If you are looking to add a healthful, inexpensive vegetable to your dinner plate, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for more than you probably want to know about how to cook sautéed kale, or to get straight to the recipe use the link above. With loads of silky cream and aged Parmesan, it’ll convert any kale hater on first bite!
During culinary school I received a call from the wild about how to cook kale. Okay, it was actually from my sister-in-law. But that’s what sisters are for. Enter sautéed kale quickly baked in a Parmesan cream sauce. Yes, you read that right. 😉
A truly versatile sauce
The great thing about the savory, creamy, silky sauce the French call Béchamel, is you can basically cream anything with it. Including your worst enemies (but what a waste of Béchamel!). More on the how tos of Béchamel below.
How to pick the best kale
Kale is a hardy vegetable member of the cabbage family, and holds up well for a few days when wrapped in moist paper towels. When selecting your bunches, look for perky leaves, small bunches, rich colors and avoid any that appear wilted or yellow. Kale is in season in fall and winter months, but available year-round.
The most common varieties of kale all handle similarly in the kitchen, and flavors will not vary much from one to the other. Bottom line: Any kale will give you a bitter crunch and loads of nutrients. Loaded with vitamins A and C, calcium and even folic acid, this one is a great way to pack vitamins onto your plate. With its folic acid content, kale is a great vegetable to add to your repertoire during pregnancy.
Funny Story #1: Once I asked for more kale than what was on the shelf at the market. The employee laughed, then bundled every last leaf together so I only paid for “one bunch” instead of three. He must have thought I was confused about what I was buying. Little did he know what awaited this honking bundle o’ kale in my kitchen.
Common varieties of kale
Curly (or Common) Kale
As in the name, this is the most common and versatile variety of kale. You might also see a red variety of curly kale with a deep magenta stalk, and red-specked leaves.
Lacinato AKA Dinosaur Kale
Lacinato kale grows flat, dark, bumpy leaves. It can be used in any recipe, but since the leaves are a bit sturdier, I like it best cooked.
PJs a complete coincidence!
Red Russian Kale
This one is more popular among farmer’s markets and specialty grocers than at the national chains. The leaves are softer, and well-suited for raw kale recipes like this kale salad with blue cheese and an easy apple dressing.
White Russian Kale
With softer leaves like red Russian kale, this kind has white-flecked veins and a lighter green leaf. Also great for salads, smoothies and raw recipes. My kids grew this one in their playhouse flower box. It was a very interesting venture!
How to prep and cook any kale, and get kids involved
The best way to enjoy a pleasingly tender-enough bite of sautéed kale is to prepare it properly. For the fastest cooking and best texture, tear the leaves off the stalk and slice or chop it as thinly as possible. This is a GREAT job for kiddos, even as young as two.
Kale is best chopped small or sliced thin
You can find recipes online that call for leaving the leaves whole – please don’t do this. Unless you want to spend all day and night chewing your kale. Or waiting for it to soften during cooking. I have patience for neither.
There’s a reason those popular bagged salad kits include teeny, tiny bits of chopped kale. The fibrous green is entirely more palatable (chewable) in smaller pieces. Raw or cooked.
Kale does not need massage therapy
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by elaborating.
How to cook sautéed kale with any variety
Just like sautéed spinach, kale is the perhaps one of the fastest hot vegetable dishes to get on your dinner plate. You simply take your chopped kale, heat it up in oil or butter, and simmer a bit. For added protein, a little bone broth can help it simmer down.
The whole process happens in less time than it takes an old burner to boil water. Fresh or frozen, process is the same. Thaw and squeeze out frozen leafy greens before cooking or you’ll have a soppy mess. Or you can simply dump the greens in the pan, and cook until all the water evaporates.
The importance of fat in sautéing any leafy green
If you are looking to maximize the vitamins you get from kale, you want to eat it with a healthy fat. The main players in kale – Vitamins A and K – are fat soluble vitamins. Your body needs fat to break down and absorb them. The best fats are olive oil, avocado and even coconut oil for a little dose of medium-chain triglycerides.
Easy + gluten-free creamed kale
If you follow a gluten-free diet, you can still enjoy creamed greens without a flour-thickened béchamel. And truthfully, outside a special occasion or holiday, I use this method.
Simply skip the roux (the butter and flour cooked together), add the measure of of cream to the sautéed kale, and simmer until the cream thickens and reduces in volume. Proceed as you would otherwise from this point.
The method for a silky Béchamel (cream sauce)
While the French word for a cream sauce sounds intimidating and complicated, it’s actually quite simple. Five common ingredients you mostly likely have in your kitchen right now.
Béchamel (Cream Sauce) Ingredients
- Heavy cream
- Chopped shallot (optional)
The butter and flour are cooked together for a few minutes, the milk and cream are whisked in, and the sauce is simmered to develop flavor.
VERY simple, just be sure the heat low and the stirring is often.
Proof the French don’t always over-complicate things.
Kale au gratin
Au gratin is a French technique for browning the top of a dish. I like to use Parmesan, but any aged cheese will do. You can top the kale in the sauté pan if it’s oven safe, portion into ramekins or even use a pie plate.
After a quick broil… Voila! You’ve got creamed kale with a slightly crispy, salty and crowd-pleasing topping to boot.
Funny Story #2: Look who’s laughing now.
Yours in kale,
What’s great about this technique for creamed kale, is it works with any dark, leafy green! It’s a great way to get a variety of essential nutrients, and comes together easily with a few ingredients.
Sautéed Kale (or any greens) + Finishing Ingredients
- 1–2 bunches of kale, leaves torn from stems then sliced or chopped thin
- 1–3 tablespoons of olive or avocado oil
- A few tablespoons of onion or shallot, chopped small
- Salt & pepper
- Finishes: course sea salt, ground nutmeg, fresh cooked bacon bits (not the fake stuff), dried tart fruit such as cranberries, or toasted nuts
Cream Sauce (Béchamel)
For Cream Sauce
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, pastured recommended
- 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk, organic or raw recommended
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, organic recommended
- 1 shallot or small onion, peeled and rough chopped
- 2 pinches ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons cream cheese, optional
- 1/2 cup of Parmesan, grated, optional
For Sautéed Kale
- In a large skillet or saucepan, heat butter or oil of choice over medium heat.
- Optional: Cook chopped onions or shallots in oil until slightly softened, being careful not to brown them.
- Add chopped kale in batches, and stir to encourage wilting, seasoning with salt as you go.
- Optional: Turn up the heat to medium-high or high, and add about a half cup of vegetable stock or bone broth. Simmer until stock reduces (evaporates).
- Finish with a sprinkling of sea salt, nutmeg, chopped cooked bacon, toasted nuts or even dried cranberries.
For Creamed Kale (with Béchamel sauce)
- Melt butter in a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring constantly.
- Slowly whisk in milk and heavy cream.
- Add shallot and bring to a simmer on low heat, stirring often to prevent clumping and scorching.
- Simmer on low heat while you prepare the kale. Add nutmeg last (after straining if you do so).
- Chop kale leaves into thin and small pieces.
- In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add kale a little at a time, stirring occasionally until it begins to wilt. If necessary, add a small amount of water or stock to produce steam.
- Once kale is soft, strain shallots from the sauce (if desired) and stir into kale in pan. Season with salt and pepper.
- Optional: Mix in cream cheese and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Pour into an oven-safe dish, and top with remaining grated Parmesan.
- Broil on high until cheese is browned, about five minutes. Watch closely! I once set marshmallows on fire at Thanksgiving. Not edible times.
Many bitter greens including kale and spinach contain oxalates, compounds that can cause health problems if eaten in large quantities.
Certain medical conditions like kidney stones and others affecting the gall bladder are worsened by oxalates high levels of oxalates in the body.
If you have concerns about oxalates but are otherwise healthy, blanch the greens first for one minute in briskly boiling water. Then wring dry with a tea towel before using in any recipe.
Keywords: kale, kale recipes, how to cook kale, sauteed kale, cream sauce recipe, Béchamel, oxalates