Kale: You're Cutting It All Wrong
Hacks to help you prep kale with ease for faster kale salads, soups, mains, and sides
Featured photographs by Brittany Conerly
Love kale, but think the prep is a drag? With our hacks for stemming, cutting, and rinsing, prepping kale is a breeze. The techniques work for most any hearty greens, from collards to chard, mustard, and even beet greens. Try out these easy ideas, and soon, getting your daily veggies will be a snap.
Ready for our step-by-step guide? You’ll be cooking before you know it, so we’ve included 10 favorite kale recipes, too. Let’s get started!
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How to prepare kale, step by step
You've got your chef's knife and a bunch of kale in hand, but pause a moment. Instead of just chopping it into smithereens, separate the parts of the stalk for more versatility and more even cooking.
1. Zip the kale leaves from the stems
No need to wash your kale yet. Frame a stem with your index and middle finder, right where the leaves begin to sprout from the thick end of the stem. Hold the base of the stem with your other hand. Now pull so the leaves “zip” off the stem.
That’s it! Don’t worry if some of the narrow end of the stem stays in the leaves. Continue through the bunch. You’ll be left with a pile of stems and a pile of leaves. Save the stems to chop and cook (we’ll get to that in just a bit), or add them to your compost pile.
2. Gather and chop the leaves
Here’s how to cut kale for salads, sautes, and smoothies. First wad up the leaves into a tight ball with your hand. (You can make faster and more accurate cuts when the leaves aren’t spread out on the cutting board. Curly kale is especially sturdy and stands up to this sort of treatment.) Now you can easily chop the kale for sautes, soups, or green smoothies or cut it into fine shreds for salads. If the leaves are flat, the way Tuscan kale (aka dinosaur kale and lacinato kale), chard, or collard greens are, stack them, roll them up like a cigar, and cut across the roll to make neat, precise shreds.
3. Chop the stems (optional)
You don’t have to include the stems, but if you’ll be cooking your kale, the stems will cook up sweet and tender, so why not? Rinse the stems, then cut off and discard their rough ends. Cut the stems into short segments across the grain so they won’t be fibrous.
4. Rinse the leaves
Put the chopped leaves in a large bowl of cold water and swish them around. Wait a minute or so, then check for grit at the bottom of the bowl. If you notice any, lift out the leaves, add fresh water, swish, and wait another few minutes for the grit to settle.
For kale salads, smoothies, and dishes where you don’t want extra water, lift the leaves from the bowl and spin them in a salad spinner, or drain them in a colander and thoroughly pat them dry with kitchen towels or paper towels. (Salad dressing will roll right off wet leaves.)
For a saute or stir-fry, leave the kale in the bowl.
5: Cook the stems, then add the leaves
If you're including the kale stems, it's time to saute them in a little olive oil along with any onion or garlic, because the stems need a few extra minutes to cook. Once they’re softened, simply lift the kale leaves out of the bowl of water and drop them right into your pan or pot. The water clinging to the leaves will help them steam and wilt. Voila!
Now that you know how easy it is to prep kale and other hearty greens, here are some of our favorite ways for putting them to work.
The beauty of kale salads is you can make them ahead, and the leftovers are even better than they were the first day. Let’s hear it for kale salads!
It’s likely you have most of the ingredients for this colorful and robust raw kale salad kicking around in the fridge, and it’s easy to make substitutions. You can make it up to 3 days ahead, which means a batch is a great go-to for quick, healthy lunches.
Somewhere between a wilted salad and a quick saute, this recipe is great for rushed cooks who don’t want to wait for massaged kale salad to slooowly soften. Toss onion, peppers, and mushrooms (plus chopped kale stems, if you’re in the mood) in a skillet for a few minutes; add the kale and dressing ingredients; and that’s it! Serve with a salmon fillet or over brown rice to make it a meal.
Is this a salad or a bowl? Either! Leave off the burger if you like, or add croutons if you prefer a more traditional Caesar.
A handful of kale leaves improves most any soup. You could add chopped kale stems to any of the soups below, too.
Quick-cooking lentils make it possible to bang out a hearty soup from scratch in about 45 minutes from start to finish. Use regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, or a mix of the two.
Not all kale recipes need to be lean. This hearty soup is a wholesome copycat take on The Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana. It’s enriched with half-and-half and bacon.
Cubes of butternut squash and cute little pasta tubes make this simple, 40-minute minestrone extra comforting. Have pesto on hand? For a burst of flavor and color, add a dollop to bowls before serving.
Kale main dishes and sides
Brighten up your dinner plate with sturdy leafy greens. Pretty soon, your favorite recipes will be green with envy.
Having an extra-easy recipe like this in your back pocket means quick and tasty greens are always within reach. The squeeze of lemon really brightens up the kale.
Use kale two ways for this pizza: whir most of it into a pesto, then tear the remaining leaves for toppers.
Here’s an easy one for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Just add toast and you’re set!
All sorts of wonderful ingredients go into this good-for-you dish, including meaty mushrooms, chewy farro, and a bunch of leafy kale. The creaminess comes from a little Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses stirred into the hot beans and grains.
More recipes and tips for kale and other vegetables
If we’ve whetted your appetite for greens and veggies, keep on browsing — we’ve hand-picked dozens more recipes and tips for you.