Instead of massaging the kale to make it soft, this dish calls for sautéing the leaves in a dry skillet until they are tender, yet crunchy. And then there are the surprises: The spicy flavor of kale is offset with caramelized creamy pumpkin (surprise #1), cinnamon glazed bacon adds warmth and comfort (surprise #2), and the salad is seasoned with sea salted almond crumbs (surprise #3).
Needless to say, pumpkin can be substituted with any of the earthy winter squashes. —QueenSashy
Test Kitchen Notes
The perfect bite of fall can be found in this oh-so-satisfying salad -- yes, a satisfying salad. QueenSashy hits all the right notes by combining kale, bacon, pumpkin, and caramelized almonds in a bright apple cider vinaigrette. Don't let the amount of steps intimidate you -- it is well worth the extra effort and is sure to be one recipe you’ll want to keep in your rotation as a side or a main course. —figgypudding
small Sugar Pie pumpkin (about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons
extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling the pumpkin
Freshly ground black pepper
long slices (about 5 ounces) of thick bacon, cut into big bite-size squares
About 1 1/2 teaspoons of brown sugar, divided
A pinch of cinnamon (about 1/4 teaspoon)
A pinch of cayenne pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)
(about 3 ounces) blanched almonds, cut into quarters
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Chop the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into slices, remove the skin, and then cut the flesh into 3/4-inch cubes. Drizzle the cubes with a little olive oil, season with black pepper, and toss to combine. Place the cubes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 30 minutes, until nicely caramelized and soft (but not soft enough that the pumpkin is falling apart). Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let it cool. (You will not have to use all of the pumpkin cubes for this dish -- probably only about half -- but they are a good leftover to have.)
Decrease the oven temperature to 325° F. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the bacon slices on the sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the bacon with about 1/2 teaspoon of the brown sugar, the cinnamon, and the cayenne. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bacon is caramelized and very crispy, and all of the fat has rendered out. Let the bacon cool completely and then cut it into 3/4-inch pieces. (The bacon will crisp more as it cools.)
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the almonds, and toast them for about 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly golden. Stir frequently to make sure that the almonds do not burn. Remove the almonds from the skillet and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of brown sugar to the skillet. When the sugar melts, return the almonds to the skillet, mix them with caramelized sugar, and sprinkle with one teaspoon of coarse sea salt. Remove the skillet from the heat, pour the almonds onto a plate, and let them cool completely. Brush any remaining salt in the skillet onto the almonds.
Wash the kale and dry it thoroughly. Remove the hard steams and chop the kale into 3/4-inch strips. Heat a cast iron skillet or casserole dish over medium heat. Place the kale into the skillet and “dry-sauté” over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Resist the temptation to add any water to the skillet. Remove from the heat when the kale begins to soften. Let the kale cool completely.
Prepare the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil and cider vinegar and season with freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until well blended and creamy.
In a large bowl toss the kale with the vinaigrette. Arrange the kale on a large platter and top with the pumpkin cubes and bacon. Sprinkle with the sea salt-almond crust and serve.
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.