When I was growing up, there was a salad on our table every single night, without fail. My mother assembled salads that were a riot of colors and textures, in an attempt to give us as much vegetable variety as she possibly could. Though I don’t think I complained about my mom’s ultra-healthy creations at the time, I know I appreciate her efforts much more in retrospect. I was a kid who definitely preferred making my own salads at a restaurant salad bar when I could drown my lettuce in thick blue cheese dressing, croutons and baco-bits. If you had told me when I was little that someday I would be truly excited about eating a kale salad, I would have laughed in your face. However, it’s never too late to surprise yourself, for I have been eating some version of a raw kale salad all week long.
This kale craze started a week ago after I had a great play date with the Little Chef last Friday. We were celebrating the end of his school week on 18th Street, one of our favorite blocks in Manhattan. You feel like you've hit the jackpot when you're on this singular block that contains one of the greatest children’s bookstores ever (the ever-delightful Books of Wonder) in addition to City Bakery, which proffers serious treats for kids of all ages.
As one might expect, City Bakery’s pastries are worth the trip to Chelsea, and Mac and I have debated between many a chocolate chunk cookie and a passion fruit tart over the years. But their savory output is also rather compelling, and with their proximity to the Union Square Greenmarket, the salad bar’s offerings are seasonally appropriate and are often quite inspired. (No gloppy dressings or fake bacon bits here!) While Mac enjoyed his usual—the killer City Bakery macaroni and cheese—I was equally delighted with my kale salad as part of our after-school snack. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I knew I needed to make a version for myself at home.
Coincidentally enough, when I got home that night I found a link in my inbox to Heidi Swanson’s Raw Tuscan Kale Salad on 101 Cookbooks. Her recipe features Tuscan kale cut into thin emerald green ribbons, glistening with a thin film of garlicky olive oil and lemon juice. Hot chili flakes give the salad pizzazz, while a bit of grated pecorino cheese lends just the right note of richness. I’ve become a big fan of putting toasted breadcrumbs in salads, especially after last year’s epiphany at the Zuni Café, and this salad encourages me to do that too.
This kale salad is nourishing and tasty, and I confess that I’ve been eating it at least once a day for the past week. (Nine-year-old Louise would have never believed that!) The ingredients come together very easily, and sometimes I swap out the crunchy breadcrumbs for some toasted chopped almonds or hazelnuts, a la the City Bakery version. Regardless, it’s something that I can happily eat a whole bowlful of and then not feel the least bit guilty about having dessert afterwards.
Kale Recipes on Kitchen Fiddler: Tuscan Kale with Olive Oil Fried Eggs, Sesame Kale and Rice Bowl with Poached Eggs
RAW KALE SALAD
Adapted, hardly, from a recipe by Heidi Swanson on 101 Cookbooks, which in turn was adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark's In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called black kale, lacinato kale, or dinosaur kale)
1 small garlic clove
½ teaspoon sea salt
Several pinches of hot chili flakes
A few grinds of black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 slices whole grain bread, toasted and pulverized into crumbs in a food processor
Remove the stems from the kale and cut into thin ¼-inch ribbons. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Make the dressing by pounding the garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle until it forms a thick paste. (Alternately, you can use the flat blade of your knife to really smash the garlic, sprinkle it with salt and chop the garlic until it begins to resemble a garlic paste.) Transfer to a small mixing bowl and add the hot chili flakes, black pepper, olive oil, lemon juice and grated cheese. Stir till well combined.
Pour the dressing over the chopped kale and toss thoroughly to coat all the leaves with the thick dressing. Add the toasted breadcrumbs, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, if needed, and serve. Makes 4 generous servings or 6 more modest ones.