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.
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!)
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'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.
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)
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, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. 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."