Saturday, July 18, 2009

Salad: The Xtreme Edition

Today's topic? "Xtreme" salads. For a post with this kind of title, I'd ordinarily start off with some kind of apologetic, sarcastic bit about how my yuppie life is so predictable that eating salad might qualify as being extreme.

But not today. Because even if my yuppie life was completely wild and crazy (and not, um, boring), today's salad would still be extreme. And not because it has raisins, or buttermilk, or (gasp!) mayonnaise, but because the main ingredient is kale. No, not kale. RAW kale.

Honestly, I didn't ever expect the words "raw kale" to appear in a recipe on Red Ramekin. Indeed, the only time I'd ever encountered raw kale in my kitchen before was when I was reaching deep into my refrigerator, pushing the raw kale aside to get to that jar of something or other, or perhaps when I was depositing the now rotting (raw) kale into the trash can despite my good intentions while grocery shopping.

The thing about kale is that it often just doesn't taste all that good. Sure, I've done the reading and seen the stats and know just how unbelievably healthy kale is. It is, after all, one of the darkest and leafiest greens I've ever seen. It's mostly for this reason that I'd tried time and again to prepare it so that I actually want to eat it. But, while I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, I'd never been successful. In soups it's too tough, in sautes it's too bitter, and in general, eating kale usually brings to mind an image of the cook chopping up dark green rain slickers and tossing them into a frying pan with garlic and olive oil. Garlic and olive oil can hide some flaws, but not flaws of kale-like proportions.

Since I'm into the whole "health" thing, it always bothered me - just a little bit - that I didn't like kale. But despite my healthiness, I don't eat food that isn't delicious, and chard or spinach or bok choy always seemed like an infinitely more appealing source of leafy-greenness than kale. However, I'm not one to just give up on something kitchen-related, especially if it involves vegetables.

I've been inspired by the regal-looking lacinato kale at my farmers market this season to finally find a good way of preparing it. After a bit of experimentation, I can finally say that I've found it. And, as you might have guessed, the method doesn't even involve cooking.

But let me just be frank for a moment. Kale is still kale. Although now that I've learned how to use it and I really and truly like it, it's not going to replace my soft bunches of rainbow chard or my always-have-it-on-hand frozen spinach. What I've learned about kale is that although you might think it's like chard or spinach - versatile and easy to toss into sautes, soups, stews, and anything else you can think of, it's not. It's more like broccoli, in fact, both in terms of flavor and texture. It has a distinct sulfury potency (which can be delicious, but not in everything), and even after a veritable braise it will hold its shape, sometimes quite stubbornly.

No, kale is no chard, which will become supple with a bit of heat and oil and yield to a pinch of curry powder or some minced garlic. When it comes to kale, you need to douse it with vinegar, drown it in buttermilk, pummel it with almonds and raisins, and beat it into submission with a healthy glop of mayo. But damn if it's not tasty, and we all know that no amount of mayo can take away the unadulterated healthfulness of the stuff (but don't worry, I only used a smidge).

So, here it is. My raw kale salad, most notable for the fact that it actually tastes good. Almost like a good cole slaw, but kale-ier. Kale slaw, if you will. The recipe below was inspired by the recent proliferation of raw broccoli salads on the blogosphere (see here and here), all of which seem to include buttermilk, mayonnaise, and a dried fruit and nut combination to round out the taste of the raw vegetable. Given the afore-mentioned similarities between broccoli and kale, I thought this technique might be a winner with kale, and I was right. I considerably reduced the amount of mayo in this recipe because it's not something I usually use, but I happened to have some on hand and it does help the consistency and flavor of the dressing (and seriously, it's just canola oil and eggs - not nearly as "gross" as people claim it to be).

The key to this salad is slicing the kale in very thin ribbons, to ensure that it gets appropriately softened by the dressing. I slice it by first removing the stalks (you must remove them), then by laying the leaves on top of each other and slicing almost into a chiffonade. You should also let the salad sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving, if possible. And finally, this amount of dressing is perfect for an average-sized bunch of kale; adjust accordingly for larger or smaller bunches, but be aware that there is supposed to be a good amount of dressing on the greens. I'm all for a lightly dressed salad now and then, but you don't beat kale into submission with a drizzle of your finest olive oil, trust me. This should do the trick, though. Who knows? Maybe you'll be the next convert to the wonderful ways of kale.

Extreme Raw Kale Salad

1 bunch lacinato kale (also called dinosaur or Tuscan kale)
4-5 scallions, minced
generous 1/3 c. buttermilk
2-4 tbs. plain yogurt
1 tbs. mayonnaise
1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
generous 1 tbs. grainy mustard
1 tsp. honey
salt and pepper, to taste
handful of raisins
handful of chopped or sliced almonds


Carefully wash kale and remove the stalk from each leaf (the entire stalk, not just the bottom part). Stack leaves and slice into very thin ribbons. Place kale in a large bowl, and add the minced scallions. Toss to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and honey. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over kale, and toss until kale is evenly coated with dressing. Add raisins and almonds and toss again, lightly. Transfer salad to a container with a lid and let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving. Adjust for seasonings once more before serving.


Emma said...

Why didn't you go the whole nine yards and call it "extreme raw kale slaw"? It rhymes AND it's a pun.

Marie-Ève said...

Wow this looks great. I'm about to try a recipe for Kale with tahini sauce. Should be interesting!