Even the cynics have to admit: Kale has range. Raw, its leaves are tenacious and hearty, but a brief stint on the stovetop renders the vegetable moist and tender, and a long, low period in the oven produces crispy, shattery chips. And as I recently discovered, roasting can capture the many faces of cooked kale on a single baking sheet. In just 10 minutes in a hot oven, the leaves turn a deep emerald color and take on a delightful mélange of textures: crunchy, browned edges; crisped centers; and still-tender wilted spots. It’s the most versatile of dishes, equally capable of accompanying a simple entrée and melding seamlessly into pastas, scrambles, or grain bowls when you’re clearing out the fridge.
There are generally two widely available options when it comes to kale—Tuscan (also known as dinosaur or lacinato) and curly. Tuscan kale gets a lot of love for its more tender leaves, but the frilly, more fibrous curly kale actually works better here: Its leaves retain some volume and featheriness, while the crinkly edges crisp and brown dramatically.
After rinsing and stripping the leaves from the tough stems of a pound’s worth of kale (enough to serve four but still roast on a single sheet), I tore the leaves into 1½- to 2-inch pieces, which would wilt to bite-size. To get the kale to brown, I knew it was crucial that it be rid of most of its excess moisture, so I broke out my salad spinner, spinning the leaves in batches until most of the water was whisked away. (Leaving a few beads of water on the leaves helped them soften during roasting.)
Give it a Squeeze
There are two benefits to massaging the kale before roasting it: It evenly distributes the seasonings and oil and it begins to tenderize the leaves.
Oil is key to attaining browning during roasting, but a quick toss didn’t thoroughly coat the ruffled leaves. Instead, I opted to take the time to spread the spun leaves directly on the sheet where they’d roast; drizzle them with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, along with some salt; and massage the oil and salt into the leaves. In addition to being the most efficient way to coat the kale, kneading and squeezing also breaks down the kale’s cell walls, darkening and tenderizing the leaves. Sure enough, just a minute after I began the process, the leaves began to soften, which transformed the mountainous pile into something manageable and evenly settled on the sheet.
With that, all that was left to do was roast. I slid the tray into a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes; the relatively high temperature encouraged browning and cooked the greens through quickly without drying them out. It wasn’t necessary to toss the leaves; in fact, leaving them be was key to attaining myriad textures: Pieces near the bottom were tender, as if sautéed; those closer to the top were crisp; and others made an audible crunch when eaten because of their deep browning.
Roasted kale can certainly stand on its own, but I found that adding garlic, red pepper flakes, and lemon to the mixture before roasting made the kale downright snackable. What’s more, the dish is so versatile that it’s easy to swap out the seasonings: Parmesan, shallot, and nutmeg turned the kale warm and nutty, and grated fresh ginger with coriander and unsweetened coconut chips (added after cooking) gave the greens a rich, citrusy sweetness.