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How to Cook Kale

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

  1. Rinse whole kale leaves before placing them in a pan. No need to shake off the water. Cover.
  2. Let the kale cook for two minutes or more until it’s wilted.
  3. Drain the excess water thoroughly.

If using shredded or chopped leaves, try this method:

  1. Place the kale in a pan with 1 centimeter (not quite a half-inch) of water.
  2. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, then simmer up to five minutes or until wilted.
  3. 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.

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