It’s hard to believe that kale was once more common as a salad bar garnish than on the menu. No longer content as just a pretty face, kale is now recognized as a nutritional powerhouse, epitome of “clean eating” in the form of kale chips, green smoothie and juice bar star, CSA standard, and has even massaged itself onto white tablecloth restaurant menus. I personally love this rugged vegetable’s flavor, versatility, and nutrition profile. This green leafy vegetable falls in the cruciferous vegetable category (which includes cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, to name a few), known for its anti-cancer activity. There are three main types of kale: curly kale—bright green curly leaves best known as a garnish, black kale—flat blue-green crinkled leaves, includes Lacinato and dinosaur kale, red kale—frilly leaves with red or purple stems. There is absolutely so much to love about kale, which is why I’m sharing my Top 5 Tips to Use Kale on the blog.
One cup packs over 200% DV (Daily Value) of vitamin A, 134 percent DV of vitamin C, and six times the daily value of vitamin K. Choose firm, deep green plants with moist, strong stems. It’s delicious sautéed with olive oil and garlic, as well as chopped in salads. The trick to taming kale’s bite and texture is to “massage” the leaves with vinaigrette by hand.
Top 5 Ways to Use Kale
1. Serve Up Salads. Kale is a beautiful base for salads. Its pungent leaves mellow just right when massaged by hand with a vinaigrette made with flavorful olive oil, citrus juice, or vinegar and your favorite herbs and spices. It pairs well and its deep green color is stunning with so many salad stars, like persimmon, red grapes, pomegranate, or one of my absolute favorites—blood orange. Try my recipe for Blood Orange Hazelnut Kale Salad for a dish that tastes as gorgeous as it looks.
2. Sauté It. Aren’t the simple recipes so often the best? There truly is nothing so quick to prep and pull together with basic pantry staples as a sauté. Kale is the go-to for this. Chop it up with a fine dice of onion and garlic, toss in any vegetables on hand, herbs, and a dash of spice, and you’re done! It makes a nice side dish, or mix in cooked rice, farro, or other whole grain or plant protein for a satisfying main. Sub kale in for spinach or other leafy green in recipes, like in my recipe for Thai Tofu Veggie Noodle Bowl.
3. Give it a Bowl. You’ve got a team player with this green. Kale enhances the flavor, texture, and beauty of so many ingredients, so it’s the perfect partner in bowls, which are fun orchestrations of veg, protein, nuts and seeds, fruits—anything goes! I pair kale with quinoa and some other fun ingredients in this fun bowl, Mandarin, Quinoa and Kale Bowl and it pairs incredibly with tofu in my Tofu Kale Power Bowl with Tahini Dressing.
4. Pair with Proteins. Kale’s bite is the ideal foil for plant proteins—it’s simply synchronistic. I love to pair this rugged green with whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and soy-based tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Barley is an especially good pairing—I’ve done so in two of my favorite salads—Butternut Squash Kale Barley Salad and this cute on-the-go Mason Jar Salad: Chopped Kale and Barley Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette. Let your imagination go by cooking up the unexpected, like this Quinoa Kale Risotto with Pistachios, where quinoa plays a new role, while kale’s supporting role is equally impressive.
5. Prepare Pesto. Yes, pesto. Kale rises to this role as well as any other basil stand-in, like spinach, cilantro, or carrot tops (any greens!). Prepare kale pesto just as you would your go-to recipe, but be prepared to taste it along the way so you can adjust for its different flavor profile. Basically, grab your kale, a couple garlic cloves, lemon juice, nut of choice, salt, pepper and olive oil and let the food processor do its magic. Try it on bruschetta, with pasta, like my Mushroom Bomb Lentil Pasta, and even on pizza.
Learn more about cooking with plant foods with the following guides: