39 Kale Recipes That Make Bitter Beautiful

Kale popcorn? Yes, please.

March  3, 2022
Photo by Julia Gartland

For all the times when you thought kale was just a bitter, dark green that was out to get you, these recipes will prove you wrong. I started eating kale at the early stages of the plant-based food culture that has since become second nature to so many home cooks. You may say, “Kelly, what’s the big deal? Real chefs and gardeners have known about, and adored, kale long before Whole Foods sold sweatshirts with its name printed on it like a university crewneck.” And you’d be right. But in my defense, I was ten years old when my mother put the biggest piece of raw kale on my plate, drizzled it with lemon juice, and called it a side dish. It was scary to look at and tasted offensive to my macaroni and cheese-driven palate. I don’t blame her! But I’ve since learned: there are actually delicious ways to enjoy kale.

Fortunately, our recipe developers have been hard at work since my 5th grade graduation and now I get the pleasure of sharing 39 kale recipes that you and I will want to eat right now.

Our Best Kale Recipes

1. Miso-Braised Kale With Multigrain Rice

Grab a couple of bunches of regular kale and see how it transforms into this rice bowl that is the ultimate vegetarian comfort food.

2. Suzanne Goin's Slow-Cooked Cavolo Nero (a.k.a. Tuscan Kale)

When shopping for kale, you’ll run into a few different varieties: curly kale (the most common variety), baby kale, red kale, and Tuscan Kale (aka Lacinato Kale or Dinosaur Kale). Tuscan Kale, which is the kind we’re using here, is overall more pleasant and easier to cook with. It has a thinner body, which makes it break down quickly, especially when slow-braised with rosemary, dried chiles de árbol, garlic, and sliced onions.

3. Lacinato Kale Gratin

The simplest way to make any vegetable be more appealing is by covering every square inch of it with sharp cheddar cheese and heavy cream. That’s exactly what we’ve done with this delicious kale gratin and we won’t apologize one bit for it.

4. Slow-Cooked Tuscan Kale with Pancetta, Bread Crumbs, & a Poached Egg

This homey brunch dish uses Tuscan kale (aka Lacinato kale) as the base for a savory stir-fry and poached eggs. And the recipe features a nearly unheard of preparation for kale: blanching it first and then slowly cooking it down with sautéed onions. The kale essentially cooks until it turns black and is crispy at the edges, and it has become one of my favorite things to eat,” writes recipe developer Alexandra Stafford.

5. One-Pot Kale & Quinoa Pilaf

It’s everything you love about a rice and vegetable pilaf, but made just a little bit better. You can use leftover quinoa or cook it fresh, but the real star of the show is the kale (of course). We used Lacinato kale, which is gentler than curly kale, and prepped it by steaming it with quinoa and dressing it up with lemon juice and zest, scallions, pine nuts, and goat cheese.

6. Northern Spy's Kale Salad

Ever since Northern Spy Food Co. closed in New York City, we’ve been missing their beloved kale salad. This version of their hearty winter salad features squash, kale, almonds, and crumbled cheddar cheese, giving us a permanent taste of their salad anytime we want.

7. Linguine with Breadcrumbs & Kale

Keep your pasta routine simple without sacrificing flavor with this recipe that brings together linguine, homemade bread crumbs, sautéed kale, and plenty of Parmesan cheese.

8. Mustard Cream Rigatoni With Lots of Kale

Dijon mustard and Tuscan kale leaves introduce assertive, but entirely delicious flavors to this creamy pasta dish.

9. Cereal Chicken Cutlets With Kid-Approved Kale Salad

Kids will always cheer for crispy chicken cutlets, especially when they’re coated in a combination of potato chips and puffed rice cereal. But with kale salad tucked into pita pockets? Surely they’ll protest, right? Wrong.

10. Cheesy Stuffed Shells With Kale Pesto

This family-friendly pasta dish features giant shells stuffed with three kinds of cheese—ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh mozzarella. Tell your little ones the sauce is made with dinosaur kale and they’ll go nuts.

11. Creamy Kale & Walnut Strudel

When you hear strudel, you probably think of an apple and cinnamon stuffed pastry, but this savory version made with wilted kale and a cream cheese-walnut purée will win over your heart.

12. Cajun Sweet Potato Rigatoni With Kale

Think it’s impossible to replicate the flavor of a crowd-pleasing cream sauce without any dairy? Think again. Vegetable stock, coconut milk, sweet potato purée, and nutritional yeast work their magic to create a totally vegan pasta sauce.

13. Broccoli & Kale Salad From Ina Garten

Leave it to Ina to develop the recipe for our new favorite version of a Caesar salad featuring kale.

14. Crispy Kale Chaat

The key to cooking kale that is super crispy rather than a little soggy and unappealing is patting it dry after you’ve washed it until there’s not a drop of water left.

15. Vegan Lentil Soup With Sweet Potatoes & Kale

As soon as the temperature dips below 50 degrees, I’m breaking out my Dutch oven and making this nourishing vegan soup.

16. Sweet & Spicy Kale & Squash Pithivier

Still chilly? Try making this double-crusted puff pastry pie filled with squash, kale, peppadew peppers, garlic, and onion.

17. Grilled Zucchini With Big Beans, Kale & Mustard Vinaigrette

Okay now that you’ve warmed up a bit, let’s jump forward to summer. Sure, kale isn’t necessarily at its peak season at that time, but you know what is? Zucchini. Together, the two make for an unstoppable salad that’s destined for a backyard cookout.

18. Donna Hay's Pummelled Kale with Golden Cauliflower & Haloumi Croutons

The best way to eat raw kale is by taking it to a spa (aka your kitchen) and massaging it in a little dressing. Sometimes that means just lemon juice, but here we’re using both the juice and zest and massaging it for a solid eight minutes until it’s totally softened and relaxed.

19. Kale Pickled Seaweed

One of our favorite Banchan side dishes to serve is this salad that combines homemade pickled seaweed with kale, toasted sesame seeds, honey, soybean paste, chopped scallions, and toasted sesame oil.

20. Cheesy Kale Scones

Don’t demote kale to just the dinner table. Start your morning with it too, in the form of these savory scones.

21. Kale & Anchovy Salad

Make this quick kale salad 30 minutes before a dinner party. As we’ve mentioned, kale tastes best after we’ve given it a little (okay a lot) of love, so massage it with the homemade anchovy dressing, then let it sit for about 20 minutes before serving.

22. Ricotta Crostini with Kale Pesto

For an elegant appetizer for the fanciest hosts, pass a platter of crostini topped with creamy ricotta cheese and homemade kale pesto.

23. Kale, Chorizo & Lentil Salad

Food editor Emma Laperruque loves sausage and kale soup so much that she turned it into a big salad. We’re forever grateful.

24. Kale Pesto Orecchiette

When you think of orecchiette, what comes to mind? Sausage and broccoli rabe, right? Not this time. We’re tossing the “little ears” with a kale-forward pesto, sans the usual pine nuts and basil.

25. Spicy, Smoky Homemade Kale Chips

The beauty of kale chips is that not only are they a ridiculously satisfying salty snack, but they’re also a total blank canvas for any array of spices. In this case, we’re talking chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes.

26. Sourdough Stuffing With Kale, Dates & Sausage

Surprise guests at Thanksgiving this year with this ever-so-slightly non-traditional stuffing made with turkey sausage, Lacinato kale, dates, and toasted almonds.

27. Tomato-Kale Quiche in Cheesy Rice Crust

Gluten-free eaters, this recipe is for you. If you often miss out on a slice of quiche because of the crust, you won’t anymore. This crust for this colorful quiche is made with leftover cooked rice (yes, really!) and Parmesan cheese.

28. Avocado & Marinated Kale Salad Sandwich

This is so much better than your average avocado toast for brunch. A creamy homemade lemon basil aioli is smeared between ciabatta rolls (or any type of bread that you please).

29. White Bean & Kale Soup with Sausage

If you’re looking for me during the winter months, I’ll be huddled under a blanket, eating a large crock of this soup by the ladleful.

30. White Bean & Kale on Toast with Herbes de Provence

Serve this kale and bean toast anytime of day! Promise it’s just as nourishing for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner. Cut it in half and you’ve got a snack for two.

31. Kale Chimichurri

A typical chimichurri sauce is made with a blend of herbs (think: parsley and cilantro), shallots, garlic, a splash of vinegar, and a drizzle of olive oil. This one has all those same elements, but introduces kale into the mix, too.

32. Creamed Lentils with Kale

Enjoy this lentil stew mixed with kale entirely on its own, or serve it as a side dish alongside roasted pork, chicken, or fish.

33. Crispy Chicken Thighs With Kale & Croutons

This comfort food meal consists of just a few basic, but well-executed ingredients: crispy chicken thighs, Tuscan kale, craggy pieces of rustic bread, garlic, and a little bit of lemon juice.

34. Kale-Dusted Pecorino Popcorn From Deb Perelman

Think beyond melted butter and flaky salt for this sultry, savory snack. Gentle lacinato kale is roasted until the leaves are crisp and then ground to a fine powder, which is sprinkled over every popped kernel.

35. Fusilli with Kale-Cashew Pesto

This wintery twist on pesto swaps in lacinato kale in place of the usual basil…but we may never go back to our old ways again.

36. Pasta with Yogurt & Spicy Creamed Kale

As you twirl long, luscious strands of tagliatelle, you’ll embrace the creaminess of Greek yogurt, the heat of crushed pepper flakes, and the heartiness of Tuscan kale.

37. Eggless Strata with Butternut, Sausage, Kale & Fontina

Somewhere in between bread pudding and a frittata is this breakfast-centric strata featuring fall’s finest produce.

38. Kale Tabbouleh

We would never call this tabbouleh traditional, but we will absolutely call it delicious. A duo of curly parsley and curly kale work in harmony for the signature bright side salad.

39. One-Skillet Crispy Chicken With Brothy Beans

We will always, always champion a one-skillet dinner. Not only does it eliminate excess dirty dishes, but it also tends to build even more flavor in a dish because everything is hanging out together in one pan for upwards of 45 minutes.

From curly to Tuscan kale, what's your favorite way to cook kale leaves?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Former Food52 Staff Editor


judy March 8, 2022
Lots of different ways to use kale in these recipes. I have done riffs on almost all of them without knowing it! I throw kale int lots of things. At lunch today threw some in with my Japanese noodle sir fry and sushi. I have thrown kale in with lentils, or beans or eggs or added to whatever soup I may have on any given day. I will quick-steam in a small bit of water seasoned to support whatever I am eating. We eat kale in salad several days a week as a meal. Great source for Lutein and Zeaxanthin for fighting Macular degeneration. We eat kale several days a week. Enjoy....
LadyR March 8, 2022
You might enjoy this...

Steam sweet potato (store-bought ready to cook) fries or cubes, until not quite cooked – still almost crunchy. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of cayenne. You could blanch the store-bought ready-to-cook sweet potatoes.

Let cool. You could even refrigerate, covered, overnight and use the following day. Grind the not-quite-cooked sweet potatoes in your kitchen food processor and freeze the sweet potato or use immediately.

In a mixing bowel, stir in a very full cup of ground sweet potato pieces that were steamed to not-quite-cooked stage with one whisked egg and a quarter cup of frozen kale (braised in Stella Artois beer, with fresh crunchy ribs removed. Don’t use the baby salad leaves variety). Add a quarter cup of all-purpose flour or your choice of favourite flour. Mix well. No need to add spices because the ready cooked kale you have braised in beer is plenty spicy already. But you might like to add a little additional fresh-picked deep-fried or air-dried sage if you really love it.

Using a large tablespoon, scoop out the pancake-like mixture and fry small, thick, rounds quickly in a little sizzling unsalted butter (or you might choose to use sizzling saved yummy bacon fat from your refrigerator glass storage jar, or even use duck fat if you have any). Fry for about two minutes each side until just golden brown on each side. Mound the roasted rosti on a plate until you have used all the batter. These rosti are a little like my recipe for (leftovers) blini.

Serve with cold sour cream. It’s amazing! A really special dish, indeed. A wonderful, unusual amuse bouche. A really perfect pre-made treat that can be served room temperature or really hot.

You could even put a soft runny-yolk poached egg on top with (always room temperature) hollandaise and have an unusual breakfast (a perfect choice for offering if you operate a bed and breakfast, or even if you have guests staying overnight). You could add a crispy rasher of bacon. Or top with my caramelized onions.

Alternate: Drizzle the sweet potato rosti with second season maple syrup and grate a little fresh orange zest on each or mince some homemade citrus rinds from your pantry sugar jar.

You could easily substitute parsnips, turnip, kohlrabi or a hard squash, or even carrots.

Or: Top the sweet potato kale patties with a thick strip of grilled halloumi cheese or a strip of Celebrity Cow Brie; add a slice of cored apple or a wedge of peeled cored Bosc pear.

Or use a marinated puck of plain Celebrity brand marinated cream cheese, mashed with grated firm apple and a little minced dried deep-fried sage from your pantry jar.

You could garnish with a teaspoon of my hazelnut watercress pesto.

And one more; over the top: split a boccochini cheese ball and dress with any of the above, even a poached egg and fresh warm hollandaise.

Beer Braised Kale

Combined with the sweet potato fries, made into rosti, you will love this up-to-the-minute use of both vegetables. Kale is related to the cabbage family. I hadn’t cooked kale in recent years, and this was indeed a special treat. I was first introduced to kale in the 1960s and prepared the way I’ve described you will love it, guaranteed. When children ask for seconds, you know you’ve got a good thing going.

In recent years, kale has made a comeback in the markets, and folks fell in love all over again. Some prefer crispy, roasted kale stuffed chicken; others prefer chips made from crispy kale. There are hundreds of recipes and suggestions, but I’ve never seen my version any place. So, do enjoy. This recipe is amazing, and don’t tell anyone it’s good for you.

Start by removing the coarse ribs in the leaves. Rinse kale in a colander under cold running water to remove any sandy bits. You don’t have to dry it. The moisture will disappear as the kale melts in the skillet. Chop kale coarsely.

Depending on how much kale you are making, make several crisp rashers of smoky rich full fat bacon. Chop the crunchy bacon coarsely and reserve for the moment.

In the bacon fat, sauté chopped white onion. Sprinkle the onion with salt, fresh ground pepper, nutmeg, paprika, a tiny bit of crushed dry thyme, fresh chopped parsley, a few granules of dried deep-fried sage from your pantry jar if you have it and a pinch of sugar. Add a little homemade golden oven-roasted garlic purée from your refrigerated storage jar. Put the chopped bacon back in the pan.

Add the kale and add rich homemade chicken stock and Stella Artois beer, in equal portions. You will have to judge how much liquid depending on how much kale you are preparing. Don’t flood the skillet. Use just enough liquid to dress the kale fully.

You don’t need to cover the kale in a flood of liquid (the kale will shrink the way spinach does) but you are going to cover the pan with its lid, and braise the kale mix for at least an hour on very low heat after bringing to a soft boil. So keep an eye on the pot so liquid doesn’t disappear completely. Stir occasionally. Add more liquid if necessary.

Your kitchen aroma will be wonderful. Open the windows and let the neighbours enjoy!

After an hour, test the kale texture to see if you are pleased. Think of the texture like spinach but less smooth. But even so kale takes much longer to break down. It will eventually become mashable, using a fork.

When ready to eat, the kale mix can be used many ways: added to my whipped, mashed potatoes is just one way to serve, creating a Dutch stamppot dish. The Dutch call kale borecole. Be sure to drizzle a little plain white vinegar over the mix and sprinkle a little roast beef or goulash liquid over the potato kale mix.

You can use the kale mix as a tapa on grilled garlic bread or on toasted black-olive bread brushed with unsalted butter. You might want to add a dollop of full-fat sour cream on top. And maybe a dusting of sweet paprika or even cayenne if children are not eating.

You can serve the kale mixture as is, as a side dish with many things. If you enjoy simmered, fried large European sausages, a platter of the kale mix is an amazing accompaniment. Maybe add a gently poached, still runny egg for each serving.

The braised kale mix is also terrific with braised brisket (you might enjoy a little different flavour by adding a little Marsala wine to the braising brisket, and serve with my whipped, mashed potatoes. Sprinkle the kale potato mix in this method with just a little drizzle of plain white vinegar; do not stir. Just let the plain white vinegar sit on the kale potato brisket serving. The odd addition of the vinegar really makes all the flavours come alive. Without the enhanced vinegar flavour, the enjoyment just isn’t the same. Be sure to try it. It seems to be a well-kept secret enhancement.

My guess is you probably haven’t eaten kale prepared this way. It’s not difficult to make but is time-consuming. And not unlike wilted spinach, in the end the starting volume has magically diminished. You likely will get requests for seconds.

If you happen to grow kale in your own garden, make this recipe and freeze the kale mix in portions, and thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then proceed with however you wish to serve it.

And don’t forget what a tasty crostini is, made with grilled bread of choice, cut on the diagonal, smeared with just a bit of your homemade golden oven-roasted garlic purée, mounded with Celebrity Canadian goat cheese herb-marinated coins and topped with delicious kale braised in bacon fat-sautéed onions and crushed crispy bacon.

This will be a most memorable tapas, or a marvelous side to any full meal. Adding a little marinated stove-top pork tenderloin, just barely cooked after searing on the stovetop, and sliced on the diagonal topped with a little of my German Italian plum confit, or a little Croatia Sour Matatia Cherry Spread is a winner.

If you have plucked out most of the braised kale and find bits left among some bacon and onions in your braising pan, and perhaps an ounce of liquid, add toasted fresh coarse breadcrumbs and a little minced fresh parsley and fresh basil, and just a pinch of minced fresh sage, and use to fill topless roasted or fresh-picked scooped-out cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with dry grains of Parmesan or Romano, and top with fresh ground peppercorns. Broil (open-door) on top rack right underneath the element for just seconds till breadcrumbs and cheese topping get barely golden. Top with their cut-off lids and serve immediately.

You can make these stuffed tomatoes anytime and freeze them, upright, in a tightly packed flat covered container and just pop them under a pre-heated broiler any time you want to serve. Another great take-along to someone else’s house or a potluck. Remove the lids when broiling and pop back on when ready to serve.

At the dollar store or at a restaurant supply you can buy little one-inch square white china dip-server dishes. These are a perfect size for serving the stuffed cherry tomatoes individually. You can arrange the little dishes on a bed of crushed coarse salt to support any profile you like. Another wonderful amuse bouche. Perhaps place the little white china containers in a row down the middle of a long narrow white platter and surround with shredded iceberg lettuce and maybe make a couple of tomato roses from larger fruit to decorate, along with segments of lemon cut from between the membranes. Pink grapefruit segments are a pretty addition.

Wow! Something from almost nothing. Nothing goes to waste in my kitchen.