(Image credit: Faith Durand)

You know what's even better than creamed spinach? Creamed kale. Why? Read Christine's argument for branching out beyond spinach in your greens. But do you know what makes a plate of creamed kale even better? A pinch of smoke, that's what. Meet smoky creamed kale, the modern answer to creamed spinach.

I love creamed spinach as much as the next girl, especially when it's at the holiday table cheek by jowl with a glazed ham and a basket of yeasty rolls. But, like Christine, I find that creamed spinach can be a little bland and soppy. Kale stands up to the rich sauce, and its earthy, bitter edge makes for a more balanced dish. The smoke comes from smoked paprika, which gives a richer color too.

And don't forget: creamed greens of any kind are just as good for breakfast as for dinner. The recipe below is based on an older one in our archives by Sheri Castle, who suggests serving her creamed spinach as a Christmas or New Year's breakfast, with eggs baked on top.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Smoky Creamed Kale

Serves 6

1 pound bag chopped kale OR 1 1/2 pounds kale
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

If using whole kale leaves, remove the stalks and major ribs and discard. Chop roughly.

Set a large bowl of ice cold water in the sink. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the chopped kale and simmer for 1 minute, then drain into a large strainer and immediately transfer to the bowl of ice water. Swish the kale around in the cold water, then drain and squeeze dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel.

Melt the butter in a deep sauté pan or 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Turn the heat down if necessary; do not let the flour brown.

Whisk in the milk. Cook the mixture, stirring slowly and continuously, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens enough to coat the back of the spatula, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until the sauce is the consistency of soft pudding, about 2 more minutes.

Stir in the cheese, mustard, paprika, salt, and a generous quantity of black pepper. Add the drained kale and mix well. Warm over low heat then serve.

Recipe Notes

  • You can make the creamed kale 1 to 2 days ahead of serving. Press plastic wrap or parchment paper directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. When ready to proceed, remove the plastic wrap and reheat over low heat until it just begins to bubble.