The best ways to cook with kale

Kale has been trending for a while now and for good reason. Grown from the same category of cabbage as cauliflower, broccoli, and collard greens, this leafy superfood has tons of health benefits, including elevating moods, reducing the risk of diabetes, and lessening muscle aches. In addition to being good for you, kale can be a culinary godsend, lending nutritional value, earthy flavor, and hearty texture to a wide range of dishes. Whether it's eaten as the main component of a salad, steamed as a straightforward side, or pulsed into a delectable sauce, kale manages to show its versatility and natural yum qualities. Read on to learn about several magical ways to prepare and cook kale.

Grab a pan and saute away

Sauteing is one of the easiest ways to prepare small or thin cuts of meats and vegetables, so it's a natural option for cooking fibrous kale leaves. By cooking this leafy green in a small amount of oil in a shallow pan over medium to high heat, you're able to soften and brown the kale while still maintaining much of its moisture, texture, color, and flavor. You also have quite a bit of flexibility when you saute kale, as you can opt for different kinds of fats (your choice of oil or even butter), seasonings, and even cooking liquid like broth or stock for more depth of flavor if you choose. My favorite recipes for sauteed kale tend to stick to the basic principle of quick cooking but possess their own flavorful flair.

This recipe from The New York Times comes from its resident recipe wiz, Sam Sifton. It takes standard greens to new heights by rendering them deeply savory and impossibly tender. Here, kale leaves are sauteed with garlic and vegetable stock, then tossed with a splash of red wine vinegar for bright flavor.

While similar to the previous garlic-forward recipe, this one from Food & Wine uses the steam created by the kale's natural release of moisture and a good pan lid to get the cooking done. Finished by a quick saute at the end, these tender greens are as good enjoyed as a side dish as they are incorporated into your favorite pasta dish. And you can't go wrong with garlic, shallot, and capers, so why not use this powerhouse trio to season a dish of sauteed kale? Here, kale is cooked to tender perfection in about seven minutes. Fast and easy screams weeknight miracle to me.

Get steamy

Steaming is an easy and distinctly unfussy way to prepare a variety of vegetables, including kale. The steam created as the boiling water vaporizes creates enough heat to cook the leafy greens until they're just tender without harshly stripping them of their essential nutrients. The key to steaming kale is to make sure you get the timing right. Doing so produces tender leaves that are still bright green and vibrant. Overcooking them can result in a mushy mess that's dull in color. Whichever type of kale you use, you want to wash it thoroughly, and unless you're working with baby kale, all the leaves should be removed from the tough stems. Bring ¼ to ½ inch of water to a boil in a large pot, and place a steamer insert or basket inside, making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom. Add the kale without overcrowding the leaves. Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 5 to 10 minutes depending on how mature the leaves are and how tender you like your cooked kale. Err on the side of undercooking if you are unsure about the exact timing. Season as desired.

This recipe from Mother Earth Living turns a bunch of steamed kale into a glorious weeknight side dish with the addition of a creamy sauce that doesn't actually involve using copious amounts of heavy cream. The secret? Walnuts! For an easy veggie side dish, try this take on steamed kale from Allrecipes.com. Olive oil, lemon juice, and a splash of soy sauce transform tender kale into a savory dream come true. This recipe from Gage Hill Crafts is a great addition to any weeknight rotation. Bold balsamic vinegar lends hearty kale unsuspected depth of flavor and bright acidity.

PSA: Always massage raw kale

If you plan to serve raw kale in a salad, you should plan to give the leaves a major rub down beforehand. Unlike mesclun, spinach, or arugula, kale is naturally fibrous, tough, and hearty enough to survive harsh winters. It also happens to be full of nutritional benefits like fiber, iron, and antioxidants. If you don't cook your kale, you should plan on massaging it in order to soften the leaves. Luckily, it's super easy to do. Using clean, dry hands, you can rub the leaves together for about five minutes until they begin to tenderize. Alternatively, you can add a bit of olive oil and salt and use these seasonings as your "massage oil" and run away. If using oil and salt, I like to set the bowl of kale aside for about 10 minutes after the massage to let the leaves soften further.

I love this light and refreshing recipe from The New York Times. While it doesn't cue a massage for the kale, doing so produces a much more palatable dish. Combined with apple, almonds, and cheddar, this salad is beautifully textured. If you're looking for a nutty, savory, filling salad, try this recipe from Minimalist Baker ASAP. Buttery white beans and a tasty tahini dressing lend this dish tons of flavor, while its simple prep means dinnertime ease. This garlicky kale salad from The Garlic Diaries is a lifesaver. If you need a side dish and you need it fast, this recipe proves to be quite brilliant. Kale, crunchy almonds, Parm, and a kicky lemon vinaigrette are thrown together to produce a salad bliss.

Bake your own kale chips

I'm a sucker for salty, crunchy snacks — chips, pretzels, nuts, you name it! As a recent convert to kale chips, I started to realize how pricey they were to buy at the store. Luckily for all of us, kale chips are beyond easy to make at home. While you can use any type of kale for chips, I prefer lacinato kale — aka dinosaur kale — for its deep, earthy flavor and hearty texture that holds up well to baking. A short time in the oven yields crispy leaves that are addictively snackable. Remove the leaves from the stems and wash them thoroughly to remove any grit. Using paper towels, dry them well so they don't steam in the the oven! Place the kale on a baking sheet, drizzle olive oil all over, and season with salt. Using your hands, gently toss the leaves to coat them in the oil and salt. Bake them in a 300 degree oven until they are crisp but not burnt, 8 to 15 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for another 2 to 3 minutes as needed. Cool completely and enjoy.

What could add to the allure of crunchy kale chips? Cheesiness, of course. Check out this faux cheesy take on baked kale chips from Minimalist Baker. This vegan version of cheesy kale chips uses nutritional yeast as the secret ingredient. No dairy involved. For added kick, try this recipe from White on Rice Couple. Seasoned with chili powder and paprika, these irresistible kale chips have just the right amount of heat. For a basic kale chips recipe, try this foolproof one from Smitten Kitchen. All you need? A bunch of kale, olive oil, salt, and an oven. Done, done, and done.

Make kale-r soups

Eat more greens by incorporating them into meals you already make regularly and enjoy. One such example? Soups! Soups are comforting to me all year round but especially during the winter months. The addition of kale to your favorite soups is one surefire way to up the nourishment while lending some savory texture and heartiness to them. To do so, simply add a few handfuls of kale to your pot of soup after it finishes cooking, letting the leaves wilt a bit. At this point, you can puree part or all of the soup, or just enjoy as is. Garnish with some fresh kale leaves if you like. As pairing beans with greens is always delicious, you can also incorporate kale into a bean soup at the end as the soup finishes cooking. Simmer some chopped kale with your chicken noodle soup for several minutes or stir a bunch into your next meat stew.

Try this classic soup pairing from Epicurious. Trust me. You won't be disappointed. Savory broth, creamy white beans, and wilted kale come together in a pot of soup that'll make you swoon. This recipe from Family Feedbag incorporates roughly chopped kale into a stew made with beef, carrots, potatoes, and onion. The result is incredibly aromatic and deeply satisfying. Chicken noodle soup gets a green upgrade in this recipe from Candice Kumai. Classic aromatics and broth are taken to the next level with the addition of hearty lacinato kale and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Kale as wrap? Yes!

Maybe it's high time you tell those bread slices that you need a break — a carb break, that is. The next time you're going to fix a sandwich, try using kale leaves instead of bread, tortillas, or wraps. Even if you're not gluten-free or paleo, you'll love how light and refreshing sandwich fillings can be all wrapped up in kale. This is a terrific and easy way to incorporate more leafy greens into your diet without disturbing your beloved routines. Like collard greens, kale is a good choice for wraps due to its naturally hearty texture and large leaves. To prepare your kale leaves for wrapping, just blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds before cooling in an ice bath. Doing so renders them malleable enough to wrap around your favorite fillings.

This recipe from Sprouts is perfect when you're looking to fix a light lunch or dinner. Tangy goat cheese, creamy avocado, hearty black beans, sprouts, and bell pepper are beautifully wrapped in billowy kale leaves. Try this delectable kale wrap from Eating Well for a change of pace from your traditional wrap. Inspired by the flavors of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, this light meal is made with turkey slices, cranberry sauce, and ripe pear. Mmmm. Or take mealtime south of the border with these lovely quinoa kale wraps from Food Faith Fitness. A nutritious kale blanket is topped with chickpeas, quinoa, cheese, spicy seasonings, and a vibrant lime vinaigrette.

Turn your smoothie green

If you're turned off by the idea of adding greens to your smoothie, fret not. Turning your smoothie green doesn't mean it has to taste bitter and too good for you to actually be delicious. Trendy kale makes a wonderful addition. Wildly nutritious, these greens contain tons of different flavonoids, are loaded with antioxidants, and are packed with fiber! The key to kale smoothie happiness is balance and harmony. Without them, you're left with an overwhelmingly bitter, peppery taste. Yuck. My advice? Try using baby kale for a gentler flavor since mature greens are too strong for smoothies. Be sure to remove the tough stems and ribs. To tenderize the leaves before using them, try blanching first. Then add the kale leaves gradually, adjusting other fruits to strike the ideal balance.

This tropical concoction from Minimalist Baker is amazing. Made with fresh or frozen kale, mango cubes, peaches, minced ginger, lemon or lime juice, water, and maple syrup, this smoothie is vibrant, bright, and totally refreshing. Make this powerhouse smoothie from Damn Delicious if you're looking to load up on antioxidants. Made with kale and blueberries, this protein-forward drink will keep you going all morning. This smoothie from Food Network is made with kale and fruits for layers of fresh taste. Grapes, orange, pear, and banana lend natural sweetness to an energy-giving smoothie that lets you simultaneously get your green fix.

Kale burger is a thing

Take a break from beef with some mean vegetarian burgers that incorporate nutritious kale into the patties. While they won't taste like meat, I promise you won't even care. The art of the veggie burger is difficult to perfect, primarily because it can end up dry, bland, or both. Le sigh. By adding chopped greens like kale into your go-to burger mixtures, you're giving the burgers a little extra moisture. Unlike flimsier greens like spinach or arugula, kale is hearty enough to lend moisture and help the patties hold together during cooking. Plop them on the grill and you end up with juicy meatless burgers that no one will complain about!

Veggie burgers don't have to be boring at all — at least not when you make this recipe from Connoisseurus Veg. The patties are cleverly made with white beans, sunflower seeds, kale, basil, and garlic for burgers that defy stereotypes. Try this recipe from Veggie Inspired for a sweet Southern-inspired take on traditional burgers. Kale and kidney bean patties are slathered in barbecue tahini sauce. The result is rich, savory, and tangy. And remember: you don't have to sacrifice taste for health. This recipe from Foodness Gracious gives you the best of both. Cleverly made with kale and almond meal, this is one burger you definitely want to make at your next cookout.

Turn kale into sauce

Turn kale into sauces for a great variety of meals? Yes! You can incorporate kale leaves into sauces for every occasion. Think savory pesto for sandwiches, decadent cream sauces for pasta dishes, and chimichurri to go with your grilled steak. Armed with your food processor, the world of kale-icious sauces is at your fingertips.

This scrumptious kale pesto from Cookie and Kate makes me weak in the knees, as I suspect it will do to you. Made with kale and hemp seeds, this super sauce can be eaten with pasta, but it's just as delicious by the spoonful. Check out this recipe if you're looking for something creamy to coat your noodles in. Butter, ricotta, and kale play very well together! Skip parsley and make this kale chimichurri from Sarah's Cucina Bella for your next steak dinner. It's zesty, garlicky, and perfect slathered on meat or potatoes. Just saying.

Incorporate kale into pizza crust

I'm always looking for ways to eat more pizza more frequently without sacrificing my general health and well-being. With that simple goal in mind, I started exploring vegetable-based crusts in recent years and have been completely blown away by the possibilities. Kale pizza crust is gaining fans due to its great flavor and reduced carb content. The key to making tasty kale crust lies in the seasonings you use. Hard cheeses like Parmesan, salt, pepper, and breadcrumbs are common additions, but the sky's the limit. When you top the crust with healthy veggies, you end up with a nutritious meal that you can enjoy completely guilt-free.

This basic recipe from Forkly is a good way to start experimenting with making kale pizza crust. It requires few ingredients and leaves you plenty of room to adapt the seasonings to your own tastes.

Get your kale on!