Savory spicy kale salad
By Jessica – September 27th, 2012
I feel like I’m jumping on a bit of a bandwagon by posting a recipe involving raw kale, but I’ve actually been a convert ever since having a toothsome kale salad in Seattle a few years ago—and now that autumn has got its jaws firmly clamped around what’s left of summer, it seems like a good time to break out the brassica recipes again.
As a million sites around the web will now tell you, the key to making a kale salad that’s tender and not tough is to massage the kale. When kale leaves get a good old rub with coarse salt and something acidic like lemon juice or vinegar, they start to break down and lose a lot of their bitterness, meaning that there’s no need to cook them before indulging in their deeply verdant goodness.
Kale tastes great dressed simply with lemon juice, olive oil and a sprinkling of salty cheese, but it’s a gutsy green that can also stand up to a lot of other flavors. Some of my favorite flavors of the moment are the sweet/salty/spicy/nutty combos found around the Mediterranean, where dried fruits cavort with chilies, capers and olives, and almonds or pine nuts. I’m a big fan of a Catalan spinach dish with raisins, pine nuts and garlic, and I figured ingredients like these would play happily in my kale salad as well. I also added capers for zingy hits of brine, dried red chili for warmth and parmesan for a salty tang.
Roasted butternut squash is a great addition if you’re eating this salad on its own, but if the salad is a side dish you could leave the squash out.
For one giant bowl of salad, you’ll need:
- a small handful of sultanas / golden raisins (regular raisins are fine)
- a small handful of capers (packed in brine, not salt)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- a good grind of black pepper
- about 200 grams / 8 ounces of curly kale or, even better, Tuscan kale (aka cavolo nero or black kale)
- 1 hefty pinch of coarse sea salt
- the juice of 1 small lemon (or to taste)
- 1 small chopped clove of garlic
- 1 pinch of dried red chili flakes
- a small handful of flaked almonds or toasted pine nuts
- a handful of coarsely grated parmesan cheese
- about 350 grams / 12 ounces of cubed butternut squash (optional)
If you’re using the butternut squash, toss the cubed squash with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it in the oven at 180C/375F until it’s tender, which should only take about 30 minutes. The squash can be cooking while you’re making the rest of the salad.
Roughly chop the raisins and capers and place them in a small bowl with the olive oil and black pepper. Set this aside to soak while you deal with the kale.
Wash and dry the kale (a salad spinner is helpful here), remove the tough stems and finely chop the leaves. Place the leaves in a big bowl with a good pinch of salt and the juice of about half a lemon, and then get your hands in there and massage the kale until the leaves start to soften and turn a darker green. Kale is a tough cookie, so you can be pretty vigorous.
Taste the kale after you’ve massaged it for a few minutes—it should still be a bit chewy, but it shouldn’t be like trying to chew through a piece of leather. When the kale has been massaged into submission, mix the garlic and chili flakes into the leaves and set the bowl aside. The kale can sit like this for pretty much as long as you need it to; mine probably sat for about half an hour while the squash was cooking.
When you’re ready to eat, pour the raisin/caper/oil mixture over the kale and toss to coat the leaves. Gently stir in the almonds, cheese and squash if you’re using it. Taste for seasoning—you may want to add more lemon juice at this point, or maybe salt or extra cheese. If not, then you’re good to go!
Incidentally, this keeps very well in the fridge—in fact, I’d say it improves with age—so feel free to make it in advance or have the leftovers for lunch the next day.