We had baby kale in the csa box last week. As you can see in the photo below, some of the leaves were really teensy and truly baby-sized. I figured this meant they would be tender and maybe it was high time to (finally) try making a kale salad. I’ve had kale on the brain recently. I ran across a reference the other day that made me chuckle, a comment on Twitter by comedian Dan Levy: “It’s weird how eating kale is normal now”. True, in certain circles kale is a trendy, de rigueur vegetable. But kale is hardly a new fangled vegetable, after all it’s been cultivated for over 2,000 years – everywhere from Europe to Asia to North America. While it has always been a standard workhorse in the cannon of leafy greens for many farmers and eaters (one that grows very well in cold climates), for others it remains something of an obscurity. An obscurity with a healthy bent. Kale is thought to be one of the healthiest green vegetables of all, a real superstar. There may be preconceived notions about nutritious foods not tasting good. Which reminds me of that very funny episode of the old Lucille Ball show (probably airing somewhere at this very moment on cable), the one where she is hired to hawk Vegamitamix (a liquid multi-vitamin) on t.v. and gags while taking a spoonful for the camera, because it tastes so horrible.
I was thinking about all of these things when, in a moment of synchronicity, I happened upon an article about Thanksgiving side dishes and wines by Laurie Woolever in Wine Spectator. In it, she included a recipe for kale salad with ricotta salata. Bingo. I got out the bag of kale, and marveled at the assorted colours of the individual leaves – greens and purples and reds – before continuing with the recipe. I took liberties with the original recipe – since I did not have radicchio on hand, I omitted it. I substituted lemon juice for the vinegar. And it turned out I only had a very small piece of ricotta salata sitting in my fridge, which I figured would be big enough (and it was). I look forward to trying her original recipe when I have all the ingredients assembled, it sounds wonderful. But what I think is the essence of this recipe – cutting kale into long thin ribbons and tossing it with an acidic dressing that causes it to wilt and tempers its wildness – is intact. This salad seems almost lettuce-like. The kale becomes mild and has a taste and crunch that reminds me of the dark green leaves of romaine lettuce. It was lovely in combination with the lemony oil slick and little salty kicks from the ricotta salata (note: it’s best to use minimal salt as the cheese is quite salty). It is a salad that makes a good case for eating kale for the sheer enjoyment of it. I accidentally ate the entire bowl in one sitting. That good.
above: top, left to right: roll, cut; bottom, left to right: gather and dress
Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata adapted from a recipe by Laurie Woolever in Wine Spectator (serves 2 normal appetites as a side dish, double recipe as needed)
。2 cups tightly packed kale leaves
。3 Tablespoons olive oil
。2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
。sea salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
。about 1 oz. ricotta salata, shredded (or more, to taste)
Wash and dry the kale. Remove tough lower stems (if using larger leaves with tough center stems, cut them out). Stack 5 or 6 leaves at a time and tightly roll the stack into a cigar shape. Using a sharp knife, cut crosswise into thin strips. Put the kale into a bowl and add olive oil. Gently toss to coat all leaves. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss again, very gently. Leave for at least 30 minutes, at room temperature. Before serving, add shredded ricotta salata and toss gently to incorporate. Eat.