The Great Kale Experiment

Mountains of kale. Image credit: SweetOnVeg

This story starts with what Kevin, with his usual verbal adroitness, calls the kale pillow.

This was a bag of kale similar in size and heft to a standard bed pillow. Now, let me say that I don’t get why people (especially greenies and vegans) think kale is OMG AMAZING. From my experience with the stuff, it has a similar mouth feel to plastic Easter basket grass (don’t ask), resists all attempts to soften, and traps grit like a sponge. Still, the kale pillow was $2. I’m cheap. I know I should be eating more nutritious leafy greens. Kale grows almost year round in California. And hell, I want to know what people are talking about when they swear that kale is the BEST THING EVER.

So I embarked on a week of kale everything. There are a few yellowing leaves left in the bag, but I’m feeling downright virtuous after chomping my way through three pounds of the stuff this week.

Alas, after our week-long fling, it’s clear that kale and I are doomed to be a failed romance. I just didn’t learn to love kale, though I’ve included below some of the recipes I found modestly enjoyable. Maybe it’s just my contrarian inability to embrace anything so trendy. Or maybe it’s that kale is a tough taste to acquire. Hmm…

The bad (spectacular kale failures):

  • Massaged kale salad with olive oil, lemon juice, and other stuff. 500+ positive reviews can’t be wrong, right? Perhaps I bought the wrong variety. Maybe my leaf-massaging technique is off. It didn’t soften up nearly enough. It still tasted green. And then I oversalted it.
  • Kale in my smoothie. Even with a measly half a leaf dropped in a smoothie otherwise chock full of yummy summer fruit, I found myself looking suspiciously at the dark green flecks and wondering if they were adding that astringent edge to my smoothie. I’ve got my eye on you, kale.
  • Kale ice cream. A not-in-earnest Twitter suggestion that made me gag just thinking about it.

The mediocre (might make this again):

  • Kale with scrambled eggs. Not too bad, couldn’t help thinking that it would taste better without the kale.
  • Finely chopped kale mixed with brown rice, mushrooms, and herbs to stuff eggplants. Could neither see nor taste it. That’s good, right?
  • Ethiopian-style gomen (usually made with collard greens). I tried a recipe adapted for kale and non-Ethiopian kitchens. It was edible, but hardly thrilling. Maybe if I started with more authentic ingredients, like the spiced, clarified butter traditional to Ethiopian cooking.

The good (relatively painless way to eat kale):

  • Kale chips. Ignore the panegyrics; these bear zero resemblance to potato chips. And the texture takes some getting used to. (Ever jump into an autumn leaf pile and start chowing down? Me neither. But the brittle crunch of kale chips seems very similar to the crunch of dead leaves underfoot.) After the first crumbly mouthful, they’re oddly addictive. There are lots of guides on how to make them, but most of them involve baking at around 350 for 15 minutes or so. I like mine with a sprinkle of garlic, nutritional yeast, and parmesan.
  • Colcannon. Twitter friend Mem_Somerville sent me a link to an Irish dish that involves, essentially, mashed potatoes, cabbage, and onions, lightly pan-fried until crispy. You really can’t go wrong with anything that involves fried mashed potatoes. This one was a keeper.
  • Kale and white bean stew. I’ve made this before, and up until the colcannon, it was the only kale recipe that had a place of honor in my recipe box. Tasty, comforting, and nutritious, if not quite appropriate for summer. (I substitute veggie stock for the chicken stock in the recipe, of course.)

Do you find it hard to get in your leafy greens? Or are you a die hard kale devotee? What are your favorite kale recipes?

34 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by RachaelL on 07/29/2012 at 09:50

    Since you like it in a soup or stew, you could probably try it in a lot of soups or stews. I’ve been known to add kale to bean chilli for example. It basically cooks into very small, well-cooked pieces and there’s so much else going on you probably won’t notice.

    But, have you tried kale really simply? Basically:

    – Dice some onions, and cook them well — near actual carmelization — in oil (olive usually for us).
    – (Optionally) Add some minced garlic and let cook for a while.
    – Add fairly thinly cut strips of kale. You’ll probably want to remove the rib and can add the diced up pieces of rib along with the garlic or halfway thru the onions. I usually cut the rib out then stack sheets of kale and then thinly slice that way.
    – Add some kind of liquid. We’ve used balsamic vinegar or soy sauce or Bragg’s (with a little water).
    – Cover and cook down until tender. Usually I uncover for the last few minutes to let water evaporate.

    You seem to most dislike kale closer to raw so I’m wondering if this might help you like it. Cooking it well means the “green” flavor isn’t as strong. The sweet onions balance the bitterness a bit (though there are kale varieties that are more sweet on their own). Garlic just goes in everything.🙂

    But I’m probably the worst one to help you like kale. I love it. I had no idea it was trendy…

    Reply

    • Hi Rachael!

      Good observation — I didn’t notice until you pointed it out, but you’re right that I really don’t like kale when it’s raw. I think it’s partly a texture issue, but also partly a ‘green’ taste issue. I prefer most leafy greens lightly cooked and am not a huge salad eater, so that explains a lot.

      I’ve tried kale with onions before but didn’t caramelize the onions and probably didn’t chop the kale finely enough. I wouldn’t have thought of adding balsamic. I’ll have to try that the next time I buy kale.🙂 Thanks!

      Reply

      • Posted by RachaelL on 07/29/2012 at 18:13

        Balsamic vinegar is in my mind kind of cheating in a lot of foods, but it is really good in braised or sauteed greens. Sweetness and tartness in one. When I was a kid I loved spinach (even yucky canned or frozen) with vinegar in it. I guess this is the grown up verison.🙂

        Reply

  2. I had a conversation with a musician friend the other day who told me that he cannot separate his opinion of musicians from his enjoyment of their music. If someone annoys him, he’s unlikely to enjoy the music they play even if it’s really good.

    I think something similar happens with some people’s experience of food. If it has lots of positive associations – cheap, local, healthy – it will actually taste good to them even if it wouldn’t otherwise. Well, that’s the only explanation I can think of for the widespread enthusiasm for kale (and I see similar things on foraging forums). I love your post!

    Personally, my taste for kale varies a lot. In late winter or when my iron count’s low, I positively enjoy the stuff, cooked simply and served with butter. Lots of butter. At other times, I wouldn’t choose to eat it.

    And what is it with green smoothies? That’s just wrong (unless the green is kiwi fruit).

    Reply

    • Hi Rachel,

      Food definitely involves more than just taste! I have a few foraging books that sniff and proclaim that dandelion greens and nettles are actually not very tasty, for all their popularity among foragers. I’m sure part of their appeal is their availability, low cost, and the idea of living off the land. (I haven’t eaten either, so I’m conjecturing here.)

      I grew up with a lot of different leafy greens, as my parents are Asian immigrants, and have to say that a lot of them taste better to me than kale. Chinese spinach is my favorite, but I also like pea shoots (? I don’t even have English names for many of these greens). Maybe growing up with a ton of different leafy greens has skewed my perspective on what I like and don’t like in them. Kale is a lot more fibrous than any of the ones I grew up with.

      Green smoothies — blech. If it looks and tastes like grass, I’m not drinking it. Totally unrelated: I think kiwi seeds contain some chemical that doesn’t bother me if I’m just eating a kiwi, but make my throat really scratchy if I pulverize the whole fruit and then drink it. So I don’t even go for kiwi in my smoothies!

      Reply

      • Dandelion greens are way too bitter for my taste, but the flowers are nice. Nettles are OK if young, but I’d always mix them with something else. I think you can add familiarity to your list of positives for these – they’re easy for beginner foragers to recognise, which is a shame as it may put them off foraging for ever.

        I have to admit that I don’t drink smoothies very often (my eco hobby horse is electricity use – the blender rarely gets used) so I don’t actually know what a kiwi fruit smoothie would be like!

        Reply

  3. I have only ever had kale in potato soup. I had no idea what it was (or that it was trendy….being trendy is not my goal in life) but i loved the texture and flavor of it in the soup. I’ve never had kale raw so I have no opinions there.

    I like raw baby spinach in salads. I also love smothered mustard greens. Yummy! And lettuces. With the exception of iceberg (which I detest) I love lettuces…raw. Not cooked. Cooked lettuce is just nasty to me in taste and texture. Ick.

    Reply

    • Hi reachingforserenity,

      I don’t tend to mind kale in soup, but I think it’s because the texture has been cooked down to something I can handle.🙂 And I have to say that I’m weirdly OK with lightly cooked lettuce, even though I know it’s limp and slimy (if I reheat a burrito that had lettuce in it, for example). I’m not a big fan of lettuce to begin with, especially the bitter ones, so maybe I just have an undeveloped palate for them!

      Reply

      • Posted by Rosa on 07/29/2012 at 16:35

        chop up those kale chips & save them for winter – they are an excellent addition to any potato or bean-based soup.

        Reply

  4. Posted by seitei on 07/29/2012 at 10:53

    eh, the gomen was really good! get over yr perfectionistic ways or you’ll never enjoy anything! hmm, and where’d all the mashed potatoes go!!

    Reply

  5. Olive oil, sauteed until wilted, add about 1/2 cup chicken broth, cook down until limp. But that’s not vegetarian, so may not work for you. That’s what I’ve been doing to choke it down…😉

    Reply

    • Hi R.K.,

      Yikes, choking down kale does not sound appealing! I think greens should taste good, and many of them do. Kale isn’t quite one of them (yet?), although I’ve gradually become more or less okay with brussels sprouts and some other bitter-ish greens I used to reject.

      Reply

    • I’m with you, RK! I do it with vegetable broth, plus a lot of garlic. Substitutes for southern-style collards. Also makes a lentil stew more satisfying. But my favourite way is still the kale chips.

      Reply

  6. Posted by EcoCatLady on 07/29/2012 at 13:00

    Ha! Kale is one of those vegetables that I’d never even heard of until I started gardening. I actually love it, but it’s sort of a special treat here because it doesn’t do so well in our hot dry climate. I add a bit of raw kale to salads now and then, but it does have a very strong flavor so I think it’s an acquired taste. If I wasn’t allergic to everything in the lettuce family I probably wouldn’t bother with it raw.

    Cooked kale, on the other hand I totally love. I’ve never tried kale chips, I usually just saute it in either olive oil or butter. Potato Kale soup with white beans is one of my very favorites. I also make a curried sweet potato & lentil stew with kale that is wonderful!

    I actually like the strong flavor, but some people find it bitter. CatMan swears this has to do with the number of taste buds you have – as he has nearly 3 times the amount that I do. I’m skeptical, but maybe. Anyhow, if you find the flavor too strong there are a few tricks… Firstly, don’t ever use the stems, only the leaves. Secondly, if you blanch the leaves before adding to your recipes (dip them in boiling water for a minute or two) it will soften the flavor a lot. Finally, many people make a cooked kale dish that uses vinegar and/or lemon juice – you can add a few drops of liquid smoke for more of a collards like taste. The acidic stuff is supposed to counteract any bitterness. I’ve had it this way but wasn’t terribly fond of it because it masked the yummy green kale flavor!

    Reply

    • My husband has excessive taste buds, too, and can’t stand any green vegetables, or most other vegetables, come to that.

      Reply

    • Hi Cat!

      Good to know I’m not the only one who finds that raw kale has an unappetizing bite. CatMan and I were surely separated at birth.😉 I always strip off the stems, but I’ll try the boiling trick. I rarely cook with vinegar, but I do like lemon juice and have pretty much free rein on the meyer lemons (my friends have a tree).

      I’m fairly sensitive to bitter, don’t enjoy really dark chocolate, don’t drink coffee, and take my tea with milk, but I like most vegetables. Brussels sprouts have taken me the longest to acquire a taste for, and they’re still often a bit too much for me. I do have a friend whose taste buds are even more sensitive than mine, so I know I’m not waaaay on the far end of the spectrum! This is an interesting article I came across on taste sensitivity http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/life/human-biology/taste4.htm .

      Reply

  7. Posted by Rosa on 07/29/2012 at 16:37

    I like kale, but it’s not my favorite green – I like more tender, sweet things like spinach or chard better. And I thought I was the only grownup in the world who wouldn’t drink green smoothies!

    Reply

    • Hi Rosa,

      I haven’t a clue what to do with chard. Please do enlighten! And we are definitely not alone in our opinion on green smoothies. I am absolutely against vegetables in my smoothies, strong tasting green leaves definitely included. I don’t care how healthy it is; I’ll eat my greens on the side!

      Reply

      • Posted by Rosa on 07/31/2012 at 22:26

        you can do anything with chard, it’s way less bitter than kale. Sautee and eat, put honey mustard on it and mix with steamed winter squash chunks; sautee w/garlic & onions and serve over pasta…the other big benefit of chard, for me, is that the colored chard is so obviously not a weed when it sprouts, I never accidentally weed it up.

        Reply

  8. Posted by cindy on 07/29/2012 at 18:06

    Hi Jenniferz! Kudos on all that cooking.. I have never tried kale..nor did I inow what to do w/ chard..slugs ate it before I did so ai stopped growing it..but this year I found a chard & potato pasta recipe I love.. I’ll try to pass it on to yo!

    Reply

    • Hi Cindy!

      If you try kale, I’d love to know what you think. I would be interested in trying your chard recipe! If you couldn’t tell, I love potatoes and think they make everything taste better.🙂

      Reply

  9. i’m a kale lover. i made this last night: http://vegandad.blogspot.com/2012/07/creamed-kale.html. it took very little time and was very very very good.

    also, just in general when cooking tougher greens, i add a splash of some vinegar (usually of the wine variety) in the last 20 seconds to minute of cooking. it helped convert a not-into-greens roommate of mine.

    Reply

    • Hi Carrie,

      Thanks for the suggestions! I don’t usually cook with vinegar, but I’ll give that a try. My current vinegar selection is a little…eclectic (rice, balsamic, raspberry). I should get some wine vinegar to try.

      Reply

  10. Posted by andrea devon on 07/31/2012 at 00:33

    I am full of mega-kale love. It really is my favorite vegetable, and I eat it at least everyday, feeling undernourished if I don’t. From my cooking classes I’ve learned that often people overcook kale and it gets mushy and/or sour- or simply looks icky. I always recommend cooking for just a minute or two- it should still be bright green and look leafy, not mushy. I think the easiest way to incorporate kale (or drown out the flavor, as many commenters seem to prefer!) is to use it into stir-fries (think broccoli, red peppers, carrots, etc.) at the last minute, and smother in some delicious sauce. Ditto for big salads: cole slaw with bits o’ green, potato salad, quinoa salad, etc. Also, soups are great as many others suggested, but again be careful not to overcook, and don’t expect good leftovers, especially if there is citrus in the soup (ie: lentil soup). Kale is also nice steamed or lightly boiled- definitely green, but drizzled with miso-tahini sauce, lemon juice, or olive oil it is quite nice. But hey, at least you gave it a good try- and got a great post about it! And if it’s any consolation I feel this way about swiss chard. blech… tastes like a river. aloha from oahu!

    Reply

    • Hi Andrea,

      I think I’ll do better with kale in smaller quantities, mixed in with other stuff. Maybe that was my mistake. I have issues with the texture, so I am probably inclined to overcook! I have no opinions thus far about swiss chard. I could do a follow up post about a week long chard experiment.🙂

      Reply

    • Posted by nikki2358 on 11/15/2012 at 15:52

      Just curious why soup with kale would not be good for leftovers… and why the citrus would make it worse? I ALWAYS find soup better the next day!

      Reply

  11. Posted by engasiabagife on 08/01/2012 at 08:27

    Great post!

    Reply

  12. What a valiant effort! I only eat Russian Kale. It’s soft and tasty not like the regular, impossible to fully stream curly green stuff.

    Reply

    • Hi Sandra! I’ll have to check out Russian kale. I’m not sure I know what it looks like; we seem to have mostly the curly stuff and dino kale, which looks so rubbery that I haven’t made an attempt to try it.

      Reply

  13. The Chicago Diner vegetarian restaurant here used to have a side called “flashed greens” consisting of kale, spinach, garlic and I think ginger, lightly cooked. That and kale chips are the only ways I eat devilWeed. There’s always pizza! D:

    Do you like collard greens btw?

    Reply

    • Hey Pythagorean Crank,

      That actually sounds pretty tasty. I like most greens lightly sauteed (usually with garlic, though), and kale thus far has been most palatable cooked. No way am I clobbering my next pizza with kale!🙂

      I’ve only had collard greens in that Ethiopian dish I tried subbing kale for. I like them quite a bit in that dish, but don’t know what to do with them otherwise. What do you do with collard greens?

      Reply

  14. […] are new to kale, check out this funny post about Jennifer’s week long experiment with kale here on It’s Not Easy Being Green. Spoiler alert: she does not like kale. But in my role as kale cheerleader, I have to say that […]

    Reply

  15. […] It’s Not Easy To Be Green […]

    Reply

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