So let me just say, I didn’t think I really liked kale either. I ran from the bitterness and tough texture of kale to sweeter, more tender greens like spinach and Swiss chard for way too long. But after really understanding how truly amazing kale’s nutritional content is, I was more open-minded. I’m still not a big fan of kale chips, but I realize now I was missing out big time. I’ve been converted: I’m now a kale lover! It tastes delicious if prepared correctly and has some real advantages over spinach and other greens that I didn’t fully appreciate during my kale-avoidance era.
It’s nice to have such a hearty green in the winter. In fact, the frost sweetens and mellows kale. Plus, unlike lettuce and spinach, kale holds up over time. No matter how you prepare it, kale keeps its structure so you can enjoy leftovers the next day. So if you’ve been resisting eating kale, or you didn’t like it when you tried it in the past, now is the time!
Here are a few simple tricks to make kale easy and delicious:
Avoid Kale Stems: The stems can be bitter, so you may want to skip the stems. It’s easily done by holding the bottom end of the stem with one hand and the leaf folded in half lengthwise along the stem in the other hand. Simply tear the leaves down along the stem all at once or tear off bite size pieces away from the stem. The first method leaves you large greens to stack on top of each other, roll them into tight bundles and slice. Discard the bitter tough stems and eat the leaves. If you purchased pre washed and cut kale, just pull out the large piece of stem and call it a day. Don’t worry too much about the smaller stems.
Massage the Kale: Who knew a bit of firm massage (with or without the dressing) would transform kale leaves so much. It’s a great way to soften them, making them more tender without cooking them. This also preserves the nutrients and makes the kale easier to chew and digest. Simply tossing your kale with dressing and letting it sit for 10-30 minutes will also soften the leaves, but massaging the dressing with your hands as you mix in the dressing makes it taste even better. Curly kale is my choice for salads because it’s not quite as tough as Tuscan or dinosaur kale, but thicker varieties of kale just need a bit more massaging.
Soften Kale with Hot Ingredients: Add hot ingredients to raw kale and cover. In a few minutes the kale is still raw but is naturally steamed by the hot food to soften it a bit. The kale is perfect for salads like this Roasted Potato Kale Salad made with hot roasted red and purple potatoes thrown on top of the torn kale and covered while you prepare the dressing. It doesn’t have to be potatoes: pour hot farro or other hot cooked foods over kale leaves. The kale will become super tender while still holding its own.
Sauté, Steam or Stir-fry Kale: Kale is delicious sautéed with an acid to cut the bitterness like red wine, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Tuscan kale and dinosaur kale are a bit thicker and tougher than curly kale so they hold up especially well in a sauté pan or wok. Sauté kale with olive oil, garlic and a squeeze of lemon or add to any stove top recipe. I love The Pioneer Woman’s Panfried Kale for a delicious but simple kale recipe. Add kale instead of spinach and the fresh tomatoes instead of canned diced fire roasted tomatoes and/or baby portobello mushrooms to this Quick Summer Pasta, to make an easy winter pasta dinner.
Add Sweet to Kale: Sweet foods go well with kale because they counter its rather bitter taste. Serve curly kale up as a salad with simple ingredients like a blood orange, mango and slivered almonds or apple, feta and toasted walnuts or cook kale up with caramelized onion. It goes especially well with dried fruit like cranberries, such as in this delicious Roasted Pumpkin Farro Pilaf with Cranberries that I make in the winter. Use pre-cut up butternut squash instead of pumpkin and kale instead of Swiss chard. In fact, it’s even better the next day (if there are any leftovers!).
Add to Cooking: Kale’s sturdy texture makes it the perfect green to throw into a pot of soup or other recipes that cook for awhile. Kale, especially thicker varieties, doesn’t shrink up and turn to black gunk or fall apart into moist strings like spinach. You can even cook it with your pasta since it doesn’t wilt too much or lose its toothsome texture. I love kale in my Kale Gnocchi Soup as it adds so much texture.
Of course, you can always add kale to smoothies and make kale chips, but however you do it, take advantage of this sturdy winter vegetable now. It can really take the heat (and the cold). You may end up loving this nutritional superhero!