Even Better Than Raw: The Best Way to Prepare Kale


Kale is high on the list of the 100 world’s healthiest foods. But not all kale is created (or cooked) equally. Ever eye a pile of gray kale and think, “no thanks?” You’re looking at kale that has literally had the nutrients cooked right out of it. How you cook this remarkable vegetable has everything to do with its nutritional power.

Packed with vitamins and minerals, Kale has enough vitamin A to qualify as a daily dose, more vitamin C than an orange, loads of vitamin K, and more calcium than an 8-ounce glass of milk. It’s also loaded with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. As one of the cruciferous vegetables — others include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mustard greens, and bok choy — it contains lesser-known but powerful substances called congratulates that, when broken down, also help with the detoxification of cells.

The Power to Lower Cholesterol

The fiber-related nutrients in this remarkable leafy green have the power to lower cholesterol, as part of a fascinating process has to do with the way we absorb, or don’t, bile acids and fats. Once in the intestine, these nutrients bind with bile acids, taking them along as they pass out of our bodies. The process causes the liver to draw from our existing supply of cholesterol as a replacement, and as a result, our cholesterol level drops.

Scientific studies have shown that cooking vegetables for too long or in too much heat greatly diminishes their nutrients — between 50 percent and 80 percent of certain vitamins and minerals are lost to overcooking. Particularly in the case of kale, you don’t want to lose any of its incredible nutritional value as a healthy food. Here’s the best way to prepare this super-green.

The Best Way to Cook Kale: Quick Steaming

The best way to prepare kale is to quick steam it for five minutes. Five minutes is long enough to soften its fibers (which is better for digestion), and enhance its fresh and natural flavor. Make sure your cooking time is precise (not give or take, but really five minutes). Use high heat to get the water to a rapid boil (212ºF / 100ºC), so the leaves steam fully. Once those five minutes are up, take the kale out of the pot to stop it from cooking, and lay it in a thin layer on a serving dish.

In terms of kale’s heart-healthy power, recent studies show that steaming kale actually boosts its cholesterol-fighting ability. Quick steaming also retains kale’s abundance of chlorophyll, which has been shown to have antioxidant power. It’s also the method of cooking that causes to least amount of damage to the complex array of compounds that not only lend the green its remarkable flavor, but are just beginning to be understood for the detoxifying potential. Quick steaming doesn’t diminish kale’s great taste, makes it easier to digest, and retains all of its nutritional benefits — and then some.

Not only is quick steaming the optimal way to cook kale, it’s surprisingly easy and simple. Just start with the freshest kale you can find, whether it’s lacinato (Tuscan) or curly kale. Look for deeply colored green leaves and stems that look moist and healthy. If you’ve got a choice between a bunch with larger or smaller leaves, go with the smaller-leafed bunch: it will be more tender. When you get it home, don’t wash it. Just wrap it tightly in a plastic bag, squeezing out excess air, and place in the refrigerator for up to five days. When you’re ready to cook it, rinse it under cold water. Don’t soak it, as the water-soluble nutrients will leach out. And to prepare for cooking, stack the leaves, and slice into 1/8-inch strips, then let them sit for five minutes before cooking.

Dressing for Nutrition and Flavor

After cooking, if you want to dress the finished product, use ingredients that will bring out its flavor as well as nutrition, such as:

Olive oil — to help with the absorption of some of kale’s fat-soluble nutrients, such as carotenoids and vitamins E and K.

Lemon juice — to help with the absorption of the iron in kale. Lemons are a terrific source for vitamin C, which is one of the best substances to aid in the absorption of iron.

Garlic — to enhance the heart-healthy power of kale with its own anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties.

The beauty of quick steaming is that it’s a simple, effective way to preserve the incredibly complex nutritional power of kale. That’s what healthy cooking is all about. In the case of this superstar of the produce aisle, five minutes is all it takes.


George Mateljan
George Mateljan is a world expert on health-promoting foods and healthy cooking, a pioneer in the organic food movement, and the author of eight best-selling books. His newest book, The World's Healthiest Foods (2nd edition), is a comprehensive guide to the healthiest way of eating and cooking for the whole family. Based on over 10,000 scientific research studies, it identifies the top 100 best foods to eat and offers everything you need to know about them to help optimize your health. Learn more about the book, and the George Mateljan Foundation for nutrient-rich cooking, at whfoods.org.