kale salad 101


Being a vegetarian, as well as the daughter of a produce man (ah, lucky girl), you would guess (correctly) that I've had my fair share of fruits and vegetables. When everyone was bringing glossy Red Delicious apples to school, I was bringing, sigh, something eternally Greek, figs. When friends came over for dinner, they always commented on the variety of vegetables before them, often asking things like "What's that?" about prickly artichokes or a bright bowl of chopped bell peppers. This felt normal to me, to constantly be surrounded by an array of fresh, seasonal produce, always overflowing from the refrigerator to the kitchen countertops and even to the garage when the weather got cold enough. Every winter you can be sure to find a box of the most amazing oranges you've ever had, tucked in between a box of tools and a broken stepladder.

Still, despite my openness to all of these foods (except for watermelon, which I can't be sorry about, and at one time sweet potatoes, but I'm over that now), I never had tons of experience in the greens department. Salad was usually based around cold, damp iceberg or pale green hearts of romaine. And every so often my dad would cook down a (literal) 5-pound bag of spinach, reducing it to one, dense bowlful that might make even Popeye turn up his nose. Still, that was the extent of the greens I got to know, despite the fact that there were so many out there to from which to choose: peppery arugula, beautiful rainbow chard, watercress, collards, just to name a few.

As an adult, however, though I've now had my fair share of these nutrient-packed vegetables, one green powerhouse I have only recently (as in within the last five years) met up with is kale. Leafy, curly, with a slightly bitter taste, kale is easy to dismiss as an add-this-to-soup vegetable or something only taken in juice form, a task that is not for the faint of heart. While kale is, in fact, AH-MAY-ZING in both of these methods, it also shines at the center of the dish, and is a versatile base for any number of combinations for one kickass, healthy, superfood salad.

First things first, wash your kale. Wash it twice, even. Greens have tons of nooks so check carefully. After a thorough washing, pat dry. (The leaves are most likely too dense/big for a salad spinner.) Take the greens in small bunches and chop. I usually roll up a few large leaves and go to town.

The thing about kale is it has a natural toughness to the leaves, which is what normally deters people from eating it raw. The trick, however, is to break that tough texture down using a combination of acids (whether through citrus juices or vinegar) and time dedicated to massaging your greens. More on this in a moment.

After your kale is chopped, depending on the amount you've prepared (keep in mind that what looks like a lot while shrink down soon!), now is the time to add your acidic ingredients. My favorite to use is straight-up lemon juice, but I've also tried apple cider vinegar and a combination with clementine juice. Different amounts will work faster/more efficiently to marinate your kale, but trial and error is the best way to find out what you like best. For a large bunch of kale, I usually use the juice of one medium-sized lemon. If you've got a citrus reamer, it will come in especially handy for this: get out ALL the juice you can. You're going to need it.

Now, after thoroughly washing your hands, for the second time, because you already did that right?!, comes the fun part. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and massage this bowl of leafy green goodness. I know, I know, just meeting kale for the first time and you think this is weird? Well, that's because it is. But it's arguably the best way to break down the fibrous leaves of this superfood, so get past the I'm-not-sure phase quick. (Okay okay, you CAN leave your kale to marinate, massage-free, from 2 hours to overnight. If you must.)

There is no right or wrong way to massage. Just get started and you'll find your rhythm. Some massage the kale dry before they even chop it or add any liquid, some do both, and some massage it yet again after adding a little olive oil (that someone would be me). Do what feels right, and have a taste test. It's the best way to know!

What happens next is really up to you: add-ins! Kale is a pretty hearty vegetable and pairs well with many other flavors whether they be bright, sweet, sour, or creamy. My favorite combination of additional ingredients include chopped radishes (French breakfast, purple, white, the more color the better!), chickpeas, bell pepper, shredded carrots or beets, and Granny Smith apples. Just a little sweet, just a little tart: perfection. But seriously, there are no rules. I usually mix it up and just add whatever other vegetables I have handy, and it still always comes out truly tasty.

Oh, and adding a ripe avocado to the top is an awesome way to balance out the bite of the lemon juice with this naturally creamy omega-3 fruit. YES: fruit!