When you live as far out in the country as we do, one of the ways of making sense of your surroundings is by learning the common names of plants. Redbud, white oak, pokeweed, mountain mint....
It’s inhumanly hot in Tennessee, and I think that goes for a large part of the country. Walking out the front door is like walking into the drum of some cosmic clothes dryer…a really humid cosmic clothes dryer. I’ve been loving salads, tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and even the odd take-out pizza (we’re real people too, you know). Anything that doesn’t call for the application of heat.
Thankfully, this hottest time of the year also happens to be one of the most productive. Even with my puny little garden I’ve been overwhelmed with tomatoes, peppers, and fresh herbs. Salsa anyone? But salsa is for a later date. Today I’m going to talk about a rather extraordinary little salad that may change your mind about greens.
Kale has been one of my very favorite vegetables for several years. When I worked at a farmer's market, kale was always around, and at a reasonable price. At first, I really didn't know how to use it, but soon enough it became part of my repertoire, and now I eat it about once a week. When I planned my garden last winter, kale was the first thing on my list. If I’m not sure what to cook for dinner and I want something healthy and fibrous, kale is usually it. Every time I find a new kale recipe, it gets bookmarked and thrown into the rotation, and I’ll wager that I’ve done just about everything you can do with kale. It took me a while, though, to realize its potential when served raw, as a salad. This is mostly because kale is so chlorophyll-laden and crunchy that I assumed it would be too harsh on the palate and the digestive system. I usually end up sautéing it briefly so that some of the crunch is still there, but the bitterness has dissipated.
This is where lemon juice comes in. If you’ve ever made or eaten ceviche, you know that lime juice is used to “cook” the delicate fish. The acid in lime juice alters the structure of the proteins in the fish so that it becomes opaque and firm. In salads, you may have noticed that when you dress a salad and allow it to sit for a while, the lettuce becomes limp and begins to release water. This is the same principle. Using lots of lemon juice in this salad and allowing it to marinate will soften the kale.
When I make this salad, I usually use pumpkin seeds, but I have had success with sunflower seeds, and I imagine that sliced almonds, chopped hazelnuts, or even pine nuts would work equally well. However, I hesitate to recommend pine nuts in anything, as they’ve crossed the $20/lb mark. I also tend to use standard Parmesan in this recipe, but any very hard, aged cheese should work nicely. One of these days I’m going to track down some well-aged Gouda and try it.
I like to use lacinato (also known as Tuscan, cavolo nero, or dinosaur kale) kale in this recipe, and if you do so, simply cut the kale crosswise into little ribbons after de-ribbing it. However, you can use curly kale, red kale, or Red Russian kale. If you use a curly variety, chop it finely. It’s a little like curly parsley—you don’t want that getting stuck in your throat. Finally, this recipe yields itself to being doubled or even tripled if you’re thinking of taking it to a potluck. Even better, the leftovers keep well. Since the kale isn’t actually cooked, it holds up just fine.
Combine in a small bowl:
1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Pinch kosher salt
Toast the seeds in a toaster oven until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
Combine in a separate large bowl:
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Wash, dry, remove the center ribs from, and finely chop:
1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) lacinato kale
Combine the kale and the dressing. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 hours is fine). Sprinkle the toasted pumpkin seeds on top, and just before serving, top with:
2 ounces Parmesan, very thinly sliced or shaved