Bridging the gap between late summer and fall with a warm salad that incorporates the last of the summer’s bounty of ripe tomatoes and hearty, substantial kale, mushrooms, and walnuts. It's a recipe inspired by a Kale Quinoa salad I saw on the Tasting Table years ago that called for reducing balsamic vinegar into a thick syrup and then drizzling over the kale leaves and other components. I fell in love with that idea and have been using it here ever since. I had the last of my late summer cherry tomatoes for this salad but if tomatoes are not in season when you make this, leave them out. It will taste perfectly delicious without them. Or add in a few slices of a sweet, ripe pear instead.
—Maja Lukic - Veggies & Gin
Wash the kale, dry it, and then roughly tear it up into bite-sized pieces with your hands (no chopping here). Gently massage 1 tsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp sea salt into the leaves. As you work the kale with your hands, the leaves will become shiny and turn a vibrant green. Add the dried cherries and cherry tomatoes to the kale and set it aside while you prepare the rest of the components.
Toasted Walnuts: Toast the chopped walnuts in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are just fragrant. Be sure that they do not burn. Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven by spreading them out on a baking sheet and baking at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Start checking them at the five-minute mark and make sure they do not burn.
sautéed Mushrooms: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in the skillet you used for the walnuts over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently for a few minutes. If the shallots start to burn or brown too much, reduce the heat to low and cook until soft and translucent. Turn the heat back up and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms for a few minutes, stirring frequently until they are browned and have started to release their liquids. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt and continue to cook until the mushrooms are cooked through, about 2-3 more minutes.
Balsamic Syrup: In a small saucepan over high heat, add the balsamic vinegar and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes until thick and reduced. Take it off the heat when it has a syrupy consistency but note that it will continue to thicken as it cools.
This is not the occasion for a fine aged import – a basic grocery store balsamic vinegar will do because once it reduces, it will become a thick, luxurious syrup. Of course, if you’d like to use your best balsamic for this project, I won’t stop you.
Assemble the salad: Add the toasted nuts and sautéed mushrooms to the kale. Drizzle everything with the balsamic syrup and season with additional sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Serve with a bottle of wine.