It’s funny the food memories that imprint in your mind and never dim. I first had a version of this kale salad at Gjelina in August of 2011. My dear friend, McKenzie, and I were fresh out of our dietetic internship at Bastyr and we road tripped from San Francisco to Los Angeles with Elie, two years before Elie and I were married. It was one of those magical trips that could never be replicated. We were all at a place and time in our lives that necessitated a trip like this–a trip of friendship, filled with days on road, lots of singing and laughter and good food.
That night on Abbot Kinney, McKenzie and I both had our cards read. The mystic told me I would soon be married and would have two children. I laughed and casually dismissed her vision. I knew Elie and I would get married, but I also knew we would never have children. Elie never wanted to be a father, until he changed his mind. That psychic may have gotten the number of children wrong, but now I think she saw something in my future that I didn’t see.
So many things about that trip became symbols of happy times. This kale salad is one. Elie, McKenzie and I sat at a dark corner table and reveled at the pizza and wood-fired vegetables, our trip, our friendship, and this salad. It wasn’t until years later that the Gjelina cookbook came out, but I had already been making it my own way for several years by the time the cookbook came out. (The cookbook is great, by the way, and deserves a place on your bookshelf.)
To be honest, I haven’t even read the kale salad recipe from the Gjelina cookbook, because I don’t want to alter my own faulty memory of the salad we had that night. So here it is, my very favorite salad. I make this salad in every season, for every occasion. Massaging the kale with salt makes the leaves silky and brings out the sweetness of the greens. The fennel adds a little licorice note and the radish gives it a little bite. You can leave out the parmesan cheese if you don’t like dairy and substitute nutritional yeast. Or, goat cheese or a feta would also be delicious. But, if you eat dairy, the parmesan is really quite good. The toasted pumpkin seeds give it a nice crunch. I make a few cups of these pumpkin seeds each week and we use them for all sorts of things, including just snacking on them. They are one of Theo’s favorite snacks. You could make a vinaigrette for this salad, but just try it first with the lemon juice and olive oil. It’s really my favorite way to eat it. Sometimes, simple is best.
This salad is especially great because you can make it on one day and eat it for three or four days, because the kale stands up to marinating in the refrigerator for a few days. It’s delicious on it’s own, or you can make a meal by adding quinoa and soft-boiled eggs or a little grilled salmon.
And now, for the recipe. What food memory stands out in your mind?
Massaged Kale Salad
Makes 4 large servings or 6 small servings
1 large or 2 small bunches of lacinato kale
large pinch sea salt
1 fennel bulb
3 or 4 radishes
2 ounces parmesan cheese, shaved
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted*
zest of one lemon
3 – 4 tablespoons lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons, approximately)
3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pinch red pepper flakes
Stem the kale and then tear the leaves into large pieces. Place the kale in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle a big pinch of sea salt over the kale and then take your hands and massage the kale (sort of crushing it aggressively with your hands) until the leaves turn a dark, shiny green and feel almost silky. Taste and add more salt, if needed. It should taste seasoned but not salty.
Thinly slice the fennel and radishes on a mandolin (or slice thinly with a knife) and add them to the salad. You can shave the parmesan cheese using a regular potato peeler, making large shreds of parmesan. Add those to the salad.
Toss in the pumpkin seeds and then take a microplane (grater) and add the zest of one lemon to the salad. Add the lemon juice and a few tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of red pepper flakes and toss it all together. Taste and adjust salt, lemon juice or olive oil as desired.
*To make the pumpkin seeds, add a couple of cups of pumpkin seeds to a large skillet. Add a tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil and stir. Toast the pumpkin seeds over low heat, stirring often, until they are browned to your liking. We usually like them very toasty, which takes about 20 minutes or so. Season with sea salt and then let cool completely before transferring them to a jar. Store them, covered, in the refrigerator.