With its impressive array of nutrients — fiber, antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamins A, K and C, and omega-3 and -6 fats1 — 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 serving2 — for a vegetable has caused it to earn the moniker “the new beef.”3
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.4 BBC Good Food suggests these steps when cooking whole kale leaves:5
- 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.6 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.7
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.8
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,9 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
According to Genius Kitchen, boiling kale gives it a buttery soft texture and a light and mild flavor. Here’s their step-by-step procedure on boiling kale:10
How to Boil Kale
- Lemon juice (optional)
- Pepper, to taste
- Separate the woody stems from the leaves. Even if you boil the stems, they will not become soft and edible.
- Tear the leaves off of the tough stems, into pieces that are 1 to 2 inches in size. Rinse the leaves in cool water to remove sand and dirt.
- Fill a large pot with water and lightly season with salt, then place over high heat. Let it come to a rolling boil over high heat.
- Submerge the kale completely once the water reaches a full boil. Cover with a lid and let the water come back to a boil. Afterward, slightly reduce the heat and bring back to a boil for five minutes.
- Take out a piece of kale with a fork to check if it’s tender. The perfect texture is soft and smooth — if your kale is rough and thick, consider leaving it in the boiling water for an additional minute or two.
- Use a colander to drain the kale. Move it around so the excess trapped moisture is released. If adding to a recipe, remove excess moisture by press the leaves against the side of the colander. If not, just shake out the excess moisture to keep the kale plump.
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
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes
- 6 cups torn and de-stemmed curly kale
- 2 teaspoons Dr. Mercola's coconut oil, grass fed organic butter or ghee
- 1/4 teaspoon Dr. Mercola's Himalayan salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoon nutritional yeast, or to taste
- Optional: 1 pinch sweet or smoked paprika
- Wash and spin dry the chopped, de-stemmed kale. It’s important that the kale is completely dry before baking.
- Toss together the kale and coconut oil. Massage together with your hands until every leaf is coated
- Sprinkle on salt, nutritional yeast and any seasoning you will be using. Toss again to evenly distribute.
- On a parchment-lined baking sheet, arrange the kale evenly without crowding or overlapping.
- Bake in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven until crisp and dark green, approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
- Cool completely before eating. This will allow the chips to crisp up further while cooling.
Spice these kale chips up with your favorite flavors, such as chili powder, garlic powder or onion powder.
If you don’t have an oven, you can make crispy kale chips using a dry skillet. Here’s what to do, according to Bon Appetit:11
How to Cook Kale Chips in a Skillet
- Kale leaves
- Salt for seasoning
- Olive oil for drizzling
Serving Size: 4
- Remove the leaves from the rib and stem of the kale, tear them and then wash. It’s OK if they don’t dry out fully.
- Spread them out over a skillet and then sprinkle with salt.
- Move around the leaves in the pan until they are crispy and charred in some places, particularly around the edges, but still with plenty of bright green and tender spots.
- Remove from heat and add a dash of salt and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.
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
Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 10 minutes
- 3 ounces organic kale leaves
- 6 organic pastured eggs
- 3 1/2 ounces organic pumpkin, peeled and cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons Dr. Mercola's coconut oil or another high-quality fat of your choice (e.g., raw, grass fed butter)
- 1 garlic glove, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 ounces of toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Fresh lemon to serve
- 1 tablespoon of cultured vegetables or fermented krauts of your choice, to serve
- Wash the kale leaves thoroughly, then drain them well and pat dry. Roughly chop the kale leaves, discard the inner stems and set aside.
- Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and season them with salt and freshly cracked pepper.
- Heat the coconut oil or fat of your choice in a 9 1/2-inch nonstick pan over medium heat.
- Add the pumpkin and cook for three minutes.
- Decrease the heat; add the garlic and cook for another two minutes or until softened.
- Increase the heat to medium, add the kale and cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
- Spread the kale and pumpkin into a single layer and pour the beaten eggs into the pan, swirling the egg mixture around the pan evenly.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook without stirring for two to three minutes or until almost cooked through.
- Remove the pan from the heat, then cover it with a lid and leave it for three minutes to allow the residual heat in the pan to finish cooking the eggs.
- Cut the tortilla in half and gently slide each half off the pan onto two warm plates. Sprinkle with toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds and a light squeeze of lemon. Serve with a tablespoon of cultured vegetables of your choice on each plate.
(Recipe by Pete Evans)
Refreshing Asian Marinated Kale and Kraut Salad Recipe
Prep time: 15 minutes
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons oil of your choice (extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil are good choices)
- 1/2 tablespoon water
- 1/2 teaspoon each of fine sea salt and black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder (optional)
- Monk fruit to taste
Ingredients for the salad:
- 1 head curly kale, stemmed and ripped into 2- to 3-inch pieces (these vary in size, so start with less and add more once you see how much marinade is left)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons sauerkraut or tsukemono (Japanese pickles)
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced or diced
Serving Size: 2
- Mix the dressing ingredients in a bowl big enough for the kale.
- Add the kale and toss to combine.
- Take your hands and get in there, squeezing the kale to break down the fibrous texture and work in the dressing.
- Cover the bowl with a lid and leave at room temperature for two to three hours, or refrigerate overnight. This salad gets better with time — even days!
- When you are ready to eat the salad, mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons of sauerkraut or tsukemono per serving.
- Add the egg. You can go ahead and mix it in for a wonderfully messy combination of textures, or serve it in slices for a prettier presentation.
- Drizzle your salad with a little extra olive oil or chili oil.
(Recipe by Marisa Moon of My Longevity Kitchen)
Super Kale Pesto Recipe
- One bunch of kale
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/2 cup presoaked walnuts
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 freshly squeezed limes
- Dr. Mercola’s Himalayan salt
- Put all ingredients inside the food processor and mix until you reach a creamy and smooth consistency.
(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.12 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.13
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.”14 These compounds are known as goitrogens, and are found in other raw leafy greens as well, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.15 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.16
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.17 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.
Sources and References