How to cook kale

There is a lot of buzz and fuss about kale in the media, but not everyone knows how to tackle it in the kitchen. We hope this guide will help you enjoy it for what it is – a versatile, champion British veg that is full of flavour.

These are the three varieties of kale you are most likely to find in your veg box, each with rather different eating properties. We will also occasionally send out thousand head or ‘hungry gap’ kale in spring. If you happen to get this, you can use it much like the red Russian variety.


CAVOLO NERO (BLACK KALE) (October–January) is the prince of kales: a slowgrowing, dark green plant with elegant, elongated leaves. This is the least hardy of the kales and often we harvest it before Christmas. It’s especially good for soups and stews and is generally interchangeable with Savoy cabbage.


CURLY KALE (September–March) is the most ubiquitous kale, the easiest to grow and the least interesting in the kitchen, though it adds a good robust texture and slightly peppery flavour to cooking.


RED RUSSIAN (October–April) has fine-fronded leaves tinged with purple. This is the sweetest and most delicate variety of kale and is best lightly steamed or braised.

Kale is best kept bagged in the fridge. Use red Russian within 2–4 days and curly and cavolo nero within a week. It can be frozen, either as it comes or blanched. Curly kale or cavolo nero can also be dried in the oven to make ‘crisps’ if you wish to keep it for longer.

Preparation depends on the type and age of the kale. Generally red Russian needs very little attention; both leaves and stalks should be tender enough to cook together. For other varieties, as a rule of thumb, if a stem or rib snaps cleanly, include it in your cooking with the leaves. With older, more fibrous specimens, strip the leaves off and discard the stalks or slice finely and cook them for longer. This is almost always required with curly kale and cavolo nero, though you may find a cluster of young tender leaves at the core that doesn’t need to be de-ribbed.


To strip the leaves, pinch the base of the stalk at the point where the leaf starts with your thumb and forefinger and then drag towards the tip. The leaf should shear away in a satisfying rip. Leave the leaves whole or slice finely. To slice, pile a few on top of each other, roll them tightly into a cigar, then cut across the roll.

Dirt tends to lurk inside curly kale. The easiest way to get rid of this is to prepare it as above, then swish it in a big bowl or sinkful of cold water. Leave to rest for a few minutes and the dirt will sink to the bottom. Lift out and drain in a colander, then either spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with a tea towel.

Different methods work best for each variety and cooking times will varykale-recipe-2 according to how robust the leaves are so check what’s best for the type you’re using.

blanch and squeeze
Blanching kale before adding it to other dishes is a good way of fixing its colour and ensuring it isn’t overcooked. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, drop in the kale in small batches and cook for 30 seconds for red Russian, 1–2 minutes for curly and 2–3 minutes for cavolo nero. Remove the blanched kale with a slotted spoon and plunge it straight into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking and lock in the colour. When cooled, squeeze well to get rid of the water (it’s easiest to use your hands), then chop and add where it’s needed.

slow braise
This method works best with the more robust leaves of cavolo nero. Cook your kale, partially covered, over a low heat with a little water or stock for about 30 minutes. Add a dash more liquid as necessary to stop it catching. It will retain kale-recipe-3some bite and the colour should be dark. Let the liquid boil away for the last minutes of cooking so that the edges become very lightly crisped. You can also add flavours or seasonings at the beginning or end of the cooking – see ‘works well with…’ below.

fast cook
Steaming and boiling times depend on the robustness of the leaves and how tender or crisp you would like them: red Russian needs 1–2 minutes; curly and cavolo nero 4–8 minutes. Err on the side of undercooking, as overcooking destroys kale’s texture. Alternatively, wilt your kale leaves as follows: Strip out the stalks and rinse the leaves. Melt some butter in a frying pan and fry a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic on a low heat for 1–2 minutes, until starting to colour. Add the kale and cook over a high heat until starting to wilt, about 1–5 minutes, depending on variety. Use tongs to toss the kale around and ensure an even cooking. When wilted, season with salt, pepper, maybe some chilli flakes and lemon juice.

works well with…

  • acid – lemon juice and vinegarkale-recipe
  • chilli
  • dairy – cream, plus strong, hard cheese
  • eggs
  • garlic
  • mustard
  • nutmeg
  • nuts – chestnuts and hazelnuts
  • pork – particularly bacon, chorizo and sausage meat
  • raisins, currants and dried apricots

Keen to get started? Try these recipes:
kale, chorizo & potato hash
sausage, kale & bean stew
stuffed squash with kale, red cabbage & beetroot salad
kale, spelt & chorizo broth
baked potatoes with cheesy kale filling

3 responses to “How to cook kale

  1. Very helpful, thank you!!!

  2. Yes, very helpful. Never heard of the red Russian before. A bit unfair to imply that curly Kale is uninteresting: it goes very well in a good mash, crunchy stalks and all….

  3. I’ve really grown to love kale – Cavolo Nero is my favourite.

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