Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Massaged" Kale Salad

 Massaged Kale Salad
Photographed in the nick of time! 

My but it's been a long time since I've blogged here! Seems I only get to blogging once Thanksgiving arrives then I get too busy over the remainder of the holidays! Not that I haven't wanted to post a recipe or two but with work travel and our trip to France this past summer, I've been pouring my time and energy more into Yelping reviews of places I've been rather than blogging about meals I've prepared. But then something happens that knocks one's socks off because it's such a simple recipe, uses an innovative technique, tastes delicious, and what do you know, it's also chock full of superfoods and is also incredibly healthy.

The epiphany happened at this past Saturday's farmers' market at 14th & U right in my own little neighborhood at my favorite farmers' market. A local blogger was giving out samples of a salad she'd made with ingredients from right there at the market that day, the name of which is intriguing enough on its own—massaged kale sounds so intimate—but then of course it also tasted like something you'd definitely want more of, probably going back until the serving dish is empty, because why not? One can't really overindulge in a superfood salad, right?

Looking at the kale salad, I thought the greens must have been blanched or something. They still looked curly but had gone from that ashy green of fresh kale to the forest green of flash cooked kale. Ah, but in actuality, there was no cooking involved whatsoever, unless you count toasting the nuts in the oven, which I didn't bother with myself, and I don’t know if the nuts used at the market had been toasted at home and brought with or just chopped up on the spot. The kale itself had gone from raw to looking cooked by being massaged with salt until the point that the salt wilted the kale enough to eliminate its raw toughness.

So the massaged kale salad looked appealing, but then I got hit with a wallop of deliciousness with the apples, nuts, dried fruit, and a touch of goat cheese. There’s something about cruciferous vegetables (anything in the cabbage family including kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, et al) and their affinity with sweetness like that found in apples and dried fruit. In fact, one of the versions of cooked kale I like to make has the same ingredients—minus the goat cheese—and I believe that dish is Catalonian in origin. The flavor profile of the kale salad then was something familiar though its raw texture was completely new to me. I have to wonder if this recipe arose from the raw food movement actually. Hmmm…

There's also something inherently pleasurable for me in using my bare hands in the kitchen, whether it's kneading bread, making meatballs, or fluting a pie crust. Now I can add massaging kale to that mix of tactile kitchen pleasures and learning through the sense of touch when a certain food becomes "ready." The original recipe recommended a five minute massage, so I set my timer and got in there with my hands. Truthfully, the kale had reduced to one half to one third its original volume in about 2 minutes, but I kept going another thirty seconds because I couldn’t believe that raw kale had changed so dramatically in so little time. The salt really did its magic! I used two teaspoons of salt, which may have been too much and the reason the greens transformed so quickly. Perhaps with just a teaspoon of salt the massage would have taken longer, but I’ll find out next time.

Using salt for a quick pickle of raw vegetables is a technique I first experienced in a cooking class in Japan, where we made a carrot salad whose first step involved salting julienned carrots for a bit until the carrots would become soft. Readers of this blog may remember my favorite coleslaw recipe involves softening the cabbage with salt for up to four hours as one of the first steps after the shredding. Even making preserved lemons is another way of letting salt, one of the most ancient preservatives in the world, do its thing. So the concept of wilting the kale with salt instantly made sense to me. I just couldn’t believe how simple it actually was. Next time I’ll probably rinse the salted kale in my salad spinner to eliminate some of the lingering saltiness.

I was so struck with tasting this salad at the market that I decided on the spot to make it for lunch. Having forgotten to buy lettuce at the farmers’ market, I actually used the salad on a smoked turkey sandwich in place of the lettuce—it was “salad” after all. But then we finished off the rest of it because it was just that good. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to take a picture of my plate because I knew a blog posting would be in the offing.

Of course it’s the massage technique that is the star of this recipe. For that reason, one shouldn’t get caught up in the particular ingredients of the recipe in any case. You’re just making salad—or kale slaw if you will—so put in what you like and have on hand. Instead of dried cranberries as in the original recipe I used pomegranate seeds, since I had half of one left over from making a fruit salad earlier in the week. Any nut would make this salad sing, and already planning to serve for a dinner party I might make it with toasted pine nuts. Indeed with its colors, the salad seems like a perfect dish for Christmas with the greens, the dried cranberries (or pomegranate seeds in my case) plus the apple. I defy anyone not to love this dish that is both delicious AND healthy!

Massaged Kale Salad

With great thanks to A Bikeable Feast and Ibti for making this salad at the market and opening up a whole new world of cruciferous salads/slaws to me! Here is my heavily annotated recipe, written thusly to encourage you to make this salad with whatever you may have on hand that you might enjoy as part of this salad.

Ingredients for four servings
  • a handful or two of nuts or seeds, toasted (optionally) and chopped if necessary (I used almonds and didn't toast; pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds would not need to be chopped obviously; flax seeds are too minuscule to use here)
  • kale, tough stems removed, leaves chopped, rinsed, and dried somewhat (it's hard to say how much kale to use here. I usually buy kale and other greens tied and bunched together and I know that two bunches make 4 cooked servings. However, I started with one bunch for this recipe which filled my salad bowl before I started the massage. So the best measure might be "a decent sized salad bowl full of raw chopped kale.")
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, a bit more if needed (two teaspoons was too much because a bit too much saltiness got into the kale, although the massage time was cut in half from Ibti's 5 minute recommendation. Then again that could have been because of my man hands.)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 -2 tablespoons vinegar of your choice (I used plum wine vinegar, but again, use what you like/have on hand. Apple cider or balsamic is recommended in the source recipe, but sherry or another wine vinegar, etc. would work just fine.
  • half a medium red onion, diced or sliced thin (to take the sharpeness out of raw onion, cover the sliced onion for ten minutes with vinegar or with water and a teaspoon of sugar; rinse, then pat dry lightly. Onion flavor, yes, onion breath, no! Or just use a sweet onion like a vidalia.)
  • One medium apple, cored and diced or cored, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise into quarter circles (kohlrabi or pear would make an apt substitution here, or go exotic and try a fall fruit like persimmon)
  • a handful of dried cranberries (any dried fruit will do here: chopped apricots, raisins, dried cherries, etc.; I happened to use fresh pomegranate seeds actually)
  • a few turns of fresh cracked pepper (you probably won't need any more salt)
  • a few pieces of goat cheese (or chunks of feta or shavings of a hard cheese like parmagianno or manchego) to garnish
  1. (Optional) Toast the nuts or seeds of your choice on a cookie sheet or in an oven proof skillet in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, longer if they're large pieces like walnuts. Set a timer but let your nose be your guide. If you can smell them, they're a minute or two from ready. I prefer toasting in the oven to the stovetop because they require less attention and you don't have to keep moving them around in the pan. Once when toasting pumpkin seeds they went past toasted and I thought I smelled bacon cooking before I realized the seeds were in the oven. They were still edible even on the dark side of toasted.
  2. Sprinkle the teaspoon of salt over your kale and toss lightly to distribute. Again set your timer for 5 minutes and then get in there and massage the kale by squeezing the cut pieces to soften and allow the salt to wilt the kale. ( I wonder if the same effect could be achieved by drizzling the salt over the kale and then just let it sit on the counter for a few hours to macerate. Hmmm...) Very quickly the kale's color will change to a forest green, the pieces will soften, and the volume will reduce by more than half. Your salad bowl that was once heaping with greens will be reduced to a few large handfuls of greens. For me this transformation took about two minutes. But if you're reluctant to manhandle your greens or better yet, if you've got the kids helping you, let it go the for the full five!
  3. Optional step: Rinse the wilted kale. Taste the wilted kale and if you think it's a tad salty, give the wilted greens a rinse in cold water and spin dry in your salad spinner. You do have one don't you? You really should if you want to dress any salad properly and shaking in a kitchen towel is far less effective. Because I used the two teaspoons of salt, there were two tablespoons of very salty liquid that I poured out of my salad bowl after the massage, so the rinse would have been a good idea had I not been so hungry and impatient.
  4. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the greens, add the remaining ingredients except for the cheese, and toss to combine and thoroughly dress every leaf of kale.
  5. Serve on individual plates and garnish with the cheese of your choice, or leave the cheese out to make it vegan.
  6. Devour with the full knowledge that not only are you eating something delicious, it's also damn good for you!