Butternut Squash and Crispy Kale Bake – Simple Healthy Vegan Side Dish Recipe
Though it might seem like kale is the new healthy green on the scene, it’s actually been around for centuries. Kale is the predecessor to cabbage and was occasionally eaten by Europeans through the end of the Middle Ages. In Medieval England, it was known as cole or colewort. In Scotland, where it was widely grown and cultivated, it first became known as kale. The cruciferous leafy green hasn’t changed much over the centuries; the kale we eat today is much the same as the kale people ate over a thousand years ago. Only recently cooks have started to rediscover kale, mainly because it packs a nutritional punch. One thing is certain, there are few other foods that can match the health benefits of kale.
This healthy side dish came to me as I was searching for ways to add more cooked kale into my diet. I’ve been a fan of raw kale for some time now thanks to the kale massage, and I’ve enjoyed a variety of kale salads over the years. Unfortunately, that all changed when I was recently diagnosed with a thyroid condition. I am now confronted with a long list of foods that I should avoid, one being raw kale. The very thing I thought was healthiest for my body simultaneously causes damage to my thyroid. Noooo! It doesn’t mean to say everybody should avoid kale– it’s a super healthy, antioxidant-rich vegetable– but being hypothyroid, I’ve had to modify the way I prepare and eat it. It’s always something, isn’t it? Sigh.
I didn’t want to give up kale entirely, so I went back to the drawing board. I knew I wanted to combine sweet roasted butternut squash (yum!) with cooked kale. There are many ways to sautée and prepare kale on the stovetop, but I was looking for something easier that could all be done on one baking sheet in the oven. My test kitchen assistant Gary said it reminded him of a quote– he thought it was Henry Ford, but online it seems widely attributed to Bill Gates. Quote Investigator claims neither person said it. Whoever came up with this, it describes my thinking here to a T:
I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it.
Call me lazy, but I suddenly thought– why not do this all at once? After the squash was finished roasting and caramelizing in a hot oven, I topped it with a hefty layer of olive oil-massaged kale, hoping that it would cook down and wilt just slightly. After 2-3 minutes of broiling, the results were even better than I could have imagined! Sweet, salty, spicy butternut squash with crispy-edged, wilted kale. The leaves were halfway roasted, something akin to the kale chips people love so much. Put it all together and it’s utterly addicting, something I will happily eat on a regular basis. Thyroid rejoice, cooked kale for the win. Hurrah!
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Butternut Squash and Crispy Kale Bake
- 2 bunches curly kale, de-stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
- 8 cups butternut squash cubed
- 3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing baking sheet
- 2 tbsp maple syrup, grade B preferred
- 1 tsp salt, divided, or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (if spice sensitive just use a pinch)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Try to start with prepped and cubed squash, it will cut down on your prep time considerably (total time on this recipe does not account for prepping the squash). If you need a tutorial for preparing whole squash, <a href="https://toriavey.com/how-to/all-about-butternut-squash-how-to-peel-seed-slice-and-prepare/">click here</a>. Make sure your kale leaves are cut from their stems, otherwise they will be too tough to chew. Discard the stems (or save them for juicing) and rip the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the butternut squash cubes with 2 tbsp of olive oil and the maple syrup, 1/2 tsp salt, cinnamon and cayenne. Mix until evenly coated.
- Grease your baking sheet with olive oil. Transfer the squash to the baking sheet and roast at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until tender and nicely caramelized. Turn the sheet around once during roasting to ensure even heat distribution.
- While the squash is roasting, massage the kale pieces with the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tsp of salt. Give them a good massage for a couple of minutes to start them wilting, it will help to sweeten their flavor. You may need to do this in separate batches if your mixing bowl isn't large enough.
- Once the squash has finished roasting, remove from the oven. You should see some nice browning, which will add a lot to the flavor.
- Turn the oven to broil. Evenly spread the prepared kale over the top of the squash (careful, that pan will be hot!).
- Return the tray to the oven and broil for 1-2 minutes or until the kale wilts and the edges start to get crisp and brown. Turn the sheet around once during broiling to ensure even heat distribution. I like them quite browned, it gives more flavor to the dish and gives them a great texture, so don't be afraid to let them get a bit "overdone." When finished, toss the kale and butternut squash cubes together in a salad bowl. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired. Serve immediately.
Other Great Recipe Ideas
Beard + Bonnet: “Cheesy” Kale Chip Popcorn
Simply Recipes: Sautéed Kale with Tahini Sauce