How to Cook Kale Without Oil

by Joanne Thomas
Red kale is visually appealing as well as tasty and versatile.

Red kale is visually appealing as well as tasty and versatile.

Kale, just like its cruciferous cousins, is exceptionally nutritious as well as versatile, lending itself to a wide range of cuisines and cooking techniques. Cautious cooks should know that kale is "almost impossible to overcook," according to Bon Appetit Magazine. Its leaves are substantial enough to hold their texture through long cooking times, while also yielding to a tender stage within minutes, making it difficult to go wrong. This adaptability makes it possible to eliminate the need for oil while still leaving you with plenty of recipe options.

Prepare Kale for Cooking

Rinse whole kale leaves under cold running water to wash away any visible dirt. Transfer the washed leaves to a chopping board.

Cut off the thickest parts of the stems at the base by slicing a V-shape into the leaves with a paring knife.

Slice off the outermost layer of the remaining stems with a vegetable peeler, if they are especially thick.

Slice the trimmed kale leaves into ribbons or pieces, unless you are following a recipe that calls for whole leaves.

Boil Kale

Fill a suitably sized pan with cold water and add a pinch of salt.

Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil.

Add chopped kale to the boiling water and cook it for 5 to 10 minutes. If the water starts to boil over, turn the heat down a little.

Drain the kale in a colander or remove it from the boiling water with tongs.

Steam Kale

Pour about 2 inches of water into a pan or steamer and heat the water to a simmering point.

Place the steamer basket into the pan and pile the sliced kale into the basket.

Place a lid on the pan and cook the kale, while maintaining a simmering point, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the kale from the pan with tongs.

Braise Kale

Add about 1/4 cup of liquid for every two heads of kale to a shallow pan and turn the heat to medium-high. The liquid can include things like stock, a full-flavored beer or hard cider, or water with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

Add chopped kale to the pan when the liquid starts to steam. If you wish, add other ingredients such as garlic, sliced onions or carrots, diced apples and canned or fresh tomatoes. Season the kale with salt and pepper.

Cover the pan with a lid and cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes, or on a medium-high heat for about 15 minutes.

Serve the braised kale with the tasty liquid as a light sauce.

Items you will need

  • Paring knife
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Chopping board
  • Lidded pan
  • Tongs or colander


  • The stage at which kale is "done" is a matter of personal preference. When just wilted, kale still retains a little bite; when it's slow cooked for a longer time, the leaves become shrunken and silky. Tasting a piece is the best way to determine whether the kale is ready.
  • Adjust typical cooking times if you are using kale with larger, thicker leaves, which take a little longer to cook. The size of the pieces of sliced kale also effect the cooking time. Tuscan kale tends to cook more quickly than curly or red varieties due to its smaller leaves.
  • Incorporate kale into sauces, stews, curries, soups or other one-pot meals. Just add kale to the pot at the stage when you add liquid, or at least 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time. You can usually cook the kale in the same pot with all the other ingredients of these meals without changing the cooking time or other directions.
  • Stuff whole kale leaves with a cooked mixture of ground meat, grains, vegetables or any similar combination of your choice. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds then rinse them under cold water. Spoon some stuffing onto the middle of the leaves and fold them into little parcels. Secure the parcels with kitchen string, toothpicks or clever folding. Steam the stuffed leaves, seam sides down, for about 5 minutes, or braise them for up to 40 minutes.
  • Save the water from steaming or boiling kale and use it for cooking other items. The liquid will retain some of the flavor and nutrients of the kale, and is a good alternative to plain water for cooking rice or pasta, or adding to a sauce or soup.

About the Author

Joanne Thomas has worked as a writer and editor for print and online publications since 2004. Her writing specialties include relationships, entertainment and food, and she has penned pieces about subjects from social media tools for Adobe to artists’ biographies for StubHub. Thomas has also written for such names as Disney, Hyundai, Michelob and USA Today, among others. She resides in California and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of Bristol, U.K.

Photo Credits

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