With its impressive array of nutrients — fiber, antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamins A, K and C, and omega-3 and -6 fats — it’s not surprising that kale is now dubbed a “superfood,” and has found its way into many recipes, such as salads and soups, and even as a healthy snack. Its exceptionally high amount of protein — 2 grams in every 100-gram serving — for a vegetable has caused it to earn the moniker “the new beef.”
But how do you cook kale properly to ensure that you get to enjoy its flavor? If cooking this vegetable is something new to you, don’t worry. This guide will help you learn to cook kale greens properly — whether you get them fresh or frozen, and whether you cook them in the oven or on the stovetop. You can also check out some healthy recipes featuring this one-of-a-kind superfood.
How Long Should You Cook Kale?
The ideal cooking time for kale depends on your chosen method. Most of the time, kale is boiled because it makes it tender and chewy but not mushy, plus brings out its sweetness. BBC Good Food suggests these steps when cooking whole kale leaves:
- Rinse whole kale leaves before placing them in a pan. No need to shake off the water. Cover.
- Let the kale cook for two minutes or more until it’s wilted.
- Drain the excess water thoroughly.
If using shredded or chopped leaves, try this method:
- Place the kale in a pan with 1 centimeter (not quite a half-inch) of water.
- Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, then simmer up to five minutes or until wilted.
- Drain the kale thoroughly.
If pan-frying, the cooking time can take as much as 10 minutes. Remember that cooking kale to get the right texture may require a bit of patience. The key is to make sure that the kale is tender and soft after cooking. This will allow you to enjoy its flavor and versatility.
How to Cook Kale in Different Ways
Below are two methods on how to cook kale. Before you decide on a cooking method, though, you need to know what type of kale you’re cooking with. For example, Bon Appetit notes that curly kale, the most common variety, is great when sautéed or roasted alongside meats or other vegetables. Once exposed to dry heat, such as in the oven, the curly edges crisp up beautifully. These techniques are also good for red kale or scarlet kale.
On the other hand, Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale, which is slightly thinner and more tender than red kale and curly kale, has a shorter cooking time, but is more versatile. Use it raw in salads, or add it last to soups and pastas. Be careful not to overcook it, or you can lose the chewy texture.
You also need to choose whether you’re using frozen or fresh kale. Most people prefer to buy fresh kale and use it immediately, but did you know that freezing kale can actually have some benefits? Aside from extending the shelf life for up to a year, freezing kale also gives it a sweeter flavor compared to fresh kale.
If you’re wondering how to cook frozen kale versus fresh kale, here’s good news: You don’t need to wait for it to thaw. If you’re using this vegetable for soups, sauces, stews or raw juices, just add the frozen greens as you would fresh. However, Chef Rich LaMarita of Natural Gourmet Institute in New York notes that frozen kale will add moisture to whatever dish you’re preparing, so it may not be suitable for other types of recipes — you may need to choose fresh kale instead.
How to Boil Kale on the Stove
How to Boil Kale
Optional: Season the greens with a drizzle of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper.
How to Bake Kale in the Oven: Making Kale Chips
If you want to make a healthy snack using kale, then I’d recommend making kale chips. Check out this easy kale chips recipe:
Simple and Crunchy Kale Chips Recipe
Tip: Spice these kale chips up with your favorite flavors, such as chili powder, garlic powder or onion powder.
How to Cook Kale Chips in a Skillet
Check Out These Other Delicious Kale Recipes
Kale is versatile — whether you want to use it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, mixed with other ingredients, or enjoyed by itself, you certainly wouldn’t be disappointed with the countless ways you can use this leafy green vegetable. To get you started, here are three scrumptious and healthy kale recipes you can make at home.
Kale Tortilla Recipe
(Recipe by Pete Evans)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Ingredients for the salad:
(Recipe by Marisa Moon of My Longevity Kitchen)
(Recipe by Cynthia Machado)
Can I Eat Raw Kale?
Just like other leafy greens, kale can be enjoyed raw. One of the simplest ways to do so is to add it to smoothies, just like in this Avocado Super Smoothie Recipe. Adding raw kale to Caesar salad and other salads with heavy dressings is something that’s also being done by many restaurants today. MedicalNewsToday recommends “massaging” the leaves by briefly scrunching them in your hands. This breaks down the cellulose in the leaves so kale’s nutrients can be easily released and absorbed by the body.
However, consuming too much raw kale may lead to unpleasant effects. In a Washington Post article, Dr. Deirdre Orceyre, a naturopathic physician from the Center for Integrative Medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center, notes that raw kale can tax the digestive system and cause bloating, gas and other abdominal problems.
She also notes that kale “contains a compound that can suppress thyroid function in certain people.” These compounds are known as goitrogens, and are found in other raw leafy greens as well, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Since cooking reduces the goitrogens in kale, Orceyre recommends limiting consumption of raw kale or kale juice to just one or two times a week, although she says you can enjoy as much of it as you like when it’s cooked.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Kale
Q. How long does it take to cook kale?
A. It depends on the cooking method. Boiling kale can take between two and five minutes, while pan-fried kale can take up to 10 minutes to cook. What’s crucial is that kale should be tender and soft when cooked, but not mushy. This brings out its naturally sweet flavor.
Q. What is kale good for?
A. One of the ways that kale can benefit you is through its lutein and zeaxanthin antioxidants, which are essential for optimal eye health. Sufficient intake of these antioxidants may help hinder macular degeneration and other retinal diseases that are linked to ultraviolet light-induced oxidative stress. For more about kale’s health benefits, read “What Is Kale Good For?”
Q. What is the best way to cook kale to make it tender?
A. You can pan-fry, steam or even bake kale, but the most ideal cooking method is to boil it. Boiling kale makes it tender and chewy but not mushy, and also brings out its sweetness.
Q. Can kale be bad for you?
A. Raw kale may contain goitrogens, which can affect thyroid function. To minimize these effects, limit your consumption of raw kale to once or twice a week, although you can consume as much cooked kale as you want.