Before you're quick to say that you don't like kale, make sure that you're giving it a fair chance. In order to fully embrace this leafy green, it requires a little bit of prep work before it's all good to dive in. While massaging your kale is an effective way to break down the tough fibers, we've discovered a clever way to upgrade the massage method to give a better texture and more flavor to this nutrient-packed veggie.
Kale Salad with Roasted Yams and Avocado
Credit: Getty Images; Credit: anakopa

I am very passionate about consuming copious and various amounts of crisp, hearty vegetables (love you forever and ever, cabbage). Seemingly a strange (and unpleasant) hobby to some, it’s a lifestyle choice that is a great source of pride and enjoyment for me. That being said, it’s safe to say that in my days of immeasurable vegetable consumption, I’ve tried them all. Through trial and error, I’ve mastered the ins and outs of making a boring vegetable into something spectacular. I’ve also learned the hard way that there are certain vegetables that require a certain level of doctoring before they’re good to go. Kale falls in this category.

For whatever reason, everybody loves to hate on this fibrous green, and to be quite honest, this disdain towards kale is a huge source of distress and anxiety for me. Curly kale (lacinato is a whole different story for another day) is the backbone of my packed lunch game, and one of the produce items that I couldn’t live without. However, the minimal preparation that goes into making this raw, toothy green into a tender, palatable base for a salad or bowl is imperative. If the kale gods up above ever looked down to witness you sink your teeth into a raw kale leaf straight from the bunch, they would be appalled.

What I have previously done to coax away raw kale’s borderline unpleasant hardiness is give the leaves a good massage. Without performing this crucial step, you’re going to exhaust your jaw and straight up disrespect your molars trying to gnaw at this leafy green. By applying gentle force to the leaves, you break down some of the fibers, thus making it much more pleasant to chew. Any well-trained masseuse (heh) would probably incorporate some extra-virgin olive oil, citrus juice, salt, and pepper into the equation to further loosen up the leaves. If you’re one of those people who has their life in good enough shape on a Sunday to be thinking about what they’ll eat on Wednesday, massage a big batch of kale and save your leftovers in your fridge all week long for easy, packable salads, roasting into chips, or sautéeing.

Kale and Apple Salad with Walnut Dressing

While this technique is perfectly adequate and I have nothing against what this method stands for, I recently conjured up a slightly more effective way to soften up tough kale, while also adding an extra burst of flavor. Rather than relying on the great forces of your biceps to wiggle some of the rigid structure out of this vegetable, let heat do some of the work for you.

Simply heat 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 clove of minced garlic (you could also do this with minced fresh ginger) in a skillet over a low flame, allowing the aromatics and oil to gently heat. Not only does this soften the raw garlic's sharp bite, but it also infuses the oil with added flavor. You’re more or less making an infused oil. As soon as you hear the garlic begin to sizzle in the pan, pull it off of the heat and spoon this oil mixture (just enough to lightly glaze the leaves) over your bowl of kale, which you've already chopped/torn into small pieces, and massage as usual. Remember, you only want to slightly wilt the leaves, without them becoming soggy.

Another advantage of this technique is that lightly dressing your kale with a flavored oil will save you on the amount of dressing you would need for a raw kale salad (#LessCaloriesMoreFlavor). Any leftover oil can be used to make extra salad dressing to keep on hand or used in any other sauces that you like. As is true for the heat-less massaging technique, this little flavor boosting trick is a great make-ahead time-saver for any meal prep inclined folk. And because I just cannot resist, lemme get a “KALE YEAH!” to that.

By Sara Tane and Sara Tane