Kale has been a popular superfood recently, especially during the summer. Kale salad, kale chips, kale smoothies – these things are everywhere. It’s a fibrous, strong, bitter green that’s not just for salads; it holds up well to being baked, sautéed, and mixed in stews. It’s crazy dense with nutrients that are good for the body, that’s why people feel the need to add kale in everything.
When you eat raw kale, it needs to be treated properly, and that special treatment comes in the form of a massage. Yes, a rubdown. Some people – you might be included – wonder if you really have to massage this leafy green. Food prep already takes a lot of time, and if you ever have extra time to do massages, kale surely isn’t going to get the first spot in line.
Why Do You Need to Massage Kale
Though it seems ludicrous, massaging kale actually makes sense. On its own, kale (especially the curly variety commonly sold in grocery stores) can be wily, too bitter, too coarse, and poky-chewy to be enjoyable to eat, especially in raw form like in green salads.
Massaging kale helps break down the tough and fibrous structure, giving it a softer, easier-to-eat texture. Working the greens with your hands takes the edge off, making them tender enough to eat without cooking. It also makes the flavor gentler and less bitter. However, you have to be careful not to over-massage. Mushy kale is worse than tough kale.
How to Massage Kale
Let’s get down to massaging kale. Start by rinsing the kale under cold water. Make sure it’s clean, and all dirt is removed. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Take the fibrous ribs of the kale removed with a knife or with your hands. Kale usually comes with a big, thick stem that you don’t want to eat. To remove the stems with your hands, squeeze the top of the stem and slowly move your hand down. As you do this, the leafy parts of the kale will fall off. When using a knife, simply take it and cut along the stem and leafy part of the kale.
Once the stem is removed from the kale, cut the leaves into small pieces, and place it in a large salad bowl. Drizzle some olive oil and salt over the kale and massage with your hands for three to four minutes until the leaves are tender and soft. If you don’t have olive oil, you can use avocado oil, coconut oil, or grapeseed oil. Once the kale is tender and soft, you can make your favorite kale salad. You can tell if it’s tender enough by giving it a taste. If it’s still tough, you need to massage it more.
If rubbing your greens with oil isn’t something you can get into, you can toss your kale in olive oil and let it sit overnight.
When Not to Massage Kale
Kale only needs to be massaged if you’re working with big and leafy pieces, and only if you’re serving it immediately. If you are going to chop your kale into bits or thin pieces, you don’t have to work over it. Whatever dressing or tossing you’re going to add will make it tender enough. Here are some other instances when you can skip massaging the kale:
If you’re going to cook the kale, you shouldn’t need to rub it down first, as it will soften and break down during cooking.
If you’re preparing a salad with Tuscan kale (also known as lacinato kale or dinosaur kale), you may find that there is less need for massage. This variety of kale is a bit more tender and less bitter than the common kale variety.
Also, if you’re using baby kale, you don’t need to worry about massages at all, since it’s already tender and easy to eat.