta are a match made in gluten-free dinner heaven. GF noodles made with chickpea flour pack a protein punch, and shiitake mushrooms, baby kale, and salty Parmesan make it a hearty meal.

Creamy Parmesan Polenta With Tomatoes and Kale

Cozy up to creamy polenta seasoned with salty Parmesan cheese. Juicy tomatoes and sautéed kale top it off.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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