How to Cook Kale (2 Ways!)

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Learn how to cook kale in two different ways by steaming and sauteing. This leafy superfood cooks in under 10 minutes for a quick and healthy side dish. Try out each method to see how it gives a different flavor to the hearty greens.

how to cook kale

Kale has been the underdog leafy green. That’s because most of us aren’t quite sure how to tame the natural bitterness and rough texture, until now!

Since kale has many benefits, this superfood has sneaked its way into mainstream restaurant menus, salads, pasta, and can even transform into crunchy kale chips. I’ll show you ways to reduce some of the harsh flavors and how to cook kale with ease. But first, let’s talk prep and chop.

How to cut kale

cutting the stem off of a kale leaf

chopping kale on a butting board with a chefs knife

In most cases for curly, red and Tuscan (lacinato kale), there is a large fibrous stem that runs down the middle. The ends of the stem are wide and can be tough to eat, but it’s easy to remove. You can cut the stem off in two ways.

The first is to lay the leaf flat on a cutting board, then cut along the sides of the stem to remove the tender leaves. The second way is to fold the leaf in half, then cut away the stem. Now the raw kale can be cut into smaller pieces. For the methods in this recipe, they are all cut into 1-inch sized leaves.

How to cook kale

The stovetop can swiftly make kale using two different cooking methods, steaming and sauteing. Each gives very different taste experiences. If you like a more mild and tender flavor, steam it. If you want crispy edges and browned notes, give the greens a quick saute.

Steamed kale

cooking steamed kale on the stovetop

Steaming creates an extremely hot, moist environment for tenderizing the kale. When you cover and cook the kale for about 3 to 5 minutes, you’ll notice that the superheated steam transforms the dark green into bright green leaves.

The leaves will also wilt down significantly, losing about 40% of its volume. Keep that in mind for how many servings you want to have. For example, 8 cups of chopped kale reduces to about 5 cups.

Steamed kale is a quick side dish lightly salted and topped with freshly cracked black pepper. I often toss them into a breakfast scramble if there are leftovers from the night before.

Sauteed kale

cooking sauteed kale in a metal skillet

Kale leaves are very robust, so they do well when tossed in hot oil in a large saute pan or wok. I love kale prepared this way because the dry-heat cooking method creates toasted flavors that you won’t achieve in steaming.

Make sure to add the kale to a pan heated over medium heat with some oil, then stir occasionally for a few minutes to start the light browning of the leaves. It’s important to season with salt and pepper after it begins to wilt, otherwise, it will dry out the moisture from the cut leaves and steam the kale instead of sauteing it.

Adding in some minced garlic at the end of cooking, or garnishing with some freshly shredded aged cheese makes for a delicious side.

Selecting and storing

When selecting kale, make sure to look for leaves that are vibrant in color, not wilted or starting to turn yellow. The stems should be crisp and intact. Wait to clean them until ready to use. They store well in the refrigerator in a loose plastic bag for about one week.

massaging kale leaves

Why it’s a good idea to massage the kale

Raw kale left alone doesn’t have much taste, but once you start chewing, chopping or massaging the cruciferous vegetable, a chemical reaction starts to happen. When the cell membranes of the leaves are physically ruptured, it causes pungent and bitter notes to rise from sulfur-containing compounds called isothiocyanates.

According to Cooks Illustrated, these compounds form when the enzyme myrosinase and sulfurous compounds called glucosinolates interact. Good news for kale salad fans, simply rinsing the chopped leaves after massaging helps to wash away some of the bitterness before you take a bite.

Recipes with kale

View all Kale recipes

Reducing bitterness of kale

Massaging kale damages the cell structure and forces the bitter compounds inside to form. Rinsing afterward with warm water inactivates the enzymes and washes the bitter flavors from the surface thus reducing its pungency.

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How to Cook Kale

Learn how to cook kale in two different ways by steaming and sauteing. This leafy superfood cooks in under 10 minutes for a quick and healthy side dish.
Pin Print Review
4.27 from 23 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time20 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Side
Cuisine American

Ingredients

Steamed Kale

  • 8 cups chopped kale, about 1 large bunch, 1-inch sized pieces, curly, red or lacinato kale
  • water, as needed to cover the bottom of the pot
  • kosher salt, as needed for seasoning
  • black pepper, as needed for seasoning

Sauteed Kale

  • 8 cups chopped kale, about 1 large bunch, 1-inch sized pieces, curly, red or lacinato kale
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper, as needed for seasoning

Instructions 

Steamed Kale

  • Add about 2 inches of water in the bottom of a pot with the steamer insert placed in the center. Add the chopped kale.
  • Cover and boil the water until steam is formed.
  • Steam until the leaves are tender and slightly wilted, 3 to 5 minutes depending on the type of kale.
  • Remove from the steamer and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sauteed Kale

  • Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.
  • Add olive oil, once the oil is hot add the chopped kale, saute for 2 minutes.
  • Season with salt, stir and cook until the leaves a tender and slightly wilted and toasted, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • The longer the kale is in the pan the more toasted in flavor, and leaves will be more crispy.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Notes

  • Steamed kale yields about 5 cups (depending on the type).
  • Sauteed kale yields about 2 cups (depending on the type).

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Nutrition Facts
How to Cook Kale
Amount Per Serving
Calories 31 Calories from Fat 36
% Daily Value*
Fat 4g6%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Sodium 145mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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6 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Sharon Baxter says

    An old Danish recipe for Kale. 2 lbs Kale, Soaked in cold salted water. Blanch in hot lightly salted water. Remove centre veins. Cook briefly, (either boil or steam)
    Drain chop fine. Add to some medium white sauce Stir well add 1 Tbsp sugar.
    Or: Layer cooked Kale with cream and butter in a casserole. Heat thoroughly.

  2. Anthony Miranda says

    Use kale often, make a Portuguese soup with potatoes ,beans, fava beans, lingueisa, pasta, a much comfort food in Portugal.

  3. Louise says

    Thank you. I just looked Caldo Verde up. Will do some more research but found a vegan version. Looks like collard is also used which I just got a huge bunch of at market. Like the addition of beans.

    Have peppers and kale to use so might do the kale saute with peppers and shallot tonight. Thank you Jessica as well as for the detailed info about kale. I’d forgotten about massaging it for a salad and did not know why. Reminds me I have a fav kale salad recipe I need to get back to before this years local crop, which has suffered, is done. Generally use it up in smoothies.

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