Since it came onto the scene, baby kale has been billed as a salad green. But, we wondered, why not cook it?
A quick test showed us that it behaves like baby spinach when exposed to heat: It wilts rapidly and releases copious amounts of water. We often gently parcook and drain baby spinach before combining it with other ingredients. We tried this approach with baby kale, subbing it for the baby spinach in our recipe for Fusilli with Ricotta and Spinach. Though the baby kale’s stems were more noticeable than those of the baby spinach and it imparted a mildly pungent flavor instead of spinach’s more mineral notes, on the whole it worked well as a substitute.
So if you want to move beyond salad and cook with baby kale, feel free to use it as you would baby spinach. But don’t try to use it as a straight substitute for regular kale, which typically needs much longer cooking times and doesn’t shrink down as much or require draining.