Kale has become one of those super trendy super foods, and it's no wonder why. It's extremely low in calories—with one cup only containing 36 calories—and it has 5 grams of fiber that have all kinds of health benefits. In addition, kale also has major vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that have all helped bolster its good name. It's really no mystery that kale is one of the biggest fads in the culinary world.
But when people hop aboard the kale-eating train, it's also just as easy to see why they may initially be disappointed with the results. Although kale is a leafy green, it's different than other leafy greens. It's tougher than spinach, and eating it raw in a salad will definitely be a different experience than chomping on Romaine or leaf lettuce. It doesn't mean home cooks everywhere should give up on the kale trend—just that they may need some tips to help cook with it.
1. Remove the stems and ribs
First things first. Before kale can be cooked, the thick stem and rib that runs almost the entire length of it needs to be cut out. This is extremely tough and although it could likely be cooked down to a softer texture, the leaves would be too overcooked by that point to be enjoyable.
To cut out the stem and ribs, slice lengthwise up the side of the stem. When you're done, you should have two long strips of kale leaves you can saute or chop up as you wish.
2. Turn it into pesto
If you're new to kale or you've tried to cook with it before and things didn't work out, try turning it into pesto. The process will completely obliterate the texture, leaving you with a smooth sauce that can be added to pasta or put on top of a chicken breast or salmon. Plus, it will give the pesto an earthy taste you just can't get with basil alone.
To make kale pesto, place 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, along with 4 cloves of garlic. Pulse the processor a couple of times to break up the garlic and nuts. Add 1 cup of basil leaves and 2 cups of kale leaves. (All leaves should be packed down into a measuring cup). Pulse the processor again, 10 to 12 times, until the kale leaves are finely chopped. Then, with the processor continuously running, drizzle in 1/2 cup of olive oil through the feed tube. Give the entire mixture a stir and add the juice of half a lemon, 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Give the entire mixture a final stir and add to whatever dish you think could get a little kick with pesto.
3. Turn it into kale chips
This is another wonderful recipe for those who are new to kale or have tried it before and didn't really like the end result. Who doesn't like salty delicious chips?
To make them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut out the ribs of the kale and toss the leaves with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss to combine the leaves, oil and salt. Place the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put the tray into the oven. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, until the edges are brown but not burnt. Try other seasonings such as turmeric, Old Bay, garlic powder, or any other flavor.
4. Grind up leftover kale chips
If you've filled your tummy with kale chips and still have a large bowl left, don't feel as though you need to throw them out or even eat them as they are. Instead, throw them into a grinder and create small kale granules for other dishes for an instant boost of added greens. Stir-fries, soups, and salads are all good options, but you can also get a little more creative with chipped kale and sprinkle it on popcorn. It's delicious and will give any dish a little extra crunch.
5. Make green juice
It might be the butt of the joke in sitcoms and movies trying to portray a super healthy vegan, but green juice is very nutritious and very simple to make. Load up a blender with your favorite fruits (think strawberries, blueberries, or even kiwi) and add a handful of kale leaves. Blend until it's smooth and enjoy. The natural sugars in the fruit will take away a lot of the bitterness of the raw greens, and you'll feel like a million bucks.
6. Know which kale to use
The long leafy green stalks are typically the ones that come to mind when it comes to kale, but did you know there are different kinds and that they can each be used for particular dishes?
Curly kale is the type sold in most grocery stores and supermarkets, and it's best used for sautéing, soups, and braised dishes because it's so hearty. But if you want to try kale raw, choose Tuscan kale and give it a little massage first to loosen up the fibers or (if you want to skip that step) use baby kale. If you want to add kale to a dish that already has a lot of green and not much other color, use purple kale, which will be a showstopper.
7. Blanch it
Sometimes an entire head of kale is just too intimidating when you're trying to get a quick weeknight dinner on the table. After all, you'll need to trim the leaves and wash them before you can proceed with the recipe. Luckily, there's a trick you can do on the weekend or while watching TV that will take out a lot of the work.
Prepare the kale by trimming and washing it. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil and toss the leaves in. Let them sit in the boiling water for about three minutes, and during that time prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. When the kale has finished cooking, use tongs to remove it from the boiling water and immediately place it into the ice water. The cold will shock the kale and stop any cooking immediately. Remove it from the water, blot it dry, and store in an airtight container. You'll have parboiled kale that can easily be thrown into any dish throughout the rest of the week.