Braised kale is a simple way to tenderize and deepen the flavor of these healthy cruciferous greens. The vegetables are first sautéed to maximize the aromatics in the dish, then covered and simmered. The savory seasonings balance the bittersweet taste of kale for a delicious side dish.
Large, leafy, mature kale leaves can be hard to chew. Braising the robust greens is an ideal way to turn them from tough to tender. To make it a one-pot dish, sautéing the kale first helps to wilt the greens down while keeping them vibrant in color. Vegetable stock is then added to further cook them down while covered.
To prevent the braised kale from tasting bland, I add an Asian twist. Red pepper flakes, a splash of soy sauce and rice vinegar deliver a slightly spicy, savory and tangy taste to compliment kales natural bitter notes. A hearty and healthy side dish to accompany any meal!
How to cook braised kale
- Remove the stem and cut leaves into 3-inch pieces.
- Rinse and drain the leaves.
- Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat.
- Add onions and saute until lightly browned.
- Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook until fragrant.
- Add the kale in two additions until wilted.
- Add stock and soy sauce, cover and cook over medium-low heat.
- Cook stirring occasionally until kale is tender.
- Remove lid, increase heat to medium-high and cook until liquid has evaporated.
- Turn off heat and stir in rice vinegar and black pepper.
What is braising?
Braising is a duo method that combines dry-heat and moist-heat cooking together. The main ingredient is first cooked in oil to brown the surface and add more flavor. The next step is to add a liquid like vegetable or chicken stock to the pan.
The food is covered and cooked until very tender. This is a great method to use for tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder, beef short ribs, or hearty winter greens like kale and collard greens.
What type of kale to use?
Choose mature types of kale like curly green or red, or Tuscan (Lacinato) for braising. They have thicker leaves with a rubbery texture that can stand up to the cooking process. Avoid tender baby kale which will become mushy with prolonged cooking, it’s better to add raw into salads.
Use two methods to braise the kale
This process also helps to wilt down the large volume of chopped leaves before braising. The kale then simmers in a covered pot with the braising liquid, which quickly softens the leaves, but still has a slightly firm texture.
The final step of braising kale is to uncover the post and allow most of the liquid to evaporate. This helps to concentrate the aromatic and umami flavors of the onions, garlic, chili flakes, vegetable stock, and soy sauce already in the pan.
Adding in a small amount of rice vinegar at the end of cooking brightens and balances the savory and slightly sweet taste of the greens. Taking the time to do this additional step makes the kale much more palatable.
Other flavorful add-ins
- Add in chopped bacon for a smokey flavor.
- Chopped sweet red bell peppers, jalapeños, or Thai chili’s for heat.
- Grate some aged cheese on top like parmesan or pecorino romano.
- Sprinkle breadcrumbs or crush some croutons on top.
- Lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can be used instead of rice vinegar.
What to serve with this
Two ways to tenderize kale
Kale has a natural waxy layer on its surface that protects it from water. However, this can prevent it from becoming tender when cooked. Sautéing kale in a little bit of olive oil first helps to dissolve some of that protective waxy coat to wilt and tenderize the leaves. This makes braising it in stock later much more effective to soften the leaves.
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- 2 pounds kale, about 4 large leaves (7 to 8 cups chopped)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- ½ cup diced red onion, ¼-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- Kosher salt, as needed for seasoning
- Remove the stems and chop leaves into 3-inch pieces.
- Thoroughly wash the kale and drain, it does not need to be completely dry.
- Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat.
- Add two tablespoon olive oil, once hot add the onion and saute until softened and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add garlic and chili flakes, cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add half of the kale and cook until just beginning to wilt, 1 minute.
- Add the rest of the kale and cook until wilted, 1 minute.
- Add vegetable stock, and soy sauce, stir to combine.
- Cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low.
- Cook, stirring occasionally every 5 to 10 minutes, until greens are tender, 25 to 35 minutes.
- Remove the lid and then increase the heat to medium-high.
- Cook and occasionally stir until most of the liquid has evaporated and greens start to sizzle, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and stir in rice vinegar and black pepper.
- Taste and add more salt and pepper as desired.
- Recipe Yield: 3 to 3 ½ cups
- Serving Size: about ¾ cups
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