Here I am, on a Monday night, trying to think of a witty, captivating way to introduce a kale salad. I could wax lyrical about its impressive pedigree: from Barbuto in NY via Deb Perelman’s kitchen to yours truly. I could go all food anthropology on you and talk about the similar ingredients found in pasta or even bread from that island off Italy (disclaimer: only in the world according to Google).
Or, I can just sit back and tell you about this salad – the flavours, textures, ideas.
Because, this way, I won’t have to talk about how this is yet another kale salad. I can just say – this salad doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating grass. Grass is virtuous to be sure, and good for moo-cows, but I prefer my grass a little more mediated by cows, say in the form of pecorino cheese.
Then, I can tell you the salad is savoury, sweet, tart. These bold flavours complement (but not mellow) kales earthiness – think Ottolenghi’s way with radicchio in Plenty. The textures vary between lemon-softened kale, plumped raisins, crunchy walnuts and crumbly-creamy pecorino.
I’ve served variations of the salad at two elaborate dinners, a Moroccan/Sicilian epic, and our similarly epic Christmas lunch. Both times, it was hoovered up, with people asking about it as they peered into the salad bowl for more.
And as an aside, I can tell you how much fun it was to play with kale ribbons and create kale nests (note to self, remember this for next dinner party). Then I’d add that it was almost more fun to mix everything up, so I could have the salad for lunch.
Playing with food, it’s not just for kids.
The salad has*:
1. finely shredded kale;
2. lemon juice;
3. marinaded raisins;
4. toasted walnuts;
5. grated pecorino.
* Smitten Kitchen’s recipe also has toasted panko or breadcrumbs. We don’t usually have either in the house. I liked the salad without it, and added more walnuts, pecorino and ricotta salata instead. I’ve kept breadcrumbs in the recipe below.
And so far, each component has been changed up or down, when I’m serving 12 friends or family in a mildly frazzled state:
1. No lemons? Use apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar. I found a bottle of intriguing white balsamic vinegar in the Christmas holiday house, it was used without doing lasting damage.
2. Not enough raisins? Use currants or dried cranberries (used in the photos above). Digging from a jar of spicy pickled raisins and cranberries worked so very well at Christmas, it might become my permanent raisin add-in from now. Or, use Persian barberries (soak barberries in a mixture of warm water and honey, rather than vinegar, because they are naturally very tart).
3. Clearing out cheese drawer? I’ve used handfuls of pecorino pepato and ricotta salata (a pressed, salted and semi dried ricotta). We loved ricotta salata as a final addition to the salad in lieu of toasted breadcrumbs.
4. Want to be a kale rebel? Want life beyond kale? Think shredded brussel sprouts, rainbow chard, silverbeet. I haven’t tried these variations, but want to give brussel sprouts a try after reading about this version of Barbuto’s salad.
Go on, play with your salad. It’s good for you.
Kale salad, with walnuts, raisins, pecorino
(from Smitten Kitchen, with ingredient variations as given above.)
(Deb’s recipe gives quite precise amounts. I’m sure the salad will survive a little more of something or a little less or another, though I’d keep the kale to dressing ratio about the same.)
1/2 cup (105 grams or 3 3/4 ounces) walnut halves or pieces
1/4 cup (45 grams or 1 1/2 ounces) golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup panko (15 grams or 1/2 ounce) or slightly coarse homemade breadcrumbs
1 tiny clove garlic, minced
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch (about 14 ounces or 400 grams) tuscan kale (also known as black or lacinato kale). I’ve made this with curly kale, with slightly different steps as noted below. Wash and pat dry kale leaves.
2 ounces (55 grams) pecorino cheese, grated or ground in a food processor (1/2 cup total)
Juice of half a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste
1. Walnuts: Heat oven to 350F / 175C. Toast walnuts on a baking tray or sheet for 10 minutes, or until deeply toasted with that deep walnut fragrance and a darker colour. Let cool and coarsely chop.
2. Raisins: In a small saucepan over low heat, simmer white wine vinegar, water and raisins for 5 minutes, until plump and soft. Set aside in liquid.
3. Bread crumbs: Toast bread crumbs, garlic and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil with a pinch of salt until golden. Set aside.
4. Kale: Trim heavy stems off kale and remove ribs. You can do this with a knife or strip the leaves off the stem by hand – much more satisfying. Stack strips of leaves and roll them into a tube, then cut them into very thin ribbons crosswise. If using curly kale, put it into a bowl with the lemon juice now, and let it sit there for an hour or so. Or more.
5. Assemble salad: If using Tuscan kale, put kale ribbons in a large bowl. Add pecorino, walnuts and raisins (leaving any leftover vinegar mixture in dish), remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice and toss until all the kale ribbons are coated. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and some of the reserved vinegar mixture from the raisins, if needed. Let sit for 10 minutes.
6. Add breadcrumbs and, if needed, a final 1 teaspoon drizzle of olive oil. Serve.