How to Cook Kale

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Sautéed kale is a fabulous simple side dish and can also be added to everything from omelets to quesadillas to lasagnas to enchiladas for a pop of color and nutrition.

Cooked Kale in a pan with a wooden spatula.

You can cook mature kale and you can cook baby kale much in the same way. My favorite go-to method for cooking kale (and pretty much any leafy green) is to sauté it, giving it a relatively quick spin in a pan over medium-high heat.

You can serve sautéed kale with anything from steak to chicken to fish. Also, use it in Lebanese Couscous with Sautéed Kale and Lemon Dressing, Pasta with Sautéed Kale and Toasted Breadcrumbs, and Hot Cheesy Scallion Kale Dip.

Wooden spatula stirring kale.

How to Cook Kale: Everything you need to know about buying, storing, and cooking with kale, plus recipes and step-by step instructions for sauteeing kale.

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How to Cut and Prepare Kale

Mature kale has to be worked on a bit before it’s ready to cook. The main thing to know is that you need to remove the tough inner rib. This can be done by folding the leaf over so that the thick rib is on one side of the folded leaf and then using a sharp knife to cut down the side of the rib, removing it and the rest of the stem from the leaf.

Then, give it a rough chop. Or, you can stack the leaves, roll them up, and thinly slice them (see how to chiffonade basil for instructions on this method, and just do the same thing with the stemless leaves).

Baby kale can be sautéed whole or roughly chopped.

Wooden spatula over a pan of kale.

How Much Cooked Kale Does Raw Kale Make?

Kale doesn’t cook down quite as much as spinach, but it still reduces significantly.

  • 5 ounces of raw kale (the size of a typical container or “clamshell” of baby kale) yields about 1 cup of cooked kale
  • 8 ounces (1/2 pound) equals about 1 1/3 cups of cooked kale
  • 1 pound of uncooked kale will get you about 2 1/2 cups of cooked kale

This is a general guide, but the end volume will also depend on whether you chop the leaves (and how finely or roughly) and how long you cook the greens.

How to Cook Kale in a Skillet

  1. Heat the oil: Start by heating up some fat in the pan over medium heat. This can be oil of any sort, such as olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, or you can use butter or ghee. I love a combination of olive oil and butter — the best of both worlds of flavor. 
Pouring olive oil into pan on stove.
  1. Add the aromatics: Add some chopped members of the onion family, such as onions, shallots, leeks, or garlic. Sauté 1 minute for garlic, about 2 minutes for shallots or onions, and up to 4 minutes for leeks, until softened and slightly golden brown. For 8 ounces of raw kale, use about 1 teaspoon of minced garlic or a few tablespoons of chopped leeks, shallots, or onions. Adjust the amount as desired or depending on your amount of kale. Season with salt and pepper
Sauteing garlic and onions in pan of oil and butter and seasoning with salt.
  1. Add the kale: Start adding the kale. Unless you have a super big pan or you are cooking a smaller amount of kale, you may be adding the kale in a few batches. The kale will wilt down as you sauté it. Add about 1/4 cup of water or broth (vegetable if you want to keep this a vegetarian dish) if the kale seems to be sticking at all to the pan or if you just want to make the cooking go faster.
Woman adding kale and broth to a pan of oil and garlic.
  1. Finish cooking: Cook until wilted to the degree you wish. It really is up to personal taste — some people like their kale just a touch wilted, while others like a much softer, more cooked version. Taste and see if it needs more seasoning.
Grinding pepper into pan of sauteing kale.
  1. Serve: Transfer it to a serving bowl or dish and give it a final light sprinkle of kosher salt. Serve it as a side or in a recipe, or pile it on crostini or bruschetta.
Toast being topped with Kale.


How do you prevent kale from getting bitter?

The most common problem that causes kale to get bitter is overcooking. Make sure to take your kale off the heat while it is still bright green and just beginning to get soft. If you cook it too long, the kale will turn a darker, brownish green, and its flavor will turn from fresh to bitter.

Can you eat kale stems?

You technically can eat kale stems, but most people choose not to. The stems tend to be very hard and fibrous, making them hard to chew, even when cooked. I suggest removing the stems before cooking your kale. If you want to add them in, separate them from the leaves and chop them finely before cooking so that you don’t get any big pieces of tough stem in the finished dish.

How do you make kale not tough for salads?

I prefer using baby kale in salads, which is more tender than mature large-leafed kale. If you are using larger kale leaves, many cooks like to massage them a bit with dressing or olive oil to soften the leaves and make them easier to eat.

What is lacinato kale?

Lacinato kale is a type of kale that has long, dark green leaves. It also can be called dinosaur kale (its surface has a slightly reptilian pattern), Tuscan kale, or black kale. It’s a bit more tender and delicate than curly kale, with a slightly milder and sweeter flavor. I love it in salads and cooked preparations.

What to Serve With Sautéed Kale

Sautéed kale goes well with everything! Try it with Fresh Linguine with Shrimp and Peas, Baked Chicken Breasts, or Air Fryer Salmon.

Plate of shrimp pasta and Kale.
Fresh Linguine with Shrimp and Peas

6 Great Recipes Using Kale

Kale and Roasted Pepper Bruschetta on a white plate.
Kale and Roasted Pepper Bruschetta

How to Cook More Vegetables

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5 from 1 vote

How to Cook Kale

Sautéed kale is a fabulous simple side dish and can also be added to everything from omelets to quesadillas to lasagnas to enchiladas for a pop of color and nutrition.
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 16 minutes
Servings: 6 People


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil or another oil (or a combination)
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots or onions (approximately, or 2 garlic cloves very thinly sliced or 1 teaspoon minced garlic)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 pound baby kale (or roughly chopped and de-stemmed mature kale)
  • ¼ cup water (or chicken or vegetable broth)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)


  • Place the butter or olive oil in a large skillet and heat over medium heat, until the butter is melted (if using).
  • Add the shallots, onions, or garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until just barely golden but not browned. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the kale, in batches if necessary, and the liquid, and stir until it is wilted to how you like it and the liquid has evaporated. Add the vinegar and red pepper flakes, if using, and toss to combine well. Check and adjust seasonings as needed. Turn into a serving dish.


If you use mature kale, you’ll need to prep it for sautéing. Remove the tough inner rib, which can be done by folding the leaf over so that the thick rib is on one side of the folded leaf, and then using a sharp knife to cut down the side of the rib, removing it and the rest of the stem from the leaf.
You can use lacinato kale or curly kale in this recipe.


Calories: 76kcal, Carbohydrates: 8g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 5g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 10mg, Sodium: 66mg, Potassium: 396mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 7669IU, Vitamin C: 92mg, Calcium: 115mg, Iron: 1mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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