I’m going to start this post with an endorsement: a six-year-old I know had two servings of this salad at a birthday party this weekend and it was the first thing he asked for at lunch the next day. If that doesn’t get you to try it, I don’t know what will!
While this dish recently joined others as part of a birthday party buffet, it is really more like Christmas in a bowl — only three months ahead of schedule. All green and red, you can’t help but dig in. And when you do, the flavors are both intense and inviting. Crunchy kale, tangy red peppers, sweet raisins, earthy walnuts, and a tart lemon/shallot/garlic dressing tying it all together. And did I mention this, too, is vegetarian and vegan? Bonus!
Feeding a birthday crowd
I sadly have to fess up and admit that, for the longest time, raw kale held little interest for me. My husband and I are big salad eaters but I’d continually pass on the kale at the farmer’s market. Or, when we had it as part of our farm share basket, I’d put it into a soup. Fairly often, I’d freeze it for some future use…which actually meant it went into cold storage until the day I could bring myself to throw it away, all freezer-burned and inedible.
It must have been another festivity years ago. The time my husband and I celebrated his birthday at Blue Hill at Stone Barn, Chef Dan Barber’s now-iconic farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York. We hadn’t yet been exposed to the growing buzz around Chef Barber’s fresh cooking philosophy. After touring the farm and then making our way through his multi-course tasting menu we were converts. And while I can’t quite remember if kale was on any of the many plates that evening (it almost certainly must have been!), what I do know is that, suddenly, I couldn’t open a magazine or read a newspaper without seeing Dan Barber’s name. And somewhere along the way, I came across his recipe for Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan. It was all over. Raw kale was on the menu at home, too, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with seasonal ingredients and tastes to really bring out the benefits of this overlooked vegetable.
Like Christmas on a plate
So, be it a birthday, a holiday, or just another night packed with soccer practice or piano lessons…give this one a try. You’ll be celebrating, too.
Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts
2 large bunches of kale (preferably curly kale), well washed with ribs removed
12 to 14 ounces roasted red peppers
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a pan on the stove top and broken into small pieces (not too small though)
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Lay out the kale leaves on a cutting board, stacking one on top of the other, and slice them into thin ribbons across the grain. Put the kale into a large bowl.
After removing any remaining seeds from the peppers, cut them into then ribbons as well, and then slice further so that each piece is approximately 1/4 inch x 1 inch (don’t worry too much about the size…you just want small pieces that integrate into the salad). Place sliced peppers into the bowl with the kale.
To plump the raisins, reconstitute them by placing them in a microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup with water to cover, and then microwaving on high for 1 minute. Raisins will be nice and soft. Drain them, and add the raisins to the salad.
Add the walnuts after they’ve been toasted. Be careful not to burn them while toasting.
To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, garlic cloves, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper until well combined (this is a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe for jam jar dressings – worth having these at your fingertips). Pour the dressing over the salad and work everything together with your (clean!) hands until the kale is well coated and the red peppers, raisins and walnuts are well-distributed.
The kale salad, being assembled
Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for approximately one hour before serving. The lemon juice will begin to soften the kale leaves and make them more tender, and the flavors will really develop.
Serves: 10 – 15 as a side dish. To serve a smaller party, halve the recipe.
It’s worth noting that we’ve done variations on this salad with great results. A close friend of ours doesn’t care for roasted red peppers or walnuts, so I made a version with oven-roasted tomatoes and toasted pine nuts and it turned out nicely too! I shaved some Locatelli cheese into that version, which made it a pretty close cousin to the version Dan Barber makes.
Parent rating: The hostess at the birthday party gave me a report of “four stars” from the adults. And she really is the hostess with the mostess…so to even have a dish on the table with some of her wonderful creations is an honor!
Kid rating: I’m going out on a limb and giving this four kid stars based on the endorsement from the afore-mentioned six-year-old. Sadly, our girls would NOT try this. Perhaps kale really is an acquired taste…and a six-year-old palate is so much more sophisticated than a five-year-old one!