Kale is a leafy green, which is actually a variety of cabbage. Kale originally grew around the Mediterranean region, with evidence of cultivation dating back to around 2000 BCE. The dietary staple of the Ancient Greeks and Romans has taken a star turn on contemporary dinner plates, thanks to its hearty flavor and nutritious content.
Kale is an extraordinarily healthy leafy green. Some even call it a “superfood” for the amount of nutrients packed into this cruciferous vegetable. A single packed cup of kale only has 33 calories and contains vitamins A, B, and K as well as folate, which is great for brain health. It also has two and a half grams of fiber, which not only helps you feel more full, longer, it also helps maintain your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. With three grams of protein to help build some muscle, and lutein, which helps your eyesight, the jewel-green leaf is the perfect healthy addition to any dish.
When choosing kale in the grocery store or at the farmer’s market, there are a few things to keep in mind. Kale is a seasonal vegetable, most readily available and at its peak in the winter. In fact, it can be best after a frost as the flavor sweetens. Look for kale that has a nice green color. There should not be any yellowing or brown spots; this discoloration means that the kale is not fresh or has been exposed to the sun too long. The kale should feel very sturdy, with nice tight curls or hefty, smooth leaves. The stalk and leaves should not feel loose or wilted.
There are a few different types of kale you may encounter in your shopping. The most common type found in supermarkets and farmers markets is curly kale, which has a very unique appearance with wavy, curled leaves. It is about the same color as broccoli. This type of kale has a very bitter, peppery flavor when eaten raw.
Tuscan kale, sometimes called lacinato kale or dinosaur kale, is another common variety of kale. The leaves are much smoother on this kale, but a bit bumpy (hence the name “dinosaur” like a dinosaur’s skin). This kale has a deep green color and is a bit more mild in flavor than curly kale.
You might occasionally come across purple kale, or Redbor kale. This type of kale is bright purple, but the leaves closely resemble curly kale, just not as tightly curled. This type of kale is slightly sweeter than curly or Tuscan kale, and its color makes it great in salads or sautéed.
Kale is hearty and keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week (or more, depending on how fresh it was when purchased). Be sure not to wash kale before storing, as any water will greatly decrease the amount of time the kale can be kept in the fridge. When storing in the fridge, keep the kale in a plastic bag with most of the air squeezed out, or wrapped in paper towel. If the kale begins to wilt, turn yellow, or smell, it is time to throw it out.
Kale is a wonderfully versatile leafy green that can be served as a standalone side dish, either cooked or raw, or can be incorporated into some of your favorite dishes to add a punch of nutrition. Kale can be sautéed like spinach, or added to a soup or curry for a dose of extra vitamins. Kale is a great way to get some added fiber in the morning, by adding it to scrambled eggs, omelettes, or on avocado toast. It can even be added to a pasta dish or mixed in with rice.
Depending on what you are cooking, there are a variety of ways to prepare kale. The most important thing to know about kale is that the stalk is nearly inedible—it is very bitter and fibrous. Tear the leaves from the stalk by either cutting them off with the tip of the knife, or by tearing them from the stalk with your hands.
Kale is a sturdy vegetable and can be fairly fibrous even when cooked, so when chopping kale leaves to put into a salad or to cook, err on the side of smaller pieces.
Some people love the taste of raw kale, but it can be difficult to chew and fairly bitter. If you are using raw kale in a salad, and want to alleviate the bitterness and break down the fibers a bit (without cooking the kale), you can macerate the leaves. Using a small amount of olive oil and lemon juice on the leaves, gently massage the leaves with your hands for three to five minutes. Both the lemon juice and the act of massaging the leaves helps sweeten it up and makes it more palatable.
A simple way to prepare kale is to sauté it. Kale leaves can be chopped and placed in a hot pan with olive oil and salt. Add herbs and spices like garlic or chili flakes to add more flavor. You can even experiment with different spices like tarragon or try adding lemon juice at the end of the sauté to give the kale a little acidity.
Below, we feature three easy ways to incorporate kale into your next meal, including, a gluten-free baked chips recipe and a healthy, delicious salad recipe.
1 bunch curly kale, stems removed and chopped to the approximate size of a potato chip
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. coarse sea salt
½ tsp. spice such as black pepper, paprika, five spice, onion powder, garlic powder, Old Bay, cayenne, or ground sichuan peppercorn
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a metal bowl, combine the kale, olive oil, sea salt, and spices, if adding any. You can add any of the spices above, or any other spice that you think would taste good on a kale chip. Combine the kale leaves well so that each leaf is evenly covered with oil, salt, and spices.
Spread the kale leaves on the baking sheet evenly in one layer. You may need to use two baking sheets, or bake the chips in two batches to ensure that the leaves are cooked evenly across one layer.
Place the sheet(s) with the kale in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the leaves are crisp.
Let cool and enjoy!
2 packed cups of Tuscan kale leaves, stems removed
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
¼ cup pine nuts (use toasted almonds or walnuts if pine nuts are not available)
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
In the food processor, combine the kale, basil, and salt. Pulse about 10-15 times to finely chop the leaves. Add the pine nuts and garlic. Pulse until both are finely chopped.
With the food processor motor running, slowly add the extra virgin olive oil. Once finished, scrape the sides, if necessary.
Add the cheese. Pulse a few times to combine. If the pesto seems dry, add more olive oil.
Combine with cooked pasta, or use as a marinade or spread for grilled chicken or pork.
PREP TIME 20 minutes
COOK TIME 5 minutes
2 bunches kale, de-stemmed and chopped
2 cups Brussels sprouts, raw and shredded
2 cups spinach
4 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, divided
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. mustard
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
In a large bowl, massage kale with 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Let sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the salad dressing by combining remaining lemon juice with olive oil, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper.
Add shredded Brussels sprouts and spinach to the kale in the large bowl. Add salad dressing, top with pumpkin seeds, and serve.
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