If you’ve tried making a kale salad, you’ve probably been told to “massage” it by some well-meaning relative or BuzzFeed article. You probably wondered: why does a fibrous leaf deserve such an extravagant spa treatment? What’s up with this trendy vegetable anyway and why does it need so many weird tricks to become delicious? We’re here to help. Let’s start with the basics.
- Why massage kale? Like its cousins, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, raw kale is unavoidably fibrous and bitter. This means that if you’re going to be serving it raw, you need to do something to overcome this. Massaging kale is just a fancy way of saying “sprinkle it with salt and something acidic like lemon juice and squeeze like hell.” This helps make tough kale a little more tender and a lot more flavorful. You can also add some olive oil if you like. Oil will help you massage the kale evenly, it will flavor the final salad, and it also feels nicer on your hands than salt and lemon juice. Kale tip: If you’re making a kale salad to serve immediately, massage it beforehand. If you’re making a kale salad ahead of time, you can accomplish the same effect by just dressing it a few hours before you plan to eat it.
- How do I make kale taste better? Massages aside, the truth is people struggle to cook or enjoy kale because of how it tastes. It’s certainly bitter and earthy, which is why we recommend being really bold with your seasonings to balance out that bitterness with salty, sweet, and acidic flavors.
- How do I balance my kale dish? Try incorporating 2-3 of the following categories:
- Salty ingredients: capers, soy sauce, miso
- Sweet ingredients: honey, agave, maple syrup, brown sugar, sherry
- Acidic ingredients: lemon juice, vinegar, wine
- Savory ingredients: anchovies, parmesan, fish sauce, pine nuts, bacon
- What flavors work well with kale? Our favorite bold flavors are garlic, parmesan cheese, chiles, citrus juice, anchovies, capers, soy sauce, and red wine vinegar. Experiment with a few tonight!
- When in doubt, try the one of these classic flavor combinations with kale:
- Kale + garlic + olive oil + red wine vinegar or citrus juice
- Kale + onions + salt + something smoky (like smoked paprika, bacon, or sausage)
- What recipe should I try tonight? For a great salad recipe, try this one from Bon Appetit! For an easy braised kale recipe, try this one from Food & WIne!
For more cooking tips, check out our tips for avoiding veggie burnout.