Cooking Tips

To Tenderize Your Kale, Give It a Hot Bath

You’re 10 minutes away from a better salad.

Published Dec. 9, 2021.

Kale is my go-to for a salad. It has more nutrients than most lettuces, and it doesn’t collapse under the weight of the dressing. But it can be tough to get through raw. Massaging it with a little oil or salt helps break down the tough leaves, but it’s also a lot of effort. Fortunately, there’s a hands-off alternative: Giving it a hot bath.

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Why You Should Soak Kale

Not only does soaking kale tenderize it, it also pulls double duty by cleaning it and improving the flavor at the same time. It produces the same results as massaging, with a fraction of the work. 

When you soak kale, some of the bitter-tasting compounds found in cruciferous vegetables after they’re chopped, called isothiocyanates, are rinsed away. This results in a milder kale flavor. (Read more about why this also applies to kale’s cousin in broccoli soup.)

Cook’s Illustrated Editor in Chief Dan Souza explains the science in this video:

Another reason to soak kale is that doing so increases its bioavailability, so it’s easier for your body to digest and absorb more of those good green nutrients.

How to Soak Kale to Tenderize It

  1. Prep: Chop your kale to the desired size. The bitter compounds aren’t released until the cell walls are broken.
  2. Soak: Add the kale to a bowl and cover it with hot water (110–115 degrees F). Let it soak for 10 minutes. (Don’t worry—this mild soak slightly wilts the greens, but it doesn’t cook them.)
  3. Remove: Remove the kale from the water by lifting it instead of pouring it through a strainer. This avoids reincorporating the dirt that has settled at the bottom of the bowl. (Kale grows in dirt and likes to hold on to it. You’ll be amazed by how much sediment is left in the water.)
  4. Dry: Pat the kale dry or use a salad spinner to avoid excess water in your dressing, and your kale is ready to use!

Watch the kale-soaking technique in this Kale Caesar Salad segment from America’s Test Kitchen TV:

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