Kale is the James Franco of salad greens. First of all, both kale and James Franco began their careers with a small but dedicated underground following and later enjoyed a quick rise to fame. Public interest in both peaked about a year ago, although both continue to have a ubiquitous presence on Pinterest. (In fact, did you know that at any given time, the number of pinned James Franco selfies equals the exact number of pinned recipes for kale chips?*) Finally, like actor/writer/student/artist/director/mime/seamstress/Senator James Franco, kale can do just about anything. Whether you boil it, bake it, juice it, braise it, roast it, or serve it raw, kale can stand up to the pressure of your demands and come out the other side looking great.
This salad showcases raw kale's crispy yet supple texture, balancing its slightly bitter taste with a light, sweet dressing. It's perfect for a fall supper -- filling and healthy and infused with the autumnal flavors of maple and smoke. It's easy to put together on a weeknight. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I hate wilted, slimy spinach. Kale holds up well to the warm dressing and keeps nicely for leftovers the next day, providing you keep the toppings separate from the rest of the salad.
You will need:
- 1 bunch kale (I prefer Lacinato/dinosaur kale because it's easiest to wash), de-stemmed (watch a tutorial here), rinsed, patted dry, and torn into bite-sized pieces
- 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I don't want to hear about any of this Mrs. Fancypants' Pancake-Flavored Syrup Concoction, people. Only the real stuff will do.)
- dash of onion powder
- salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
- 1/8 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes without oil (if you can find the smoked variety, your salad will improve tenfold)
- 1/4 cup shredded or diced smoked cheese (Whole Foods' perpetually helpful vendeur de fromage suggested a lovely naturally-smoked Gouda)
- After your kale is de-stemmed, rinsed, dried, and torn, toss it into a big serving bowl and give it a massage. (No, really! Squeeze and knead the leaves a couple times to break them down and make them less bitter.)
- Pour the vinegar, oil, maple syrup, onion powder, and salt and pepper into a microwaveable mug or measuring cup. Microwave it in 30-second increments until it's warm but not super hot. Stir the dressing with a fork or small whisk until it's basically uniform, but don't worry too much if you can't get it all mixed together.
- Pour about half the dressing over the kale and toss to combine. If you need more dressing to cover the leaves, go ahead, but you probably won't use all of it because it's thin.
- Place equal portions of the kale on dinner plates and top each serving with pecans, tomatoes, and cheese. Serve immediately.
*Really, really not true.