May it Please the Palate

Massaged Kale Salad

The first time I saw a menu featuring a “massaged kale salad,” I thought, “I am not sure I want to eat something that has been stimulated in such a fashion.” Boy was I wrong.

Massage is not just good for creaky bones and sore muscles, but it turns out that it improves the taste of kale by breaking down its fibrous nature and releasing its flavonoids. The cynical among us might suggest that it is not difficult to improve the taste of kale; that it has nowhere to go but up. But I like kale well enough. (I am blessed to have no foods I truly despise. I put food into three categories – love, like, and tolerate. Kale is somewhere between the second and third.)    

But truly, massage works wonders for this hardy green. There are five schools of thought to tenderize kale and release its flavor. One is simply to work the greens with your hands; Huffington Post boast that a five-minute rubdown turns your kale “from bitter and tough” to “silky and sweet.” Another is to add some sea salt before the rubdown. A third variation is olive oil and sea salt, a fourth is to wait until the salad dressing is completely made, and then “toss” it by massaging the kale vigorously with the dressing. Effective, but messy.

Finally there’s the simplest: adding dressing, lightly tossing as with any salad, and letting the flavors mellow in the ‘frig for a few hours before serving. Kale is hardy enough to maintain an appealing texture for a long time after it has been dressed, as opposed to most lettuce salads which die a slow, painful death if refrigerated that way.

Two more kale salad tips: one, make sure to cut the leaves away from the fibrous stalks. Takes a little time, but well worth it in terms of tenderness. The second is to flavor your salad with a mixture of items, savory and sweet. Tonight I made a pretty good version with diced apples, dried cranberries, walnuts, onions, green peppers, and a mustard-lemon vinaigrette. I believe I elevated that salad to the “love” category.

Today’s recipe comes from “cookieandkate.com.” Kate (Cookie is her dog) just gushes with cult-like enthusiasm: “I’ve been devouring kale salads ever since I experienced my first kale salad last summer while I was waitressing at Matthew Kenney’s raw, vegan restaurant in Oklahoma City.” A little too Krishna-in-the-airport for me. I mean, who “devours” kale?

Kate adds, “Today’s salad is not the first kale salad I’ve posted on this little blog, and it definitely won’t be my last. I won’t stop until every visitor knows how to make a great kale salad!”

Please stop her. You can start by learning to make this:

Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans

(adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman)

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts

8 ounces kale (any variety)

4 to 5 medium radishes

1/2 cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)

1 medium Granny Smith apple

2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled

Dressing
3 tablespoons olive oil

11/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard

11/2 teaspoons honey

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread the nuts on a baking tray. Toast them until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes, tossing them once or twice to make sure they bake evenly. Remove the tray from the oven and set them aside to cool.

2. Pull the kale leaves off from the tough stems and discard the stems. Use a chef’s knife to chop the kale into small, bite-sized pieces. Transfer the kale to a big salad bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.

3. Thinly slice the radishes (this is easier to do if you first chop off the root end so you can place the base of the radish flat against your cutting board). Add them to the bowl.

4. Coarsely chop the pecans and cranberries (or cherries) and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple into small, bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl as well. Crumble the goat cheese over the top.

5. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavor, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand.

Vegan option: Omit the goat cheese, substituting sweet potato, diced small and boiled about five minutes. Use agave nectar instead of the honey for the dressing.

One last tip: when you’re massaging the kale and it offers to give you a backrub in return, it’s probably time to switch to spinach.