One-Pot Lemony Kale Pasta is a super simple vegetarian weeknight pasta dinner. Kind of like a riff on spaghetti aglio e olio with lots of kale and lemon added in. Made with lentil pasta to bump up the protein content, this is an easy and satisfying vegetarian or vegan pasta recipe.
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What's in your arsenal of easy, satisfying weeknight dinners that you can pull off without even thinking about it?
I am allll about quick and easy recipes that are also delicious and satisfying, but one pot pasta recipes do have a special place in my heart. Only one pot! So few dishes to wash!
Recipes like Creamy One-Pot Pasta with Peas or this Vegetarian Ravioli Bake are on heavy rotation in my house, and sometimes when I need a quick lunch or snack I'll whip up this 5-Minute Mac and Cheese for One.
Today we're making another one-pot wonder that's packed with veg, easily vegan, and comes together so lickety-split quick that you'll have dinner on the table faster than calling for takeout. So what's the name of the game? One-Pot Lemony Kale Pasta, that's what.
It's kind of like a riff on Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, but with lots and lots of kale and a good amount of lemon added in. It is beautifully simple, and can either be twirled onto forks and eaten as is, or topped with a shower of cheese, a poached egg, or even some toasted pine nuts.
Should we do this thing?
The ingredients list is short and sweet. Here's what you'll need:
- Pasta --> I used a combination of regular spaghetti and red lentil spaghetti, which bumps up the protein content.
- Kale --> A whole bunch of lacinato kale up in here.
- Garlic --> Just a clove or two. A little goes a long way.
- Red pepper flakes --> To spice things up.
- Lemons --> For that lemony zing.
- Olive oil --> This forms the base of our sauce.
Then you've got your optional toppers. I used cheese (go for Parmesan or a vegetarian Parmesan-like cheese) but you can skip it to keep things vegan or use nutritional yeast or a vegan parm if you'd prefer.
You don't really need any special equipment for this recipe. I use my microplane for zesting the lemons, and a citrus juicer (sort of like this one) and a good sharp knife (this is my favourite knife) for the kale.
You'll also need a big pot for the pasta, and a colander for draining it.
How do you make this recipe?
It's super simple, my friends! Let's start by prepping our ingredients.
First up, you'll want to de-stem your kale and then slice it into ribbons (pictured above). If you hold the thick end of the kale stem firmly in one hand and use your other hand to pull the leaf away from the stem, you'll make quick work of it.
Once you've de-stemmed all of the kale, stack it up and use a sharp knife to slice it into thin ribbons.
Now is also the time to thinly slice your garlic, and zest and juice the lemons. Pro tip: do the zesting first and the juicing second. It's really hard to zest empty lemons!
Now let's get cooking!
Step 1: Put a big pot of water on high heat. When it comes to a boil, salt it generously and then add the regular and lentil pasta (if using). Tip: check the package instructions and if one has a shorter cooking time than the other, add it in a bit later.
Step 2: In the last minute of cooking when the pasta is just becoming al dente, add the kale so it can cook together with the pasta for the final minute.
Step 3: Scoop out one cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and kale in a colander.
Step 4: Return the same pot to the burner, reduced to medium heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, and chili flakes. Heat gently for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is just slightly golden.
Step 5: Add the drained spaghetti and kale to the pot and toss to coat with the garlic oil.
Step 6: Add the lemon juice, and a few splashes of pasta water to loosen things up if needed.
Step 7: Serve! Garnish generously with Parmesan, nutritional yeast, toasted pine nuts, or any other desired toppings.
Ok, let's get into some Q&A!
Do I have to use lentil pasta?
Nope! You can use 100% regular pasta if you prefer, and you can also use 100% legume pasta, rice pasta, or whatever kind of pasta floats your boat. The world is your spaghetti noodle oyster.
Feel free to use another pasta shape if that's what you've got on hand.
Can I use a different type of green?
Totes. For starters, you could use curly kale rather than lacinato kale. You could also sub in a different green, such as spinach, but I'd toss that with hot noodles at the end rather than adding it to the boiling water.
You could also throw in broccoli florets or broccoli rabe rather than leafy greens.
Can I make this in advance?
You can, although this dish comes together so quickly that I don't think it's necessary from a food prep perspective. Be warned that the acidity in the lemon juice will turn the kale a funky brown colour as time goes on. It's still perfectly fine to eat, it just looks a bit weird.
You may find that when re-heating your pasta you need to add an extra splash of liquid, like a bit of olive oil or broth, to loosen it up.
Is kale healthy?
Kale is a nutritional powerhouse! It is extraordinarily rich in micronutrients, dietary fiber, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and cancer-fighting glucosinolates.
Kale is a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, and contains nearly twice the vitamin K (essential for blood clotting and also an important anti-inflammatory agent) than any other cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, cabbage, etc). Iron, magnesium, vitamin E, folate, and phosphorous are among the complement of vital minerals found in kale.
Other recipes you might enjoy:
Vegetarian Baked Ziti
Vegetarian Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes
Cheesy Cauliflower Bake
One-Pot Lemony Kale Pasta
- 8 oz spaghetti
- 8 oz lentil spaghetti or more regular spaghetti
- 1 bunch lacinato kale de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons
- 1 large lemon zested
- 2 large lemons juiced
- 1 clove garlic thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup reserved pasta water
- Parmesan for serving
- Pull the kale leaves off of their stems. Stack them on top of one another, and use a sharp knife to slice into thin ribbons.
- Zest one lemon, and juice two lemons. Thinly slice the garlic clove.
- Put a large pot of water over high heat, covered, until it comes to the boil.
- Salt well, and add the pasta.
- Cook the pasta about 8-10 minutes, until it is al dente - it should have just a little bite to it.
- In the last minute of cooking time for the pasta, add the kale to the pot and stir to submerge it.
- Remove one-cup of water from the pasta pot and set aside.
- Remove the pasta and kale from the heat, and drain well.
- Return the same pot to medium heat.
- Add lemon juice, lemon zest, thinly sliced garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil to the pot. Stir well to combine.
- Let the garlic oil cook for 3-5 minutes, until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden.
- Add the pasta and kale, and stir to combine well.
- Let the pasta stand for 5 minutes for the flavours to combine.
- Give everything a good stir, and add a touch of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up a bit.
- Serve hot, with shavings of Parmesan.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only.
- Prepare the kale, lemon zest, and garlic ahead of time, or while the pasta is cooking.
- You can use a combination of regular and legume pasta, or just one type of pasta is also fine.
This recipe was originally published December 4, 2014. It was retested, rephotographed, and updated on January 28, 2020. Last edited and updated January 13, 2022.
First time commenter.... made this pasta and kale, I loved it! Even the carnivore husband pronounced it "tasty enough" and said he would eat it again. I put nutritional yeast on top of mine, another first for me, and stirred the pine nuts through.
I've also made a variation of your vegetarian pasta bake which turned out well.
Haha, well "tasty enough" is high praise from some people!
Sounds wonderful! Love me a simple declious pasta. Thanks for sharing.
I was wondering if you have a Parmasan alternative? Parmasan is not vegetarian, it is made with animal rennet. I'd like to make this with some form of cheese on the top. My partner is a veggie and fussy, but I think he'll like this!
There are actually some Parmesans out there that use vegetarian friendly enzymes instead of rennet. You've got to keep your eyes open and read a lot of labels, but they do exist! Check Whole Foods and places like that. Otherwise any strong-tasting rennet-free cheese is pretty much fine. A really old sharp cheddar would be great! And if you want to go vegan, I love using nutritional yeast in place of parm, or you can try making your own vegan parm (lots of recipes out there!). Good luck!
Yum! This looks delicious. I want to try this, but incorporate the egg and parmesean in a light version of a carbonara sauce.
Thanks for the great idea!
Oh that sounds like a great idea! Let me know how it turns out!
Emma @ Bake Then Eat
I am loving this dish, so fresh and tasty; sounds like the perfect light antidote to this time of year!
It really is, and so fast and easy to throw together!
Don't hate me, but I've never used a snooze button! I would find that too stressful in its own way, I suppose. I do have other bad habits but there will not be enough space to go into that! Anyway, as luck would have it I am scheduled to post my own pasta, greens, garlic, lemon, chilli pasta thing on Sunday! But we have a different approach so it shouldn't look too much like I"m being a copycat.We do that more often than chance should allow, don't we. We must have some kind of nutrition ESP thing going on. Anyway, yours is a brill all-in-one dish that any one who wants to have a meal on the table quickly should try. That it is healthy is a bonus. Lovely photos, too. 🙂
Why would I hate you?! I admire you for that! It's such a crutch and I'm glad to be finally kicking the habit. It's a lifelong habit, but really only out of control in the last few years so it's time to kick it to the curb!
I swear Kellie, sometimes it seems like you and I share a brain! I'd never think you were copying me (and hope you'd never assume that about me!). Maybe our nutrition logic follows the same sort of calendar and that's why this happens so often! I look forward to checking out your spin on healthy greens-loaded pasta soon!
Rebecca @ it's a nourishing thing
YUM!! This pasta looks awesome!! I love how easy it is to make. I totally hear you with the snooze button addiction, I am so bad for hitting snooze every 10 minutes for over an hour. I definitely need to join you with kicking this nasty habit... New Year's Resolution #1!
It's such a bad habit, isn't it? Now I need to test myself by setting it for much earlier than I'd like to get up and see if I still manage to avoid the snooze!
Any way this can be made without the oil? Other than that it sounds amazing Id love to give it a try
The pasta would be pretty dry without the oil! Perhaps a bit of pasta water but it would really change the outcome.