Kale has become the poster child for a kind of tongue-in-cheek mockery of virtuous eating habits over the past decade, as evidenced by the now ubiquitous “eat more kale” slogan and “keep calm and kale on” merch.
Despite the many jokes, memes and pop culture chatter, kale is still around. And dare I say it’s still kale-ing it when it comes to popularity?
Part of the appeal of kale is that it can be prepared in so many ways. As Bubba Gump might say, you can eat it raw, sautéed, braised or simmered in a stew, roasted as part of a sheet pan meal, and make crispy chips from its leaves.
It also lends itself to almost any flavor profile you can imagine, including warm and spicy Indian curries, cheesy casseroles and rustic Tuscan sauces. It can even find its way into fruity smoothies and juices.
You can mix up your meals with different leafy varieties: puckered, velvety lacinato kale (aka dinosaur kale); frilly yet hardy green curly kale and deep purple redbor kale; and Russian red kale with its flat, tender leaves. There is also baby kale, which is also the only variety without tough stems that need to be removed before cooking and eating.
Its nutrient density is, of course, one of the reasons kale became such a superfood in the first place. Like many leafy greens, kale is high in vitamins A, C and K, as well as folic acid and lutein, and can go toe-to-toe with milk for calcium absorption. It’s rich in antioxidants and glucosinolates, which can act as natural defenses against cancer and obesity.
Though kale and leafy greens appear on Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen List” for potential pesticides, it doesn’t mean you should avoid eating it, according to Lourdes Castro, registered dietitian nutritionist and director of New York Univeristy’s Food Lab.
As with all foods, Castro recommends eating kale in moderation and as part of a variety of greens and produce. “No one should eat one food all the time – the more variety you have, the more your risks are mitigated,” she said.
As plant-based eating has shifted from a punch line into a more welcome option for many people, kale is ready and willing to take a prime position on the plate. Fall in love with kale all over again – or finally give it a chance – with these recipe ideas.
Kale and ricotta salata salad
If you’ve avoided tough and chewy raw kale salads in the past, give this version a try. Made with finely chopped lacinato kale, it’s best when made a day ahead so the leaves can absorb the lemon vinaigrette. If you can’t find ricotta salata near you, feel free to substitute a sharp and briny feta cheese.
Kale curry and grain bowls
Grain bowls are endlessly adaptable, and making them an easy in for kale lovers. This vegan bowl with kale, chickpeas and sweet potatoes in a creamy coconut milk curry is a perfect starting point, made with Middle Eastern spices that can be modified for your family’s palate.
For a twist on a traditional Indian dish, make kale paneer curry, replacing the usual spinach but keeping the firm and bouncy cheese.
Kale mac and cheese
Sneak kale into everyone’s favorite comfort food, and its flavor will blend right in with the creamy, cheesy sauce. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for getting more vegetables, but it works every time – even on the pickiest eaters.
Bonus: This one-pot mac and cheese can be made on the grill in a cast-iron skillet, making it possible for you to satisfy your crunchy baked mac cravings in the middle of summer.
Vegetarian kale minestrone soup
Minestrone, the rustic Italian soup, is always a sneakily delicious way to get a day’s worth of vegetables into your meal. And kale fits with its vegetable brethren in this vegetarian minestrone, melting into the broth and becoming supremely tender.
Kale works well in so many other soups, too, so add a handful the next time you’re simmering a pot of chicken noodle or white bean soup.
Sheet pan kale and egg breakfast bake
Dinner for breakfast? Breakfast for dinner? Have it both ways with this sheet pan meal that lets you cook eggs, kale and potatoes together. The sheet pan cooking technique is also easily adapted to suit other vegetables. Swap in a starchy squash like butternut or acorn for potatoes, or add even more produce like cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets or cauliflower to the pan.
Sautéed kale with garlic
This is one of the simplest and most classic ways to prepare kale, and with good reason: It’s a one-pan affair, and the combination of kale and garlic works on its own or as a stepping stone for other flavor profiles.
Shave Parmesan over the finished kale or add a squeeze of lemon to make it Mediterranean. Substitute sesame oil for the recipe’s olive oil and sprinkle in soy sauce and sesame seeds for an Asian-inspired dish.
It’s likely that kale will never fully kick potatoes to the curb when it comes to crunchy snacks, but a handful of featherlight kale chips is satisfying in its own right. With this easy oven-baked method, you might be able to eat the entire pan in a single sitting.
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Or try an everything bagel version that you can make in an air fryer for another salty and crunchy – but still better-for-you – snack.
When it comes to this leafy green, don’t say “kale no!” or even “kale me maybe?” Shout “kale-ellujah!” and let the haters laugh while you soak up the benefits.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.