Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Kale

Kale can be an intimidating vegetable — the black diamond ski run of the produce world.   Its leaves are thick, and on a bad day it can taste like a shrub, but once you know how to navigate its terrain, it’ll provide an  adrenalin rush like no other vegetable.

First Its Credentials

If you’re looking for an overall kale “score” –  the SAT equivalent  – the ANDI Score indexes all food on nutritional density relative to calories. Kale scores a perfect 1000. (Walnuts, for example, are highly nutritious, but highly caloric and hence score 34). How did kale achieve this …

  • High levels of antioxidants (beta carotene, Vitamin c and lutein).
  • High levels of anti-inflammatory nutrients (vitamin k and some omega 3). See this primer on omegas.

Oxidation (which is happening all the time in our bodies) is critical for life but it also damages cells.  A state of high oxidation as well as high levels of inflammation puts our cells at a greater risk for cancer hence the benefit of the antioxidants.  There is some evidence that antioxidants not only stop the destruction of oxidation, but actually kill existing cancer cells.

  • Strong on the calcium and iron front – all greens score high on calcium but kale has much higher “bioavailability” meaning you absorb more of it (it takes 5x as much spinach to get the same amount of calcium.)

What Kind To Buy

There are three that are most common:  Curly, Dinosaur and Red Russian –  story book sounding characters who were given names to match their looks. Red Russian has a red spine, Dinosaur has nubly pre-historic bumps and Curly is curly.   The flavor and texture vary enormously but in general I would say Red Russian is the entry point as it’s often milder and the leaves thinner. Dinosaur (also called Lacinato) is lovely when sliced thinly, even raw, but Curly (the “toughest” of the three) is better cooked and the one I use for cooked kale “chips”.

How To Prepare Kale

  • Remove the entire spine and stem which can be fibrous. (Some spines are thinner, in which case, keep these on especially if you’re cooking them.)
  • If you’re eating it raw, let the dressing or oil seep in to soften it for a good 5-10 minutes before eating, in order to soften the kale.
  • If you’re steaming or sauteeing it, then”flash” steam or sautee for about one minute max, until it goes a deep green shade and then stop! You’re just past “raw”, but only just.  If you keep going it will turn a muddy green/brown and lose its flavor along with much of its nutritional value.
  • Use coconut oil when sauteeing for a delicious hint of sweet.
  • Add a drop of honey or agave if the kale is at all bitter.
  • Add other accessories to tame stronger tasting kale. Sauteed onion or sauteed fennel get very sweet when cooked hence a perfect partner, or add a few nuts (pine, sunflower seeds or sliced almonds), or  dried fruit (cranberry, apricots, or small bits of fresh plum or fig).
  • Kale “chips” are divine: Cut the kale not too thin, drizzle olive oil , shake salt. Cook until slightly crispy.

Here’s a fabulous (very simple!) kale recipe.

Any other kale ideas or recipes?

Related Posts
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Last Time You Had This Nutrient Was In Breast Milk (The nutritional value of coconut and coconut oil)
Looking For A Protein That Never Swam Or Walked? (Explore another nutritional powerhouse of a food- lentils.)

Photo: Dinosaur kale, Copyright © Michelle Madden

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  • Jillian

    I agree that the leaves taste bitter and awful when I taste them raw but I’ve seen “raw” kale at a cold salad bar that is delicious, is it not really raw?

    • Michelle Madden

      If a food is cooked at under 118 degrees, then it can technically still be called “raw”. So yes, most salad bars will steam their kale at this low temp for a short period of time to take the “edge” off.


        oh thats interesting.
        Whole foods does a kale lemon, sea salt salad I love. I have tried to make it, seemed very easy, it did not taste right. A slight steam could be the trick.

    • Rick Lee

      We find Russian Kale superior if you can get the small buds in particular, while Kurly (or is it Curly) Kale has lovely and dark green but the leaves have a real tang. Russian Kale grows throughout the winter on the West Coast and easy to grow(but its a race against the deer). We go easy on the salt – the post-60 crowd!

  • Kate Di Pietro

    There is also Tuscan kale or “lacinato,” (lah-chee–nah–toe. Years ago, I enjoyed a wonderful plate of spaghetti with Tuscan kale at the restaurant Mezzogiorno on Sullivan Street in SoHo. The chef, Alessandro, heated the pan with olive oil and garlic until very, very hot then cooked the “lacinato” until it was crispy. This he added to spaghetti along with a generous sprinkling of pecorino romano cheese. Buon appetito!

    • Michelle Madden

      sounds divine!! will def check it out … i’m pretty sure that lacinato is another name for dinosaur kale. lacinato is likely the more “proper” name and dinosaur simply the name given to it b/c it looks prehistoric!

      • betsy

        You are correct. You have a common name and a
        proper name here for the same thing.

  • Chris Edgar

    Raw kale is fantastic as a salad – de-stalked, chopped in fine strips, combined with toasted pine nuts, currants, and a regular balsamic and olive oil dressing. With Tuscan kale it’s a classic (hence the traditional well known “Tuscan kale salad”) but, it’s tasty with other varieties too.

  • small business grants

    Keep up the good work, I like your writing.

  • Caroline

    Bon Appetit just published a delicious kale recipe- basically toss it in olive oil and stick in the oven for 15 minutes at 425 degrees til crispy- then eat alone (kind of like kale chips without the toppings) or with low-fat yogurt (I used Greek)/garlic/lemon juice dip. Healthy and delicious.

  • Morgan

    Last night my husband and I made a fabulous lasagna with lots of kale in the layers. We used about 7 big leaves of dinosaur kale, sliced into thin strips. After flash steaming, we layered gobs of the greens on top of the ricotta filling. We also added spicy sausage to our sauce – the combo of the spice, greens, and cheese was PERFECT!

    • Michelle

      That sounds incredible! Thank you for sharing it with us! Great idea about sneaking kale into untraditional places as it’s not always an “easy” green to eat solo.

  • Kelly

    Lately I’ve been making a raw “massaged” kale salad – it’s so delicious! You just toss the leaves with olive oil and lemon juice, and then literally kind of rub the oil and lemon juice into the leaves…after a minute they wilt a little bit. Then add garlic, maybe some pepper, a little salt if you want. Let it sit for a few minutes and the lemon juice “cooks” the kale. Then add whatever else you want, avocado, tomato, etc. right before you serve it. I love kale!

    • Michelle

      My favorite part of your recipe is the “rub” part. I am such a strong advocate of getting your hands deep into your food and there is no better way of ensuring your greens are well dressed, then massaging the oil right in! Thanks so much for sharing!

      • charla

        Massaging the kale with salt will help tenderize it. I learned this from Blueprint Cleanse.

      • Skippydoodle

        A marinade of lemon juice and tomatoes will chemically “cook” the bitterness out of kale much like ceviche. I love raw kale salads using that technique. In fact, I just wrote a blog post about it with my favorite base recipe

        I look forward to every one of your posts. Keep it up!

  • Kyle

    I often use dinosaur kale in a green smoothie, usually with a milder green, such as baby spinach or romaine. I mix about six cups of the greens with 1 and a half to two cups of water (in a Vita mix). Then I start adding the sweetness – blueberries, peaches, cherries, whatever is fresh or that I have frozen. It is a great way to eat a lot of kale on a daily basis.

  • Jamila

    I bought some kale (the curly kind) from Whole Foods on Sunday and by Tuesday it was totally limp. Is this normal? I refrigerated it, is that the best way to store it? P.S I love your site! Thanks for all of th wonderful infomation.

    • Michelle

      It should not be limp. Kale will be limp if its spends too long getting from field to grocery cart (which also means its lost nutrients). It will get even more limp if the grocer does not keep it moist. In fact, b/c it has lower water content than many greens the leaves should be quite firm! Def take it back to WF. If this is a hassle, then wrap it in very moist paper towel, put it in a plastic bag, remove the air, close bag and let it sit overnight. It should perk up a bit by the next day. (In fact I store kale this way, even when not limp.) If it doesnt re-hydrate as much as you’d like, it will still be fine to eat – perhaps in a soup where the wilted-ness is less important …

  • Losho

    Kale chips are the best! So easy to make and so good. I dare you to eat just 30. My only tip is to definitely dry the kale after washing it because otherwise it gets a little soggy in the oven. Also, go easy on the salt. Enjoy!

    • Losho

      Here is a simple recipe:


      * 1 bunch kale
      * 1 tablespoon olive oil
      * 1 teaspoon seasoned salt


      1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
      2. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
      3. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Kate G.

    Hey! I used to be a kale-hater, but my mom sent me a recipe for sauteed kale + sweet potatoes that is pretty fab. In a nutshell, you sautee minced garlic/onion in a bit of olive oil; add a bit of apple juice (for sweetness); add about 2 cups of chopped sweet potato, cooking until soft; add more liquid (if necessary); and add your kale, cooking until the leaves are just wilted. I know this is a coarse representation, but the recipe can be modified to suit anyone’s tastes :)

    Also, just last week I made a salad of raw kale and cabbage that was really good. The dressing is what made it, for sure.

  • JenniferInMO

    I was not a fan of kale and I thought kale lovers were outright lying when they said they liked the stuff, but my aunt made a fantastic avocado/kale salad and I’m now hooked and trying other ways to prepare it.

    You can eat it raw in a salad but you need to “cook” it with a combo of tomatoes and lemon juice. Like ceviche The acid in the tomatoes and lemon juice takes the edge off, slightly wilts it and yummm.

    Add a touch of olive oil, some pine nuts (my aunt used pumpkin seeds which were great), a dash of cayenne pepper and a little salt and it is fantastic.

    I’ve been trying that recipe with a few other additions and it just gets better. Try adding cold grilled tuna, black beans or a little feta cheese.

    Use the leftover salad in a wrap. The salad keeps for a couple days in the fridge.

    • Michelle

      Yup, thought they were liars too … til I became them! Love the sounds of your recipes. I totally agree that adding nuts gives it a huge boost. Never found a nut that didn’t work with kale !

  • Elli

    Hi! I just want to let you know how much we loved your recipe. My husband and I went to our farmers market for Kale and fennel today – two items we had never cooked before. We added dried cherries to the recipe and a little baked chicken breast. It was so delicious!! Thanks so much for turning us on to something new and please keep the healthy recipes and info coming. Love your site!

    • Michelle

      I am so thrilled! That warms my heart to hear it as I have become such a kale fan but know that without just the right additions to the kale, it’s not always a “fun” vegetable to eat :)

      • Katie

        I have found drying kale to be the easiest way to use it. I blanch it, then dry it in my pantry. When it is dry I crumble it up into flakes. I can then add it to anything….my children and husband don’t even know that the kale is in the meal. I love using it in breads, pizza dough, soup, chili, eggs, pretty much anything. Great blog! I really enjoy it.

  • tegan

    We chop it up and throw it in scrambled eggs and you don’t even notice it other than the pretty green specks mixed in the eggs. My kids (8 and 6) agree you can’t even taste it. My 2 year old, won’t touch them this way-yet. Green eggs and Ham!

  • GreenStar

    I use the following for both Kale and Spinach:

    1-2 Cups cleaned and chopped
    3-7 Cloves of Garlic, minced (adjust amount to your taste)
    1-2 tbsp oil (your choice, Sesame adds a nice flavor)
    3-6 tbsp of Braggs Aminos (Tastes Like Soy sauce, but contains proteins and amino acids).
    Add oil to medium hot pan
    Add garlic
    Add greens and saute’ until slightly wilted, remove from heat and add Braggs Aminos to taste.

    More on Braggs here:

  • Norman

    I find kale to be pretty much inedible unless I steam the living you-know-what out of it – preferably with a little toasted sesame oil in the water. Then – with a dab of butter and a squeeze of lemon – I can choke it down. It’s actually ALMOST enjoyable with some nice pan-friend white fish fillets! 😉
    ps: We also turn it into flakes in the blender, then freeze a container of it and use a tsp. or so in soups, stews, etc. Sometimes my partner goes completely crazy and has some in her fruit/yoghurt smoothie!

    • Michelle

      So before you blend it into flakes, do you dry it out in the oven, for ex, and then blend it up and then freeze these flakes?

      In terms of feeling you need to cook it “very thoroughly” (as you say), sounds like the kale you’re eating is a bit tough and likely “late season” kale which often IS tougher. If there is anyway to try to get earlier season kale that will be more tender. I also find red russian kale more tender than say lacinato.

      • Norman

        Re: flaked kale – no, we just toss it in the food processor (oops! – not blender) straight up. mince it like you would parsley, for instance, if you were making tabouleh. then spread it on a cookie sheet (or one of those flexible plastic cutting boards works even better), freeze overnight or until it’s “crispy”, transfer it to a bottle or other container and store in the freezer. if you spread it out thin enough on the sheet for freezing, it doesn’t freeze into clumps, and stays relatively spoon-able. works like the charm!

  • David T

    Use honey, not agave–processed agave is as bad or worse than high fructose corn syrup.

  • IM

    Best kale ever: sautee a few tbs of sesame seeds and a shot of cayenne pepper in olive oil , add a bunch of kale, ~1 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tbsp of rice wine vinegar. Cook 2 minutes max. Awesome.

  • Kelsey Winward

    Kale is truly a miracle food. It grows practically year round in cold weather and its beauty speaks for itself, in fact it is sold for landscaping in fall and winter weather. All varieties are edible my local green house has assured me! I buy it to plant it in my flowerbeds but often cook with it. Which brings me to my point: No mention of kale soup?
    Soup is the best way to eat Kale if you ask me. Definitely a Northern climate concoction. You can mix onions and vinegar in with the kale to counter the bitterness and then throw in some other healthy sweet vegetables like carrots or potatoes or beats or turnips or all of the above. Secret is to cook the vegetables each separately, I like to microwave them in covered glass dishes, so none are over-cooked and then add them all to the broth. Throw in some sautéed pork, turkey or beef sausage if you are a carnivore. Bring it all to a boil throw in the raw de-stemmed small pieces of kale and boil for a minute longer then shut off the heat. Cover and allow soup to sit for a few hours so the flavors infuse and difuse.

  • Melissa

    I love kale in my juicer. My favorite recipe is to take a few leaves of kale, a couple broccoli stalks, and half a lemon and put it all through my juicer. Its a great way to get a good dosage of greens.

    • Norman

      Holy Cow – That sounds just about healthy enough to kill you! 😉 What on Earth does it taste like?

  • amanda

    i love kale!

    baked kale recipe

    tear kale up into smallish pieces
    put on baking sheet
    drizzle w/ olive oil & sprinkle w/ s+p (or jane’s crazy mixed up salt)
    mix together w/ hands
    shave some parmesan cheese on top
    put in oven at 350 for 15 min

  • Wendy

    I’m amazed by the variety of kale recipes here!

    In Holland we typically know only our traditional way to eat this vegetable: as a mash pot with potatoes.

    The potatoes are cooked, the finely shredded kale briefly cooked on top in the same pot, then mashed together with the potatoes. The preferred meat is what we call rookworst, a smoked sausage (alternatives are: kielbasa, bratwurst, andouille, frankfurters, or a meatball). Together, this makes for wonderful, wintry comfort food:

    But I’m definitely going to try something new with it, with some of the different recipes I’ve seen here! :)

  • Chris

    This is a bit of work but worth it. A nice change fom my standard quick Kale/Leeks/Garlic sautee.

    3 bunches of Kale

    3 13.5-ounce cans coconut milk

    1 tablespoon kosher salt

    1 teaspoon ground cayenne

    1 teaspoon mild paprika

    ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice.

    1. Wash the kale thoroughly and cut out the stalks. Cut the wide leaves into strips the width of the small leaves.

    2. In a large pot set over a low flame, heat the coconut milk until it is thoroughly mixed and just lukewarm. Transfer to a large, nonreactive bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir in the kale, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

    3. Preheat a grill or a cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Remove the kale from the refrigerator and stir to make sure the leaves are well covered in marinade. Using metal tongs, place the kale on the grill in a single layer. Cook for 45 to 60 seconds, or until the leaves are sizzling, then turn over and grill the other side for another 45 to 60 seconds, or until the leaves have visibly softened. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

    From the NY Times:Adapted from Vij’s Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia.

  • Janina O’Brien

    What about putting small pieces (without the stems) tossed with a few drops of olive oil and sea salt in a 200 degree F. oven for about 18 minutes? It should stay bright green, won’t be too bitter, if at all, and is oh, so crunchy. You have to put the small pieces on a baking rack, so they don’t just soak up the olive oil. This kind of kale is very filling and nutritious; satisfying those cravings for crunchy, salty food. Jacques Pepin’s recipe turned me on to this about a month ago and I haven’t stopped!

  • Megan

    I love kale too! I could eat it every day. I don’t even do anything complicated—I just steam it for a few minutes and then add balsamic vinegar. If I am feeling fancy, I will sauté an onion and maybe some garlic first, then sauté the kale. I always find that I crave kale when I am PMSing. :) Something about the balsamic vinegar and kale is intensely satisfying.

    Since I live alone, I often end up buying frozen kale, because that way I don’t have veggies going bad in my fridge. It is surprisingly good, and easy to steam in the microwave. Frozen kale is also great for soups… I often find myself throwing a bunch in “for some color.” At least, that’s what I tell myself. 😛

    • SuryaSmiles

      Instead of buying frozen kale (which I’ve actually never seen in the grocery store here, Alaska), and instead of blanching it before freezing, I just de-stemmed the thickest part of the kale (any variety) and cut it into bite-sized pieces, put it in freezer bags and froze it from fresh stage. I did this with a garbage-sized mix bag of 3 varieties of kale that I’d bought for $10.

      When I make soups, I just take a bag out and drop the frozen kale pieces into the soup at the stage I want them cooked. It works great!

  • Concerned Citizen

    Agave is pure fructose. That’s bad for your body, very bad.

    • SuryaSmiles

      Rather have agave than “white” sugar. Fructose is sugar, no matter what form, though I’d rather have the most unrefined form. Honey might be “purer” if you’re a purist.

  • RawFoodGuy22

    I make Kale juice all the time with my juicer. It tastes awful. I just hold my breath and slam it down…. Does the body good 😉

    • Michelle

      Toss in a bit of apple, carrot or beet and you’ll be lapping up every drop!

      • SuryaSmiles

        I actually don’t make kale juice, but add the kale to the apple, carrot or beet, ginger, celery, pear, blueberries, strawberries, whatever I have in the fridge that I want that day, in my Vitamix with lots of water. I destem the kale and save the stems for the veggie stock.

  • Agent Scully

    I have recently incorporated kale into my diet in the form of shakes. ¾ cup orange juice, berries (this time of the year it’s the frozen kind), kale and ice. That’s it. The OJ and berries add sugar to hide the bitterness of the kale which is raw, so you get maximum nutrition!

  • Amie

    This is my third visit to this blog , I will return soon !

  • Don

    We love kale sauteed in olive oil with garlic, some lemon zest and a little lemon juice served over gnocchi. A little ground pepper and Parmesan on top finishes it off.

  • SuryaSmiles

    A fabulous kale recipe for introducing more greens into my vegan, 1/2 raw diet I found this summer was from Rip Esselstyn’s Cookbook, “The Engine 2 Diet”, Kale Butter.

    It’s on page 237 and was invented by his sister to was looking for ways to get more greens into her kids diet.

    This is the recipe with my spin on it:

    1 bunch kale, rinsed and chopped with most of the stem intake
    1/2 cup walnuts, almonds or pecans (soaked atleast 4 hrs)
    1/2+ cup steaming water, more or less as needed
    1/2 lemon, juiced
    salt to taste

    Steam the kale for 5 minutes under tender, no more or the butter/dip will be grey. Blend all the ingredients in your blender slowly thoroughly until smooth, adjusting the lemon and salt to taste. It will be little smoother consistency than pesto if you’ve made that. It should be a bright green if you’ve not overcooked the kale.

    I’ve eaten this on my waffles for breakfast, or used it as a dip for crackers, dollop in a bowl of soup. It tastes “green” to start, but I think it’s a great, easy peasy recipe.

    Rip has many wonderful recipes in his book!

  • SuryaSmiles

    Oops, btw the way, Michelle I found your website today I think through the Huffington Post, “13 Health Food Myths”. Great article! Love your website!

  • Ofelia

    Love all the posting every one is sharing for the love of food which at this times is more important than just being a cook.

    Thanks Michelle for creating this forum, keep feeding us WHOLE food!

  • Pamela

    How nice to have found your blog, although I feel like I’m joining the party a little late! I find myself in agreement with much of the way you think, EXCEPT about raw kale. If you thinly slice the kale, preferably dino, and massage a tasty dressing into it, you will adore it. My kids are crazy for the following raw kale salad with citrus dressing:

    2 bunches dinosuar kale, about 12-14 ounces, washed and dried
    2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
    ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
    Twist or 2 of black pepper
    2 teaspoons minced shallot
    2 teaspoons maple syrup or raw honey
    6-7 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil

    1.Remove the stems from the kale and finely shred the leaves with a sharp knife. Place in a serving bowl.
    2.Prepare the dressing: whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl and add enough dressing to coat the kale lightly. Massage the dressing into the kale. Sprinkle with your favorite salad fixings, such as avocado, dried fruit, chopped nuts or seeds, feta. I love this salad with cooked quinoa!

    Also, I notice you write to heat the olive oil to hot. I teach cooking classes and I always tell my students to keep the heat to medium with olive oil since they will be damaging the oil and creating a whole bunch of free radicals. I’d love to know your opinion about that. Thanks!

    • Michelle

      I am a huge fan of kale! I think it can be an intimidating veg for many people and sometimes it can be bitter, but I am a total convert and now eat it more of it than almost any other veg. I prefer to cook it ever so slightly, but many people do eat it raw and do recommend the massaging of the dressing into the kale to slightly soften it, as you do! (Which sounds delicious).

      As for the olive oil, I definitely agree that it is best to keep it at lowish heat as it’s smoke point is low – I actually address that point in this post. If the heat gets a bit too high, I would not panic, as I feel that you’d need to consume quite a bit of “burnt” olive oil for it to really have a detrimental health impact. Olive oil also loses much of its delicate flavor once it’s heated, so there are several good reasons why consuming uncooked or lightly heated olive oil is preferable.

      Lately I’ve been cooking lightly sauteing kale (about 1 min max) in coconut oil (which has a high smoke point) and I adore the slightly sweet flavor it infuses into the kale!

      • Pamela

        I had a feeling that’s how you would reply. Agreed! I am a huge fan of coconut oil, too. Thanks.

  • Wayne

    Most juices I make contain kale. In my juicing hierarchy carrot is #1, kale is #2. I have often just combined to two. The previous poster is right. Straight kale juice tastes awful. I don’t even enjoy licking the foam off my fingers. People ask me what it tastes like. I say, “pop a piece of concrete in your mouth, and that’s about it.” Am I right? Carrot and kale together, 50-50, highly drinkable. I even recently developed “a juice for highly evolved warlocks” (tip of the hat to Charlie Sheen), equal parts tomato, celery, carrot, and kale. Not formulated for taste, but nutrituion, but still pretty mild, I think. I previously concocted a “top 5” juice, equal parts carrot, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and orange. Again, formulated for nutrition, not taste. Maybe a little challenging, tastewise. Comments?

    • Michelle

      I’m 100% with you on the pure kale juice “problem”. Carrot+kale is ideal, or apple+kale will do the trick too.

  • Talbertwl

    Do kale chips need to be refridgerated?

    • Michelle Madden

      No — in fact they’ll likely go soggy if you do…as long as they are well enough baked or dehydrated that the moisture content is near 0, then keeping them at room temp level is fine.

  • Hungfat

    Kale is excellent sauteed with Ume plum vinegar and goat or sheep feta.  I eat this for breakfast several days a week. 

  • Hungfat

    I think what you’ve had is possibly massaged kale salad which is excellent.  Just like the name, the kale stems are removed, the kale finely chopped and then massaged by hand along with oil and vinegar or other items until it is tender.  I’m sure there are some recipes on line.  It is totally raw.