Kale has spent a lot of time in the lime light over the last few years. Hailed as a “superfood,” a magical smoothie ingredient, a new salad green, and the answer to all of life’s problems, kale really has a lot to live up to!
Random fact: Before the surge of good press for kale in 2012/13, the largest purchaser of kale was Pizza Hut — it was used to cover the ice as garish at the salad bar (source).
To be honest, sometimes I get sick of kale. We grow a TON of it in our garden, partly because it’s easy to grow, and partly because I like to have a variety to choose from — we have lacinato kale, purple curly kale, green curly kale, and last year we had red Russian kale. I bet you didn’t know there were that many varieties of kale — or maybe you did, because it’s all the rage! Having a constant supply of multiple kale choices for just over 2 years at this point has sort of chipped away at my desire to eat it all the time.
I still sneak it into smoothies and braise it with the drippings of animal parts from time to time, but I haven’t wanted to eat a nice kale salad for a little while. That doesn’t mean I haven’t eaten them, just that it wasn’t really my first choice of things to eat. As much as I caution against falling into cooking ruts, sometimes I find myself making the same old kale salad just because it’s tried and true — and we have kale coming out of our ears.
I was feeling creative the other day when I came across a big bin of grapefruit at the grocery store and decided it was time to try out a new kale salad recipe.
Secret but Vital Step
I remember when I first brought a bunch of kale from the garden home to Texas (yes I brought it on the plane) and encouraged my mom to make a kale salad. She was not interested in eating raw kale. She said she’d make the salad, but after I left, she confessed she’d just cooked it because she was scared to eat it raw. I totally get it. Raw kale is rough, takes a lot of energy to chew, can sometimes be a little scratchy on the throat going down, and can be a lot for the gut to break down. But the secret step that makes a kale salad truly delicious is a quick brine and massage. It breaks down some of the fiber, brings out the natural flavors of the plant, and makes kale a bit easier for the gut to handle.
Kitchen Hack: Brining and Massaging the Kale
After I wash, de-rib, and chop or tear my kale leaves, I always brine the kale. This little secret is the difference between a good kale salad and a great one. If you’ve ever had a great kale salad at a restaurant — one where the kale isn’t too hard or sharp, where it seems slightly wilted, yet still raw — it’s probably because the chef brined the kale. Here’s how you do it.
Step 1: Sprinkle about 1 tsp of good salt (like this) over the bowl of prepared kale leaves (I’m thinking a full bunch from the store — you’d be surprised how much this stuff will shrink down)
Step 2: Using clean hands, start squeezing the kale leaves and kneading them like dough so that the salt really penetrates the leaves. It should take no more than 2 minutes for you to notice the changes in the leaves (You’ll notice that some liquid will start accumulating at the bottom of the bowl, and the leaves will start to with and shrink down a bit)
Step 3: Once the leaves are wilted and softened, taste one to see how salty it is. If it’s just right, you can start constructing the rest of the salad. If it’s too salty, give the greens a quick rinse and a run through the salad spinner to get rid of excess salt before you put the rest of the salad together.
Simple as that! Kale salads are a great vehicle for a salty/sweet combo like parmesan cheese and peaches, and I almost always include nuts or seeds as well. Goat cheese, dried cherries, and pecans also make for a great kale salad. I love a salad like this with a nice piece of wild salmon or even a great cut of pastured pork. The recipe I’m about to share with you was born out of a desire to stretch the kale salad to incorporate the bittersweet of grapefruit. If you’re a newbie to this art, experiment with ingredients you know you love. Have fun with it!
- Massage and brine the kale using the instructions above, draining off and rinsing only if necessary after tasting
- Add the pecans, the radishes, and the scallions to the greens
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk grapefruit juice and EVOO
- Toss into salad until fully incorporated
- Top with cheese if desired
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