31 Days of Vegetables

Kale: The Best Ways to Pick It, Cook It, and Eat It

updated Jul 24, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Ah, kale! What vegetable challenge would be complete without it? It’s the supermodel of greens: Intimidatingly pretty, always at all the fanciest places, and hanging out with all the cool people. Fortunately, it deserves the reputation, because kale is as delicious and versatile a green as you can get. Here’s everything you need to know about buying, storing, and cooking with this trendy veggie.

What Is Kale?

Kale is actually a leafy variety of cabbage — one that grows more loosely and not in a tight head, similar to some varieties of lettuce. The leaves and stem are edible, though some varieties are actually ornamental — they are pretty, but don’t taste as good. Kale has been grown as a food source for at least 4,000 years, and was originally developed in the eastern Mediterranean.

What Are the Different Types of Kale?

There are dozens of different varieties of kale, with names like Siberian, Redbor, Walking Stick, and Russian Red, and they range in color from the palest green, to the darkest purple, nearing black. At the grocery store, however, you’re likely to find only two or three varieties: Curly leaf (which has curly leaves and looks like lettuce), Lacinato (also known as Tuscan or

dinosaur kale

What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Kale?

Kale is chockablock with nutrients! One 3.5-ounce serving of chopped, raw kale has 49 calories and contains 199% of your DV for vitamin A, 200% of your vitamin C, 14% potassium, and even 15% calcium! It’s even got 3.6g of fiber.

The Kale Top 5

Five links that’ll turn you into a kale aficionado.

  1. This is the fastest way to prep kale for cooking.
  2. And these DIY kale chips are quick and easy to make.
  3. Find kale too bitter? Here are some ways to tame bitter greens.
  4. Here are 10 more easy ideas for cooking with kale.
  5. But one of the most comforting things you can make is a smoky creamed kale.

How to Choose the Best Kale

Luckily, selecting fresh kale isn’t difficult. Look for firm leaves and good color, avoiding any bunches that are yellowed, wilted, or have brown spots or holes. Smaller leaves are going to be more tender, and better for raw salads, while larger leaves will be tougher, but will hold up well to stewing, creaming, boiling — or roasting.

What Is Kale Good For?

Kale is, as we mentioned above, dense with nutrients and very healthy. Some find it to be good for

filling out a green smoothie

late-night snack substitute. And gardeners often like to plant it in their front yards simply because it looks so pretty! But we like kale mostly because it’s a hearty, delicious green that’s easy and fun to cook with.

The Best Ways to Cook Kale

Which is Better: Kale or Spinach?

Honestly, if you’re eating lots of either one you’re doing great! Nutritionally-speaking both are very good for you — spinach is high in iron and folate, and both have lots of fiber. Taste-wise, it’s a matter of opinion. Some don’t like how firm kale leaves are, and find them to be a little bitter (personally, the bitterness is part of the appeal.) Others don’t care for the filmy effect fresh spinach leaves on your teeth. But we say they both can be great as long as you use them well!

Can Dogs Eat Kale?

According to the American Kennel Club, while kale is a human superfood, some of the quantities of nutrients make it not such a good choice for pets. The high amounts of calcium can lead to kidney stones, and another substance, called “isothiocyanates,” can lead to gastric distress, especially in small dogs. So don’t feed your pet kale!

Can You Freeze Kale?

You can freeze kale, (you can even buy frozen kale) but it depends on what you plan to use it for. If you’re making salads, kale chips, or other recipes where a crunchy texture is called for, frozen kale will not work. However, in smoothies, or soups and other cooked dishes, frozen kale can be a great resource — and freezing kale is a good way to keep an overlarge stock from going to waste. In general we recommend blanching most vegetables before freezing them. Why? It helps veggies keep their color, and stops the enzymes that would otherwise continue to break them down.

But with leafy greens like kale, the blanching will also result in a smaller, more condensed (and wetter) vegetable. For some recipes this is just fine. Others, not so much, so you may want to think about what you’ll use it for (and how long you want to keep it) before freezing.

No Fresh Kale? What to Substitute

Though you’re likely to find kale in the grocery store all year long, it’s actually most likely to be cheap(er) — and more local — during the colder months, when the plant really thrives. Still, there are times when no fresh kale is to be found.

If you’re not interested in the frozen kind, we suggest looking at other sturdy leafy greens, such as Swiss chard, collard greens, or even mustard, turnip, or beet greens. Each has a distinctive flavor, and can be used in many of the same recipes where you’d normally use kale.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Kale

If you’ve chopped up too much kale for a salad, don’t fret! Unlike lettuce and other less sturdy leafy greens, it should keep quite well in the fridge until your next meal — and like a slaw or other cabbagy salads, will often taste better as the flavors have time to marinate and meld.

If you bought too much for your recipe in the first place, you have a nice long 5-7 days before you need to use it up. It may begin to wilt, but as long as it isn’t soggy or yellowish brown, it should be good to throw into a simple soup, a bowl of chili, or to cream like spinach.

Our Top 20 Kale Recipes

What’s your favorite recipe or use for kale? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!