Wondering how to soften kale to make it less bitter and more tender? This tutorial provides everything you need to know about how to massage kale to make delicious salads, including tips for how to do it with or without oil. A short video and step-by-step photos are included.
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Let’s face it, kale is a polarizing vegetable. Some adore its crunchy texture and strong flavor, while others find it bitter and gross.
Well what if I told you there was a way to make kale more appealing, even to some of the kale-haters out there? The secret is massaging kale! I know it sounds weird, but tenderizing kale with your hands for a few minutes is a game changer.
Read on to learn the best tips for how to soften kale. Plus, you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions and kale salad recipes.
Why do you need to massage kale?
Massaging kale helps to break down its tough texture and make it more palatable. Softened kale is easier to chew and makes salads more enjoyable.
Does massaging kale make it less bitter?
The process of softening kale also helps to reduces the vegetable’s bitterness by releasing bitter compounds. Some claim that massaged kale therefore needs to be rinsed before eating, since the bitter compounds may stay on the leaves after they have been released.
However, I have personally never found this to be a problem if you are using the kale in a salad with a flavorful dressing. In addition to massaging kale, you can reduce its bitter flavor by pairing it with acidic and sweet ingredients, such as citrus juices or vinegars in a dressing and fruits in a salad.
Types of Kale for Salads
Here are some of the most popular types of kale to use in salads with tips for softening them.
- Curly kale: This variety is the most widely available. It can be green or purple, and it’s the kind I use in the photos and videos for this post on how to soften kale. Massage it for 2 to 3 minutes before using in salads.
- Tuscan, Lacinato, or Dinosaur kale: This variety goes by a few names. I love to use this type of kale in salads that call for it shredded or cut into thin strips. It’s a little bit sweeter than curly kale, and I’ve used it without massaging. However, you can certainly massage it for a few minutes if desired.
- Baby kale: These tiny leaves are closer in size to baby spinach. They don’t need to be massaged.
How to Prep Kale for Salad
- Wash the kale and pat dry. Use your hands to remove the kale leaves from their stems. Tear or chop the leaves into smaller pieces. Place in a mixing bowl.
- Drizzle the kale with extra virgin olive oil. I use about a tablespoon per bunch of kale. Add a pinch of salt if desired.
- Massage the kale with your hands for 2 to 3 minutes. Pick up the leaves and rub them between your fingers.
- Stop massaging when the kale is noticeably softer. Avoid over-massaging the kale to the point that the leaves become mushy.
How do you soften kale without oil?
You can also soften kale with lemon or another acidic ingredient, such as apple cider vinegar. Use about a tablespoon per bunch of kale. Follow the same steps as you would if you were using oil. Some people like to use both oil and an acidic ingredient, since acid can really help break down the kale.
On a similar note, if you are using a dressing with lemon juice or a vinegar, you can skip the step of massaging kale. Just let the salad sit for a half hour in the dressing to soften the kale instead. However, I still prefer to massage the kale even for these types of recipes. It’s up to you.
How long does massaged kale last?
You can keep massaged kale in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. If you mixed it into a salad with other ingredients, it may not last that long.
Massaged Kale Recipes
Now that you know how to soften kale, I have some great recipes for you to try! Even if the recipe doesn’t call for it, consider using massaged kale to improve the dish’s texture and flavor.
- Kale and Broccoli Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing
- Chopped Kale Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Kale Radicchio Salad with Sourdough Croutons
- Black Lentil Salad with Kale and Pomegranate
Watch How to Soften Kale
How to Soften Kale for Salad
- Mixing bowl
- 1 bunch curly kale
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil - sub lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
- Wash the kale and pat dry. Tear the leaves away from the stems and discard the stems. Chop or tear the leaves into smaller pieces, and place them in a mixing bowl.
- Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, or apple cider vinegar. Add a pinch of salt if desired.
- Massage the kale in between your hands by picking up the leaves and rubbing them. Do this for 2 to 3 minutes until the kale is noticeably softer. Avoid over-massaging to prevent the kale from getting mushy.
- Use in salads or other dishes. Enjoy!
- Store massaged kale in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.
- You can skip massaging if you are using the kale in a salad with an acidic dressing. Just let the salad sit for a half hour or more before eating so the kale has time to soften. However, the kale may taste even better if you still massage it beforehand.
- If you are using baby kale, you do not need to soften it.
Happy kale-eating! – Lizzie