Editors' Picks

Northern Spy's Kale Salad

January  6, 2012

Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The perfect salad to make ahead for tonight's company (or tomorrow's lunch).

kale salad

- Kristen

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To some, kale salad will seem old news. Oh, you've been eating raw kale forever. You know all about massaging it to make it relax (aside: what other foods are we regularly told to massage?). Your college co-op invented it, maybe.

Yet every time I start to make a kale salad, someone squints at it and asks, "Wait ... you're not going to cook that?" So here I am, telling you to tell all your friends to go eat a kale salad.

lacinato kale

I get it. I remember my first kale salad, scooped up bravely from the raw bar at a health food store near NYU. It didn't seem like a very good idea, like eating trees or paper, but it looked so pretty. Emerald confetti, tousled and twisted with who knows what -- probably sesame seeds and flax. I feared I might turn up dead.

But kale is just like any other green you've ever put to dressing, just a little more resilient. And that's a very helpful trait, making it an ideal salad to make ahead for company, or tomorrow's lunch.

Even the hardiest arugula and curls of bibb lettuce, stiff as saucers, will go flimsy and wilted before kale even begins to let down its guard. (And don't get me started on scrawny spring mixes, collapsing on themselves before even getting out of the bag. For shame!)

roasting squashkale saladkale salad

This particular kale salad is one of the best any of us have tasted, at once substantial and spry. It's dressed with just lemon and olive oil, making it a bit like the raw, healthy version -- but with roasted squash, almonds, and two kinds of cheese. Two! One of which is Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, which I would marry if I could. It's aged and crumbly like a stately parmesan, but with the spunk of a sharp cheddar.

With this dream team of ingredients, this salad is the hottest ticket at the hottest little restaurant in the East Village: Northern Spy Food Co. (The tables are made from reclaimed bowling lanes. Hot, I tell you.)

northern spy food conorthern spy food co

Northern Spy's menu changes often, but this salad has been a mainstay since they opened in 2009. The kabocha gets traded out with the seasons for things like fresh apricots, kohlrabi, or patty pan squash. When I don't feel like waiting for squash to roast, I go with slices of apple or persimmon. It's amenable.

And guess what? No massaging. Unless you have to settle for the huskiest looking curly kale in the produce section, Northern Spy prefers that you toss without getting quite so handsy -- leaving you with still-bouncy wisps of green, sweet pockets of squash, pops of almond, and all that cheese. Go tell it to your co-op.

kale salad

Northern Spy's Kale Salad

Serves 2

Adapted slightly from Northern Spy Food Co.

1/2 cup cubed kabocha, butternut, or other winter squash
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch kale (preferably lacinato or dinosaur kale), ribs removed and finely sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup almonds, cut roughly in half
1/4 cup crumbled or finely chopped Cabot clothbound cheddar (or any good, aged cheddar -- if you can't find aged cheddar, use parmesan)
Fresh lemon juice
Pecorino or other hard cheese, for shaving (optional)

See a slideshow and the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more genius? TryShirley Corriher's Touch-of-Grace Biscuits

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].


Photos by James Ransom


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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Benjamin A. November 1, 2014
This is a perfectly wonderful dish. Had a delicata needing cooking. Substituted its seeds roasted for the almonds and it was a smash hit, even with the picky kid.

Many thanks.
Janet F. October 27, 2013
MAde it tonight, just had 1 cheese, cheddar and added a bit of minced shallot and red pepper.Very good- a keeper!
Sandra C. September 28, 2013
I'd like to post it on the Facebook but I can't because the right column articles block the answer and I can't hit the 'share' button.
Kristen M. September 30, 2013
Hi Sandra -- sorry about that, and thanks for letting us know. If you try scrolling around the page, or zooming out in your browser, does it make the button more accessible?
Amanda September 25, 2013
I enjoy the way you write, it feels like a well-written book. I haven't tried Kale salads a whole lot myself but after this I must make a plan to do this soon. Thanks.
Sandra C. October 1, 2013
No, it doesn't. The ads. won't move. It only happened on iPad.
Kristen M. October 1, 2013
Thanks Sandra -- we're looking into this!
Madame F. January 29, 2012
I just discovered this salad--what revelation! I like to top it with bread crumbs made from leftover baguettes. It adds an extra layer of crispiness. A little minced red pepper is nice, too.
tbrozman January 19, 2012
It ain't easy bein' green...
ubs2007 January 16, 2012
Excellent! Made this tonight for a dinner party and everyone loved it. Combination of flavors and textures were perfect! Thanks so much for sharing this fantastic recipe!
geh January 15, 2012
Fantastic! I made this exactly as printed, and it was excellent! I loved the combination of flavors, and I loved the combination of textures even more. This definitely goes in the "make again" file!
geh January 15, 2012
Fantastic! I made this exactly as printed, and it was excellent! I loved the combination of flavors, and I loved the combination of textures even more. This definitely goes in the "make again" file!
Yossy A. January 12, 2012
Yum, I love roasted squash and sweet potatoes in kale salad, but I never though to add cheddar cheese. I definitely need to give this a try.
1natalplum January 11, 2012
We grow lots of kale every year, and lancinato is by far the easiest and most prolific. This looks wonderful, especially since it has my other fav, winter squash. Can't wait to try it!
mcs3000 January 11, 2012
Sounds marvelous. Love kale. Btw: Had wanted to go to Northern Spy on my last visit but ran out of time, so now I'll get a little taste of it.
Sonali A. January 10, 2012
I love lacinato kale! What a great recipe- congrats!
Rupal P. January 9, 2012
Made this tonight for guests with slight modifications based on what we had - American instead of Lacinato Kale and a tad bit of sherry vinegar in addition to the lemon juice since I was short on lemons. The salad was truly fantastic and we really enjoyed the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. I served this with a Spaghetti Bolognese and everyone at the table kept coming back to the Kale salad for more. A big hit with bold flavors, and SO easy! Thank you!
Trillinchick January 8, 2012
Kale was never on our family table when I was growing up, and for most of my life I was not very adventurous with food. I don't think I have ever tasted kale. Since moving to the SF Bay area, my inner improvisational cook has broken free, and I have been exploring amazing dishes, seasonings, and herbs - preferably pure/fresh/natural ("organic"? What does that mean these days?). I wonder if Trader Joe's yummy country white cheddar cheese would work in this recipe, since I've never heard of the cheese praised here. ;-)
Savorykitchen January 8, 2012
We have something similar on the menu at our restaurant. It's very popular, and especially exciting when we convert kale-haters! Our version uses pistachios instead of almonds, no cheese, and butter-milk-onion-parsley dressing. I love how pretty the finished salad is: all those bright orange cubes tossed in with that rich green kale.
arielleclementine January 7, 2012
this was wonderful! even my kale-averse husband loved it. thanks so much for sharing the recipe :)
wssmom January 7, 2012
Walked into Brooklyn Kitchen yesterday and lo and behold in the dairy case there was some Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, of which I had never heard. Making the salad was inevitable after that, and it really is genius!! Six of us scarfed down every last morsel.
Kristen M. January 7, 2012
So glad you liked it -- and found the perfect cheese!
TheWimpyVegetarian January 7, 2012
Another great dressing for kale salads is equal parts of honey and lemon. No oil at all!
TheWimpyVegetarian January 7, 2012
Kale Salad is my very favorite kind of salad. I've been making them lately with caramelized acorn squash and sliced apples and Parm cheese, but haven't worked with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Sounds like I've really been missing something quite special, and will correct this oversight posthaste and make this Genius salad. Kale is at its best right now! Question: I've read that unless you cook it or massage it to break down the cellular walls, which releases the enzymes that are so nutritious, it's not as good for you. Seems to me that the action of chewing the kale would do the same. Have you heard anything like this?
Kristen M. January 7, 2012
That's really interesting, ChezSuzanne. I haven't heard anything about that, but I have to admit I don't usually pay attention to nutrition recommendations (I figure if I'm eating kale, squash and nuts, I'm doing pretty good). But you're right, it sounds like chewing would accomplish the same thing. Maybe someone else could weigh in? (Sorry, that last version of this comment was from me, while I was still signed in as Genius Recipes -- do over!)
TheWimpyVegetarian January 7, 2012
No worries! I ran into this piece of information when I was putting together the lecture part of a cooking class I did on working with greens about a year ago. I'm definitely interested in hearing any input from our amazing community.
fiveandspice January 7, 2012
I don't know for sure because I can't say we ever specifically studied massaging kale, but I think you're right. As far as I'm aware, massaging won't accomplish too much more, unless you let the leaves sit with citrus for a good while. This may actually help break down the cell walls more than chewing. The citrus also helps with absorption of the nutrients. And actually, it's really important to have some fat in there from the dressing, nuts, or cheeses (or in this case, all of the above) to promote absorption. With veggies like greens, cooking them with a little fat and including vitamin C seems to be the way to make most of the nutrients the very most bioavailable, though it can cause the loss of some of the sensitive water soluble vitamins.
TheWimpyVegetarian January 8, 2012
Yes! I'd forgotten about the citrus. Citrus + nutritious greens is like 1+1=3. I'm glad you added the part about the fat. I've been using a dressing of lemon and honey thinking I was being oh-so-good, and here I needed the fat for a delivery system - to grease the wheels, so to speak. Thanks 5&S!