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Braised Kale Will Make You Want To Eat Your Greens

Baskets of greens for sale at a market in Camucia, Italy. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Baskets of greens for sale at a market in Camucia, Italy. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

I’ve been reading with fascination Michael Moss’ often hilarious and deeply thoughtful article in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine. Moss — his book “Salt Sugar Fat” is a must-read for anyone who wonders how the American diet got to its present parlous state — approached a top ad agency, Victors & Spoils. (I thought it was a joke at first, but no, that really is an agency, renowned for provocative crowd-sourcing campaigns.)

What would happen, Moss proposed, if you created an ad campaign for, let’s say, broccoli, probably one of America’s most hated vegetables. The Times article follows Moss through his research on how a Coca-Cola type of campaign might approach the problem of vegetable dislike. (On the way, he looks at another key link in the chain — how American farmers could produce more vegetables and why they don’t.)

Because the fact is, if you look at statistics, we hate vegetables. Oh, I know, someone is going to respond by saying, “No, no, we love all vegetables, we eat nothing else.” But you, dear reader, are a sadly diminishing minority. Moss cites a 2010 study by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that concluded only 5% of Americans younger than 50 are getting the recommended five servings a day. Most Americans consume daily only half as many vegetables and less than half the fruit they ought to be eating. (And most of that fruit is in the form of juice — the least healthful way to get it.)

That five servings a day, recommended by no less an authority than the World Health Organization, is itself a bit of wish fulfillment.

Lacinato kale growing in a garden. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Lacinato kale growing in a garden. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

No one in fact knows for sure whether fruits and vegetables on their own will have an effect on chronic disease rates. (There is some skepticism about cancer protection, as noted in this BBC report.) But it’s very clear anecdotally at least that a diet high in a variety of fruits and vegetables has a positive impact on health.

So why don’t we eat more?

Probably because it’s too easy not to. Junk food, fast food and the like are all around us, mostly at arm’s reach. If you’re going to eat more vegetables, you have to prepare them — wash ’em, trim ’em, look ’em over for slugs or bugs or worse and then … cook ’em. (Unless you prefer to live on salad.)

What’s a busy guy to do? Reach for the microwavables. Maybe Healthy Choice’s Chicken & Potatoes with Peach BBQ Sauce, which has a whopping 24 grams of sugar and just 5 grams of dietary fiber, plus about a third of the total daily sodium intake recommended for people older than 50. Maybe not such a healthy choice after all?

Kale, leafy greens are worthy additions to your menu

Nonetheless, the selection of greens in most produce markets, even in the most ordinary supermarkets, grows greater every year, and somebody has to be buying, cooking and eating them. Along with the usual spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, we find such offerings as broccoli rabe (aka rapini), collards, turnip greens, kale in many varieties, mustard greens, bok choy, beet greens and dandelion greens. The list goes on and on.

Nutritional powerhouses, these are often, sad to say, the most detested items on any menu, especially for children. But here’s the secret: It’s all in the cooking. No one could possibly love greens if they’re steamed to a limp, gray mash, then dumped on a plate with a blob of cold butter stuck on top. But done the Mediterranean way, they reveal, first of all, flavor. Then texture. Then an overpowering deliciousness. Garlic, oil, a little chili pepper, a scrap of citrus juice — they make all the difference in the world.

Lacinato kale braised in oil, garlic and a little chili pepper. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Lacinato kale braised in oil, garlic and a little chili pepper. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

I just made the following utterly simple recipe using Tuscan kale, aka lacinato or dinosaur kale, the kind with long, dark green, slightly blistered leaves that is a growing presence in supermarket produce sections. You could do the same with spinach (much more cleaning, much less cooking time), chard, turnip greens (cutting away tough stems, otherwise leaving whole), ordinary kale (de-stemmed), broccoli rabe (trimmed of tough stems) and many other greens you find.

Braised Kale With Oil, Garlic and Chili Pepper

Makes 6 servings


3 pounds fresh Tuscan kale, lacinato kale or dinosaur kale

Sea salt to taste

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

¼ to ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for garnish

1 small dried hot red chili pepper or a pinch of chili flakes

1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice or aged red wine vinegar (not balsamic)


1. Prepare the kale by stripping the leaves away from the stems. (Hold the stem in your right hand; grasp the leafy part in your left hand and simply slide down the stem, releasing the leaves.) Rinse thoroughly in a couple of changes of water.

2. Transfer the rinsed greens to a pot large enough to hold them all. Add a sprinkle of salt and a couple of tablespoons of boiling water. Set over medium heat and cook, covered, until the greens are wilted.

3. Remove and drain, then transfer to a chopping board and chop the greens coarsely in several directions.

4. Set a skillet large enough to hold all the cooked greens over medium heat and add the garlic and olive oil. Cook, stirring, until the garlic starts to soften, then add the chopped greens, stirring and turning them in the aromatic oil until they have completely absorbed it.

5. As soon as the greens start to sizzle in the pan, remove from the heat and taste, adding more salt if necessary. Stir in the chili pepper and lemon juice.

6. Pile the greens on a heated platter and garnish with a dribble more of oil. Or serve the greens atop crostini, toasted slices of Tuscan country-style bread rubbed lightly with a cut clove of garlic and dribbled with a small amount of oil.

Top photo: Baskets of greens for sale at a market in Camucia, Italy. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Zester Daily contributor Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the author of many books about Italy and the Mediterranean. Her most recent books are "Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil," published by Houghton Mifflin in February 2015, and "The Four Seasons of Pasta," published by Avery in October 2015.

  • Wynnie Stein 12·3·13

    Nancy, as someone who has worked for many decades with vegetables and all their delicious flavors, I loved that you shared such a simple but flavorful recipe for one of my faves…Lacinato Kale
    Best regards
    Wynnie Stein
    Co-owner Moosewood Restaurant

  • Tobey 12·3·13

    May I also suggest that Tapatio hot sauce is a fabulous way to add spice at the end but with the advantage that it distributes itself more readily than flakes? I wonder that this simple ingredient has not found its way into more cooking – it’s really quite terrific! One of the things I’ve picked up in california over the years… and we eat a lot of braised greens done in this general style. It’s very good! Great with fried eggs for breakfast for instance….

  • Tim Makins 12·3·13

    One of the reasons kids don’t eat their greens is the unpleasant ‘cabbage-smell’ that results from cooking members of the cabbage family. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, and turnips. Although relatively mild when raw, cooking will develop strong flavors and smells due to hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide and other volatile sulfur compounds. Its enough to put anyone off their greens!

    Therefore, I would suggest that you chose other vegetables to try on the kids, especially some of the ‘Chinese’ varieties, such as PakChoi, Mizuna, Tatsoi, and many others that do not have this chemical. They are tasty, quick to grow, and can be eaten raw or cooked.

  • sally 7·22·15

    Nancy Harmon taught in Needham, Ma. many years ago and brought to the class her
    Braised Lacinato Kale as Bruschetta appetizer…so wonderful!

  • sally 7·22·15

    Wonderful Cook=book authors like Nancy, inspire us to cook in a way that brings
    great pleasure not a sense of drudgery and thankless labor. Cooking is work and there are a lot of details,like shopping, driving to a store, collecting ingredients, unpacking
    grocery bags, putting stuff away, keeping cold things cold and safe from spoilage.Clean-up the kitchen, keeping the kitchen safe for cooking…its enough for some to say, think I will skip this caper….People are wanting to learn and will take a class when offered.For the teacher, teaching is also “hard work.” If , inspired with a passion to cook and share the way of cooking, it is inspired joy, a pleasure to share.
    I know from experience, that there are many takers for a good cooking class, many do really care about what they eat, are just too busy or tired to do much about it.

    More and more, the local restaurant menus , do not inspire the diner to go home and
    cook something delicious that they consumed in a restaurant…Set menus that never change do not inspire at all. For awhile, we wanted to cook wonderful food for ourselves and friends, now more women work outside the home with little time to explore fine dining.