Ok, here’s the deal. Kale, collards, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, kohlrabi – all these amazing, diverse plants have been bred from the same wild cabbage ancestor.
Kohlrabi was bred to make a juicy, swollen stem, and you’ll notice it tastes like broccoli stem because, well, botanically, it pretty much is. Brussels sprouts look like teeny cabbages because they are – the breeding for brussels sprouts was to form heads on the axillary buds of the plant, and for cabbages we bred for one giant terminal bud.
Broccoli was selected to make big, tender florets and stems. Each little green bud on a head of broccoli will open into a cool yellow flower if you are too late to the harvest. (Read more: When and How To Harvest Broccoli and Cauliflower)
The important take-away is that brassica plants make all kinds of edible parts beyond what you think of as the vegetable sold at the grocery store. Broccoli leaves are edible, and taste much like collards. Brussels sprouts typically make an open-leaved, super-sized sprout at the top of the plant that you you cook like a small cabbage.
Which brings us to kale florets. Kale florets are the soon-to-be-flowers of the kale plant. They look and taste much like sprouting broccoli, and they couldn’t come at a better time. Nothing much is harvestable right now in the hunger gap of early spring, but stalwart kale sees warmer days ahead and starts pumping out the florets.
God I love this vegetable.
How do you harvest kale florets?
The florets shoot up from the intersection of stem and leaf. Just look for them there, and snap the floret down – they’ll come right off.
You want to catch them before they flower. Just like broccoli, we’re eating unopened flower buds here, and while the yellow flowers don’t turn toxic or anything, they get tough. Plus, the texture of the flower petals is kinda funny.
Different varieties will make florets at different points in the early spring transition. My Lacinato Kale is already in full flower, while my Red Russian is pumping out florets like mad. Harvest from the variety that’s ready, while the floret buds are still tight and the stalks remain tender.
Does the variety of kale matter?
The brief answer is, not much. There are subtle flavor differences in the kale florets, but to my palete they are more similar than different. I notice greater taste variation in the leaves of the kale varieties I grow than in their florets.
If you have a particular kale you like, you will probably like the floret from that variety. This is a second harvest vegetable, remember. I wouldn’t go planting a specific kale for the florets – if you’re going to do that, you might as well grow purple sprouting broccoli, which is bred for bountiful floret production in early spring.
I haven’t noticed any yield difference in florets across kale varieties. You’ll get more and larger florets from bigger, healthier kale plants regardless of variety. I’m never able to eat enough to strip my plants of all their florets, and eventually the remaining shoots flower and become food for the bees.
How do you cook kale florets?
You can cook kale florets any way you’d cook broccoli, but I think this strong-flavored vegetable is at its best paired with equally strong flavors like lemon, capers, chili, garlic, ginger or Asian black bean sauce.
If you find kale florets are too aggressive in flavor for you, you can blanch them just briefly (for like 30 to 60 seconds) to tone down the slight bitterness you can get in this vegetable before doing whatever it was you were gonna do with them.
I like kale florets just fine as-is, and avoid extra steps whenever possible, so I prefer skillet-searing, stir-frying or high-heat roasting kale florets over blanching or steaming. A quick rinse, followed by a trip in a hot pan with lots of olive oil and a flourish of lemon is a simple and delicious way to get your greens when very little is harvestable.
Easy Skillet Kale Florets with Garlic, Chili and Lemon
Wash your kale florets. Sadly, wooly aphids love kale florets, so check the buds over thoroughly. Run your knife through the stem bits, but leave the bud and loose, tender leaves whole.
Heat up a big cast iron skillet and go crazy with the olive oil and chopped garlic. When the garlic browns, toss in the kale florets, with their wash water still clinging to them.
Zest a lemon over the top of everything, and sprinkle in some chili flakes for heat.
The kale florets shouldn’t take long – just a few minutes. When they are tender, season generously with salt and a squeeze of lemon if you like. Scrape the florets into a serving bowl and serve right away.
If you like, this basic side can be turned into an easy vegetarian main dish – just add hot cooked pasta to the kale florets, and increase the olive oil and lemon a bit to create a sauce that will coat the pasta.
A bit of feta scattered over the top wouldn’t be out of place, either.
Kale Florets with Garlic, Chili and Lemon Printable Recipe
- About a pound of kale florets, broccoli raab, or sprouting broccoli
- 2-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp. minced garlic, or more to taste
- 1 lemon, preferably organic, washed
- ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cooked pasta, to serve (optional)
- Wash the kale florets. Cut the large stems into ½-inch slices.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to the skillet. When it shimmers, add the minced garlic and stir until the garlic is uniformly brown. Add more oil or adjust the heat as needed to keep the garlic from burning.
- Add in the kale florets, and stir them into the garlicy oil. Use a microplane zester to zest the lemon right over the kale florets. Reserve the lemon for later. Sprinkle the red pepper flake over the kale and stir.
- When the kale florets are tender, after about 2 to 4 minutes, season generously with salt and pepper, and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over the kale florets.
- Serve immediately, or, if desired, mix the florets with hot, cooked pasta. Drizzle additional olive oil and lemon juice over the pasta, and season to taste.