I have made a lot of kale salads over the years, and done quite a bit of searching around the interwebs to find new ways to make a simple kale salad. There are tons of great recipes out there, but most of them are extravagant, and not something that I’m going to throw together in 10 minutes while the pasta is boiling. So, here is a recipe for a simple kale salad that i make regularly. It is so easy, and so good, that my daughters regularly request it, and can nearly make it by themselves.
A couple of years ago, we visited my in-laws for Christmas. They live in the mountains of northwest North Carolina, right in the corner where North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia all meet. So close in fact that you can walk to either state fairly easily. It is a beautiful, very rural place, and the mountains are surprisingly steep. These are not the rolling Catskills or the gentle Poconos. The valley where they live is dotted with small farms with a few head of cattle or some chickens, along with some vegetable gardens here and there as well. They are close to the headwaters of the New River, and the water literally flows right through their front yard. There are also Christmas tree farms everywhere. Ashe County, NC calls itself the Christmas tree capital of the world.
While in theory, it should be warmer in North Carolina than in New Jersey, this is almost never the case at their house since the elevation is about 3,000’ or so. They get significant snows just like we do in the northeast without the benefit of armies of road crews clearing the stuff around the clock. This particular Christmas was another story. It was in the mid 60s for most of the time we were there. In fact, it was so warm that my father in law rarely fired up the great wood cook-stove in the kitchen that keeps the house so warm and cozy. It was also warm enough that the kale in their magnificent garden was still growing, even at the end of December. Seemingly every day, my mother in law would take my daughter Silvia out to the garden to gather a massive bowl of Kale to turn into this or that, and maybe pull a few last carrots, or whatever else still was left in the garden.
One of the dishes my mother in law made was a simple kale salad with this beautiful, organic, just harvested, baby kale. I don’t know what it is about greens that have just been plucked from the ground, but they tase so amazing, like they are somehow quivering with life. It really was a magnificent salad. Silvia nearly polished off an entire batch of the stuff herself one night, placing the blame for nobody getting enough salad on me for supposedly eating it all, then running out for the evening to go see a movie with my father in law. Little did everyone suspect that my four year old daughter was the culprit!
The best simple kale salad
This simple kale salad has become a year round staple in our house. Both of my daughters request it, help make it, and devour it almost weekly. So much so, that you seriously have to make sure they don’t eat it all before you get to it. The dressing is simple, light, and vibrant, and you can use it on other salads too. Just maybe don’t massage your romaine lettuce. If you want to have your kids cook this with you, have them help separate the leaves from the stems, and also help massage the kale with the dressing. I love it when my girls really get their hands into the food we are making. This salad won’s make too much of a mess when they dive in with two hands.
You can use any kind of kale you like, but I prefer it with lacinato kale. The texture fits the preparation very well. Baby kale works nicely as well, and you don’t have to massage it much. If you use curly kale, make sure you really mush it well, and it doesn’t hurt to let it stand for ten minutes before you serve it. Also, make sure you zest the lemon before you juice it, unless you enjoy being annoyed, then definitely juice it first. If you want to pair this simple kale salad with something, how about a grilled pizza? And, a pro tip for any greens, if you find your greens have a lot of grit or dirt on them, separate the leaves and fill your sink with water to wash them. Swish all the greens around with your hands and let the dirt settle to the bottom of the sink before you take the greens out.
- 1 bunch lacinato kale, (also known as dino kale)
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- zest of half a lemon
- Juice of one lemon. If it’s a huge lemon, use half of it for the juice
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Pepper to taste
- Using your hands, separate the kale leaves from the ribs. You can usually just rip it all off in one quick motion. Roughly chop the kale into 1 inch wide strips and wash and dry the kale. Put the kale in a large serving bowl.
- Finely mince the garlic, and dump on top of the kale along with the salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil.
- Using your clean hands, squeeze and mix the kale for a minute or two. The leaves will become more tender, and the volume will seem to reduce. There might be some extra liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Don’t worry about it.
- Add the Pecorino Romano and the pepper, usually about 1/2 tsp. Mix well again and serve.