What to do with Kale? Kale-Cashew Pesto + Other Creations

You often ask me, what do you do with kale? I heard it’s good, but I don’t know how to cook it. I have been hearing this a lot, especially in the recent months as kale has been showing up in your CSA baskets and has taken center stage at your grocery stores.

Don’t know if I told you, but I’m a kale lover. So, take this post as my sincere attempt to convince you to give it a try. I know you know it’s good for you, but do you know how good it is? It’s REALLY good. Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around. Kale is an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and manganese, and is a very good source of dietary fiber, copper, calcium, Vitamin B 6, an potassium. Basically, kale has higher level of antioxidants of any vegetable. It has one of the highest levels of total carotenes, which prevent muscle degeneration and other age-related diseases. Research also shows that those with the highest blood levels of lutein (one of the carotenoids found in kale) have the healthiest blood vessels with little to no build up in the artery walls. Dr. Fuhrman rates kale as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and gives it a nutrient density score of 100. Just as a reminder, nutrient density is a percentage of nutritious calories in a given food.

But what is the best way to cook it to get all the benefits? People will argue and argue about this. Some say that the best way to absorb the vitamins is to steam it, others promise that raw is the way to go. Sometimes I eat it raw and sometimes I cook it. The more you eat it the better, so I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the “right” method to prepare it. Just make it however you think it tastes best. Ok, almost….please don’t deep fry it :)

As far as recipes go, let’s start with raw (and easy) first – Vegan Kale-Cashew Pesto. You can put this pesto on your pizza, pasta, mix in with quinoa or other grains to make a salad, or even spread some on a pannini or a sandwich to give it that nutritional punch.

This pesto takes about 5 minutes to prepare. Make a large batch and freeze it for an easy mid-week meal. Let’s get started.

Kale Pesto

3 kale leaves, de-stemmed  (any variety, I used curly)
1/2 cup raw cashews
4 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Just throw everything in a food processor and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. I like it to have some texture, but you can blend until smooth. Easy, right? This will make about a cup of pesto. But since you’re getting the food processor dirty anyway, why not just make an extra batch and put it in the fridge or freezer?

The pesto will keep for a couple of  weeks in a covered container in the fridge. Pour a thin film of olive oil on top of the pesto to prevent discoloration. You can also freeze the leftovers – spoon the pesto into a freezer appropriate dish, close tight with a lid. To use, just thaw out in the refrigerator over night. An even easier way to freeze is to spoon it into ice cub trays and tightly seal in a freezer bag. When you want to add it to your dish, simply squeeze little portions out of the trays.

Kale Pesto Pizza
Now that you have the pesto, you can make a pesto pizza. This pizza is very basic. Just kale-cashew pesto and roasted cherry tomatoes.

2 1/2 cups chickpea flour (or 1 pouch Lucini Traditional Cinque e Cinque) OR pizza dough
3 cold cups water
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
cherry tomatoes


1. Roast the tomatoes – Cut cherry tomatoes lengthwise and sprinkle with salt and pepper and olive oil. Roast in a 450° oven for about 30 minutes. Set aside to top your pizza.

2. Make the dough – I got a little creative here and used chickpea flour to make flatbread instead of regular dough. I had this idea when I was making the Vegan + Gluten Free Mini Quiches. The chickpea flour is soft inside – almost like a pancake. You can use the packaged Lucini Traditional Cinque e Cinque or regular chickpea flour. You can also purchase (or make your) regular pizza dough or even use naan, pitas, or whatever else you prefer. If you decide to buy the dough, or make it at home, roll out the dough on a floured work surface into a 14-in circle, letting it rest for a few seconds between each time you roll. If the dough comes back at you, let it rest for a few minutes. Lay the dough flat on a baking sheet or a pizza stone. If using a pizza stone, be sure to put the dough on sheet of parchment paper or sprinkle cornmeal before putting it on a pizza stone. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes.

If you want to try making the chickpea flatbread, here’s what you do –

Whisk (or blend in a blender) the chickpea flour, cold water, olive oil and salt, until smooth. Oil a large cooking sheet and pour all of the batter onto the sheet. It should only be about 1 cm thick. Cook at 500° for 15 minutes. Then slightly open the oven door and cook for an additional 9 minutes. Once the flatbread is cooked, let it rest and cool for about 10 minutes. Flip the baking sheet over and the flatbread should pop out. It’s ok if there are cracks or if the edges tear. We are going for the rustic look here – it’s a pancake pizza after all!

3. Top and serve – spread the kale pesto and top with the roasted tomatoes. Simple, delicious, vegan, gluten free, and loaded with vitamins and minerals.

You can also add the pesto to pasta. Follow the cooking instructions for the pasta and just before draining the pasta in a colander, remove 1/4 cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta, put back in the pot, and then stir in the pesto and the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, to create a sauce. Add some fresh or roasted cherry tomatoes and you have yourself a quick and delicious meal.

What else can you do with kale? 

It has a mild flavor when it’s cooked, so de-stem (if you don’t like the crunch), cut into smaller pieces and throw it into your soup or stew. I add it to the Lentil (Poor Man’s) Stew for flavor and nutrition. And in case you missed it, you can lightly steam or shock the kale in hot water and use it to make Vegan Kale Rolls. A kale salads is also great (recipe for that coming soon), or simply steam it and have it on the side. So many possibilities, no reason not to try it, right? 





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  1. Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Yum!!! Going to buy some kale at the farmers market this weekend. My go to sauté with tahini and garlic was my only recipe! Love, love the pesto in quinoa idea.

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Jillena! Tahini and garlic saute sounds great too. I have to give that a try.

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    My name is Maria and I live in California. I love teaching high-energy Pilates classes, going on long runs, and making connections with all of you! Hope you find a few useful articles, fitness tips, and recipes while you're here.

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