If you are anything like me, your weekends are your cheat days. We do a pretty decent job of cooking at home and eating healthy during the week, so that we can splurge a little on Fridays and Saturdays. And Sundays. (Just because the weekly calendar starts on a Sunday, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate carbs and rosé.) But noshing on french fries and pizza usually leaves me feeling pretty sluggish on Mondays. Mondays are my nemesis. Not only do we stop eating fun stuff, but we also make it a point to eliminate wine. Miserable. So I try my best to make these “smarter” meals flavorful and delicious so I don’t lose my mind.
And what is healthier than kale? I know. Kale was so last year. But it's chock-full of nutrients. And you can make it taste really damn good too. So I welcome its continuation into the year of 2015. Remember the Avocado Shallot Dressing I shared last week? Here is a vessel for that goodness.
Before we start, there are a few things to remember about kale:
- Kale is high in vitamins C (more than an orange), A and K; a great source of calcium (higher than milk per calorie), iron and protein; high in antioxidants; and an anti-inflammatory. Read: nutrition bomb.
- The plant is also high in carotenoids, which are possibly linked to optimism. So maybe Mondays and kale truly are a match made in heaven.
- It’s very fibrous which makes it rough and bitter. In order to reduce bitterness, remove the stems completely. When using raw kale in salads, massaging the dressing into the leaves is key. More on that in a minute… Also using a dressing high in acidity helps break it down and makes it easier to digest.
- There are over 50 varieties of kale, but the most common are curly and Lacinato (a.k.a., dinosaur or Tuscan). Curly kale is inherently more bitter and peppery while Lacinato is a bit more delicate and sweet. Lacinato might be a better gateway drug if you are new to the kale scene. Both will stand-up well if dressed and kept overnight for leftovers.
- You can find it year-round, but its peak season is winter to early spring. The sturdy plant survives and thrives in the frost, which actually breaks down the fibers a bit to make the plants less bitter. So late winter is the best time to buy it, if you’re into that whole seasonal eating thing. (For the record: I’m way into it.)
First things first, wash your kale and remove the stems. Slide your fingers down the stem of curly kale to pluck the leaves off easily. With dinosaur kale, it’s easiest just to cut the vein out with a knife. (That makes me sound like Dexter.) Here is a video to show how it’s done (she is doing this to curly kale, but you get the idea).
Since the season is starting to turn and I am getting anxious for farmer’s markets, I packed this thing full of veggies. Nothing beats in-season, fresh vegetables. We aren’t quite there yet… but I am sick of waiting.
Now, back to the massaging-the-dressing-into-the-kale idea. It sounds really weird and seems like an insignificant step. Learn from me on this one: it makes ALL the difference. If you try a raw kale salad without doing it, you will forever curse its name. Remember my nameless friend Katie with the cute baby boy Will? Well, she introduced me to a game-changing technique for massaging dressing into your kale. Put it in a freezer bag to save your hands and a mess. Duh! Why had I not thought of that myself? It’s brilliant. I like to use a heartier dressing for kale salads since it holds up so well. So the creamy avocado dressing I posted last week is perfect.
Put some dressing into the bottom of the bag. (Less is more here. You can always add to it.)
Throw some clean kale in the bag. (Don’t overstuff it, you’ll want room to work here. You can separate into a couple bags if needed.)
Work the dressing into the leaves. Don’t be gentle. Really get in there. Almost like you are kneading dough. Giving the leaves a good rubdown for a few minutes physically breaks down the cellulose structure and it softens. So give those bad boys a deep-tissue and work out those proverbial knots. Then let it sit for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. (Tip: the longer you massage, the less time it needs to marinate.) If you don’t want to get intimate with your greens, let them sit overnight. But who has time for that?
Chop up whatever veggies you like. I chose yellow bell pepper (spiralized), avocado slices, carrots (spiralized), red onion, radish, cucumber and cherry tomato. I also used some chickpeas for stomach-filling protein power. Of course, you don't have to run out and buy a spiralizer just for this salad. Old-school chopping works just fine, I just wanted to mix-up some textures.
Toss the dressed kale with the veggies and serve. I always finish my salads with a generous dousing of fresh cracked pepper. If you want to beef it up more, add roasted or grilled chicken. And if you want to de-health a bit, throw on some fresh crumbled feta cheese. I also like to add in toasted walnuts or dried berries (goji or cranberry works great and add even more antioxidant power).
Are you a kale lover? What is your favorite way to make or dress it? Comment below if you are in favor of this basic bitch green!