The Great Kale Cook Off

Recipes from the Great Kale Cook-Off

Great Kale Cookoff logo

The Great Kale Cook-Off was part of the Organic Third Thursday program held at Kentucky State University's Research Farm on February 15, 2007. Participants sampled and rated kale prepared in five different ways. The taste tests served as appetizers for a lunch menu that included kale pizza and kale with white beans.

Kale is a very nutritious vegetable. It is an excellent source of vitamins K, C, A, and manganese; and a very good source of dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B6. It contains chemicals, called glucosinolates, that not only reduce the risk of cancer in humans, but may also help fight soil-borne plant diseases. All of these benefits come in a low-calorie package: A cup of kale contains only 36 calories.  

The kale used in The Great Kale Cook-Off was grown in the Kentucky State University high tunnel, and harvested within a day of cooking. The three weeks before harvest were the coldest time of winter at the research farm, but kale is often sweeter after frost, making it a terrific crop for mid-winter harvest.

Third Thursday Participants in the KSU High Tunnel, February 15th, 2007.

Participants in KSU's Organic Third Thursday discuss the long-term temperature profile of the solar-heated tunnel (left); sample raw kale and discuss the benefits of natural chemicals produced by the cold-hardy plant (center); and practice direct-seeding lettuce, another cool-season crop (right). Other participants learned about soil sampling techniques, and how to interpret soil tests. The workshop occurred on February 15th, when temperatures remained below freezing outside, but reached into the 60s in the tunnel.


Each participant received a plate with five small servings of cooked kale, and was asked to rate each sample on a five-point scale in terms of color, taste, and texture. The five samples were prepared as follows:

      1. Add one pound of chopped and stemmed kale to three quarts of boiling water and continue to boil for one hour. Drain kale and add two teaspoons of soy sauce, and salt to taste. Serve immediately.
      2. Cook as above, with two teaspoons of vegetable oil added to the boiling water.
      3. Prepare as for sample #1, but drain kale after only five minutes in boiling water.
      4. Prepare as for sample #2, but drain kale after only five minutes in boiling water.
      5. Sauté one-quarter pound of lean ground beef with one teaspoon of soy sauce, one teaspoon of minced garlic, and salt to taste. When beef is almost cooked add half a diced red bell pepper. Add cooked beef mixture to kale prepared as for sample #4.


Effect of cooking time and additional ingredients on quality of boiled kale

Twenty-five tasters were asked to rate the color, taste and texture of five boiled kale dishes on a five-point scale (1 = dislike extremely; 3 = neutral; 5 = like extremely). All dishes were lightly seasoned with salt and soy sauce. They differed in how long the kale was cooked and in whether oil was added to the cooking water. One dish was served with a small amount of garlic and ground beef. Tasters preferred the color of kale boiled for five minutes over kale boiled for one hour, and preferred the texture of kale served with ground beef. The different recipes had little effect on perceived taste.

A lunch served after the taste test featured two 20-minute kale recipes from The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home:




  • 4 cups drained cooked Roman beans or Cannellini (two 16-ounce cans)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)


  • 1 large bowl of chopped kale (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste


Using a potato masher or a large slotted spoon, slightly mash the beans until they hold together.  Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.  If you plan to serve the dish at room temperature, set it aside.  If you plan to serve it hot, gently heat the beans in a covered saucepan on low heat, using a heat diffuser or a double boiler if necessary to prevent sticking.

Wash the kale and chop it into small pieces.  In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil and garlic on medium heat until the garlic is just turning golden.  Add the kale.  You may have to wait for the first bit of kale to wilt before you can add the rest.  Raise the heat and cook, stirring frequently until all of the kale is wilted and bright green.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve the beans and kale side by side in a serving bowl, or make a nest of the kale and mound the beans in the center.  Drizzle the top with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.  Serves 4 to 6.




  • 1 prebaked pizza shell (12-15 inch size)


  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
  • 1/2 cup of boiling water (optional)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 packed cups coarsely chopped rinsed and stemmed kale
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (2 tablespoons dried)
  • 1-1/2 cups of grated mozzarella cheese



Preheat the oven according to the directions for the pizza crust you are using.

If you are using sun-dried tomatoes, place them in a heat proof bowl, cover with boiling water, and set aside.

In a large skillet, sauté the minced garlic in the oil for about a minute.  Add the kale to the skillet along with the salt, and sauté on medium-high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until just tender.  The cooking time will vary with the age and freshness of the kale.  While the kale cooks, drain and chop the optional sun-dried tomatoes.  Add the chopped basil and sun-dried tomatoes to the kale and remove the skillet from the heat.

Spread the kale topping on the pizza crust using a slotted spoon, and sprinkle the cheese on top.  Bake following the instructions given for the crust you are using.  Serves 2 to 3 as main dish, or 4 to 8 as an appetizer.


Special thanks

    • Dr. Changzheng Wang for suggesting The Great Kale Cook-Off
    • Dr. Lingyu Huang for preparing the taste test dishes
    • Mr. Brian Geier and Mr. John Rodgers for preparing the kale recipes from the Moosewood Cookbook
    • Mr. Eddie Reed and the KSU farm crew for preparing the other dishes served at lunch
    • Everybody who gave presentations (in order of appearance)
      • Dr. Marion Simon
      • Dr. Michael Bomford
      • Mr. Tony Silvernail
      • Dr. John Sedlacek
      • Dr. Kirk Pomper
      • Mr. Brian Geier
      • Dr. Changzheng Wang
      • Dr. Avinash Tope
      • Mr. John Rodgers
    • Everybody who participated in The Great Kale Cook-Off!

Updated February 19, 2007

College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems