How I Freeze Kale & Other Greens

July 5, 2012

SUMMER GREENS FOR WINTER MEALS? You bet.  I’ve enjoyed creamed beet- and turnip-tops as a Thanksgiving side-dish, and this gorgeous Green Quiche for Christmas brunch. Kale (that’s the heirloom Red Russian variety above), has topped many plates of pasta here on snowy evenings. Of course, these fireside feasts are only possible because I preserve my greens at the peak of their perfection:

Any greens which are commonly cooked can be preserved through freezing. Besides Swiss chard (above) and others I’ve already mentioned, you can freeze collards, spinach, dandelion, and — if you can bear the taste (I can’t) — mustard greens. In the case of beet-greens, select only the youngest, most-tender leaves for freezing.

Some gardeners simply wash, pat dry, and then freeze their greens. This might work for the short-term. But for longer storage — 8 to 12 months, in fact — do what I do, and blanch them first. When you blanch, you submerge the greens briefly in boiling water, then promptly plunge them into ice water. Blanching destroys the enzymes which cause leaves to lose their green color. It also helps to preserve their taste.

According to The Joy of Cooking, the proper blanching time for all greens except collards is 2 1/2 minutes. Collard greens, which are not tender, require a 3-minute boil.

This freezing-technique has never failed me:
Trimming. Remove any tough stems from leaves. Kale has a particularly fibrous stem; if you wish to keep it, first chop it into one-inch pieces. Then blanch it, separately from the tender leaves, for 3 minutes. Personally, I don’t bother to keep tough stems.

Chopping and Cleaning. Roughly chop or tear the leaves, then swish them around in a bowl or sink of water to remove dirt.

Blanching. Dump the leaves into a big pot of boiling water; cover, and blanch for 2 1/2 minutes (again, 3 for collards). Timing begins the moment your greens touch the water.

Chilling. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to a big bowl of ice water, and let them sit for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Drain well.

Drying. Lay the leaves out on a baking sheet lined with either a cloth towel or several thicknesses of paper towels. Use another towel to blot tops of leaves. The goal here is to absorb excess water. Leaves needn’t be completely dry before you freeze them.

Bagging. Arrange clumps of leaves in serving sizes, and loosely pack into zip-lock freezer bags. I use one-quart bags. Be sure to label these as to content and date.

Vacuum-Sealing. Would you believe I still don’t own an electric vacuum-sealing device? Thus I express all air from the bag (this to avoid freezer burn) by sealing it partially, inserting a drinking straw, and sucking. Believe it or not, this little gimmick makes a respectable vacuum-seal.

And that’s it! Summer-grown greens — when properly blanched, sealed and frozen — can be enjoyed for 8-12 months.

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Related Posts:
How I Freeze Zucchini
Angelic Zucchini Fritters
Freezing Peaches

Comments

  1. Eric says:

    Great post, Kevin. Makes me wish I'd planted a lot more lacinato kale!

  2. Paula says:

    It had never occurred to me to freeze turnip and beet tops. I learn something new here every day!

    You are my absolute favorite gardening site.

  3. Greg W says:

    I had no idea you could freeze greens! Thanks for the great info.

  4. Eric – If you want to stock up on kale, harvest and freeze its leaves every 2 weeks or so. Kale will continue to produce foliage right through the first hard frosts of autumn. (Sometimes I've been able to harvest mine through mid-December!)

    Paula – Thank you for your kind words. I'm blushing.

    Greg W – Glad you enjoyed the “green” info.

  5. Cary says:

    Kevin, once again, you speak to me! The last few years I've come to adore all greens and they are profuse in my garden and fridge now. I will happily blanch and freeze to my heart's content, thanks to you. You are my hero and like Paula above, my favorite garden site. Please keep up the good work, and in the meantime, I am enjoying reading your back posts. You are terrific!

  6. My Gran always canned and froze garden surplus for winter use…we had the best soup made with just tomato, corn and okra…the greens were cooked into everything from soups to casseroles and I especially loved her ham, kale and white bean soups.
    Thanks for all the information you share and for reminding me of another great gardener and cook.

  7. Cary – thank you for the kind words. Freeze on!

    Prairiecactus – Mercifully canning/freezing are making a big comeback. Our grandmothers would be proud.

  8. LilyBiscuit says:

    Thanks for this post! I always learn something new here. I'm going to do this. Great presentation, as usual :)

  9. LilyBiscuit – You're welcome. Glad to be of help!

  10. Cary says:

    Thank you Kevin! I just put up 2 big bags of Ragged Jack kale (love that name :) ) and of Portuguese kale. Also 3 bags of Emerite green beans and French Gold filet beans. Soo glad to have these preserved and use up the abundance. Enough to share too! I so much appreciate you and your blog/ideas. Ohh, no red tomatoes yet in SE CT, but huge numbers of growing green ones. How were your fried green tomatoes the other day? Stay cool, dear friend!

  11. Cary – Glad to hear your preserving efforts are going well. What a challenge to do this work during a heat wave!

    The Fried Green Tomatoes were beyond fabulous. I used fat green 'Mortgage Lifter.'

  12. caitlinvb says:

    New reader, and VERY glad I stumbled upon your blog! I wanted to make one suggestion – something I learned while living alone and being a restaurant cook – you can put the blanched, dried(ish) clumps of greens on a cookie sheet to freeze, and then bag the frozen clumps…that way you can reach in and grab one portion whenever you need one. Just like how I freeze fresh berries so they don't turn into a giant block. (if that makes sense). And thanks for all he spectacular info!

  13. caitlinvb – very nice to meet you. I like your idea of flash freezing clumps of greens (or berries) on a cookie sheet before bagging them. Thanks for the great tip!

  14. Rachel says:

    I’m going to try this technique! Thanks!!! Also wanted to share an idea for how I like to do it. I blanch my kale in chicken broth and stuff it into a small plastic container, pour the broth over it and freeze to make a huge kale-cube. This is great to drop into soup, stew, etc or defrost over rice. Or, just heat and serve. Very flavorful!

  15. Michelle says:

    Rachel – I like your freezing idea. Kale-cube soup!

  16. Rachel – Marvelous idea! Would be delicious over rice.

  17. Nancy Oden says:

    Kevin – I use glass jars which have almost no shoulders, e.g., peanut butter jars or wide-mouth canning jars, for freezing greens and tomatoes. I use a steamer thing that fits right into almost any pan (it unfolds – grocery stores carry them) so the greens don’t have to touch water. I believe this leaves more natural vitamins in them because they aren’t leached out into the boil water.

    I love opening a jar of last summer’s green in January – luxury!

  18. Nancy – I like the steaming idea, and I probably have one of those folding gadgets here some place. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, steam-blanching takes 1 1/2 times longer than regular blanching. But it certainly beats boiling a big pot of water, right?

  19. Donna B. says:

    Ah-HA! So that’s the kale I have growing that was a seed in a mystery packet! hehe.
    I’ve attempted to freezer-preserve before… failed everytime [bag get's really icy inside. Greens get tough and the texture is off..] then I realized something: I wasn’t putting them in an ice bath! that must be it!
    That, or the bags I use don’t have a good seal on them… /sigh.

  20. Donna B. – Glad you were able to I.D. your mystery kale! I think the ice-bath is the key to good texture of the greens after freezing.

  21. JD Pence says:

    So much great information! I can’t wait to try freezing kale (one of my fave veggies)!!! Thanks Kevin!

  22. Enjay says:

    Our ways of preserving Greens are exactly the same right up until the bagging. I put them in my dehydrator and let ‘er rip, then bag them and forego the freezing. Unfortunately it’s far too hot for Greens here right now, but it’s just about time to plant the seeds for a winter crop.

  23. Kathy says:

    Perfect timing-I was going to look on your website to find instructions for swiss chard. Mine is growing so well in this heat. I want to enjoy it all winter-thanks for the how-to instructions.

  24. Suzanne K says:

    Kevin, I really enjoy your weekly tidbits! When I was blanching and freezing my very first green bean crop last year I had an idea. I used an ancient metal collander to hold the beans. Super easy to drop into big pot of boiling water and even easier to pull all the beans out in one fell swoop (with tongs) and drop whole thing into big container of ice water. No fishing around with a slotted spoon needed (I was obsessing about the precise amount of time to have the beans in the hot blanching bath). Yes, the metal collander is ancient and beat up, but it still works beautifully! I would imagine that some of the ‘new fangled’ silicone ones would work also.

  25. Kandy says:

    New to gardening and love this information on how to freeze Kale…gonna try today to freeze some. Not only does our family eat it, but we have a tortoise and Hamster that loves it too.
    Thank you. The Staples-Cooper Family!

  26. despina says:

    You know, I did not think it possible. I had tried in the past and only got weird see through waterlogged leaves.

    I guess the straw is the trick!

  27. Just found your site when looking up ideas on how to use Kale. We are 3rd year gardeners and having a great time working it with the kids.

    I am going to list you in our garden links.

  28. SandraG says:

    I’ve been experimenting with freezing basil leaves. So far it seems to work and I still get that great basil taste that you only get when it’s fresh. I cut a piece of waxed paper, fold in half, then fold in half again to make pockets that slip into a quart sized ziplock bag. I wash the leaves and let air dry then slide in between the sheets of waxed paper inside the ziplock. I make a lot of tomato basil soup in the winter so I’m freezing just enough basil per ziplock bag for one batch of soup. I’ve heard the leaves turn black when frozen but I’ve not experienced that yet. I’m still experimenting on the time limit for leaving the basil in the freezer.

  29. Kim R says:

    Thanks for the tip! I’ll try it. We do have one of those vacuum sealers and it’s great, prevents damage on frozen foods AND it’s also good for sending meals (like garden lasagne) to people who might be under the weather, just had a baby, or for some reason can’t cook at the moment. That way they can heat it up or freeze until they need it. No mess, no plate to return.

  30. ArtistryFarm says:

    Here at ArtistryFarm, instead of blanching in water, extra greens are rinsed, chopped and sauteed for a few minutes in the iron skillet with olive oil and garlic (kinda like wilting greens) drained by tilting the skillet and then thrown into plastic bags for freezing… Love your info, Kevin.

  31. Jingles says:

    May I share an idea with you? After you’ve fiished cooking immediately put a pot of cold water on the still hot burner. This way the water absorbs the latent heat not you. .

  32. Ann says:

    I have neglected my greens (collard, kale, lettuce) the last couple of weeks and when I checked them tonight they are very big and full of aphids. What should I do with them now? If I cut them off will they grow again or is it too late? Some of my lettuces have gone to seed, as well as my broccoli. With all the aphid should I compost them or not? The aphid are spreading to my tomatoes, so how can I control them naturally? Any advice or ideas are greatly appreciated!

  33. Donnella Bryce says:

    Hello Kevin, Some time ago I came across your website by chance, had a quick look and tagged it to my favourites list as an interesting site. Since then I have received the monthly versions and have come to really look forward to it. Your gardening and cooking ideas are, to me really terrific, (even though your seasons are reversed to mine, I’m in rural country New Sout wales in Eastern Australia). Some of your other ‘tips’ amaze me that I never thought I such useful and practical ideas. Thank you Kevin.

  34. what great site this is.the photographs are really helpful along with the excellent explanations.x

  35. Rob G says:

    I dehydrate kale and spinach to use in winter for soups and stews. It reconnstitutes itsekf when it cooks. I even add greens to my spaghetti sauce.

  36. Sgc says:

    Started a whole foods, plant-bases diet 3 months ago and juice with kale every day. Can I freeze kale as instructed, let it thaw and juice it or will it not have any juice like French kale? I’d sure like to know before I freeze a bunch. Thanks.

  37. Hi Sgc – Kudos to you for starting a whole-foods diet. I have never tried to juice my blanched, frozen kale. Maybe try it with a small quantity of leaves, and see how it works out for you.

  38. Kevin, that was SUCH a great write-up about freezing Kale. Thank you for taking the time to do it so well…I had to smile at the “straw vacuum seal” creative idea because I have never used my electric vacuum sealer for years now.

    I want to save two cups of washed, shredded Kale leaves at a time for my Tuscan Zuppa recipes in the future, so you really helped with the blanching info; I was wondering if it was needed because Basil can be directly frozen in water, making cubes or without water. This recipe I found online is close to Olive Garden’s wonderful Zuppa Tuscan (zuppa means soup in Italian) but O. G. has their own blend of seasonings and proportion unknown and they use very little cream in water which we like better. The online recipe has way too much heavy cream in it. Both versions are a wonderful Sausage, Potatoes & Kale recipe. We love it. Great for breakfast, also.

    I was just writing another lady online who figured out how to blend Kale and save it that way for other types of recipes.

  39. Bart Eben says:

    I see all these folks talking about Blanching greens like Kale. are they aware of the damage that they are doing to the nutritritional value of these vegtables ? you are rendering them as worthless as store bought canned junk. so, why bother ?

  40. Hi Bart – Once veggies are picked, enzymes start to break down the nutrients. Blanching stops this action. From Organic Gardening (dot) com: Tests have shown that, after nine months, vegetables that were blanched before freezing retain up to 1,300 percent more vitamin C and other nutrients than vegetables frozen without blanching.

  41. Love the tip about creating a vacuum by sucking air with a straw. How clever!

  42. Greengrocer says:

    Just found this website after looking for ways to freeze my abundant greens this year – yay!

    However just wanted to say: those stalks you take off collards, kale, etc. – don’t throw them away, juice them with your next juice!

  43. maggie says:

    I have only just found this site and I love it already!! Thank you Kevin:) I have some beautiful kale/chard and even collards growing – I’m thinking that we will never eat it all and cannot bear to throw away the fruits (or in this case vegetables!) of my labor! Ha! I know I have info at the click of a mouse and here I am – all my lovely veggies will now be safely stored in my freezer for the coming months – thank you again!

    Maggie

  44. Zola says:

    I’m Loving ALL these Wonderful Tips from Everyone !!!
    Love this site, Kevin & Friends !

  45. Lori Savoie says:

    Picked kale yesterday and will freeze it as you said. Didn’t know how till I read your post. I look forward to getting your newsletter every week – so much good information. Thanks! Lori

  46. Marjie T. says:

    When I remove my kale from the ice water, I squeeze it out and make it into cigar-shaped, but thicker, rolls and then freeze them

    When I take them out of the freezer for pasta, soup or whatever, it is really easy to just slice off what I want. When I tis sliced, it results in nice, shredded pieces, perfect for adding.

    If I don’t use the entire roll, I just refreeze (it works fine) or put the rest of the roll into the fridge and use within a day or two.

  47. Lise Giroux-Beattie says:

    I follow the process that you mentioned but put the veggies in a 1/2 -1/3cup after drying them for a bit, then I put them in the freezer on a baking sheet, until frozen. Then I place them in a plastic baq This gives portions for my green morning slushy to put in my blender. I call them my hockey pucks.

  48. Lori G. says:

    I am glad to hear I am not the only one who cannot abide mustard greens. I’ve never blanched my greens before freezing them before, but I’ll try it this time. I have a bunch of swiss chard that I must do something with and soon. Thanks for the tutorial!

  49. judy says:

    Thanks Kevin I will give this a try x

  50. Rosiland Ball says:

    I belong to a CSA and every year, especially in the spring, I get so many greens – kale, chard, spinach that I invariably ended up composting too much as I could not eat it fast enough! No more!!!! Thank you Kevin!

  51. Pat says:

    Thank you for this information. I have had so much kale in my garden that I was not sure what to do with it and didn’t realize I good freeze it. Thanks

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