Friday, February 17, 2012
KALE SALAD WITH SQUASH, CHEDDAR, AND ALMONDS
As avid a kale fan as I am, can you believe that this was my first time trying it raw? I hadn’t been deliberately avoiding it, but now I’m regretting not trying it sooner, because I’m head over heels. This—from Northern Spy Food Co. in NYC via Food52—was a particularly excellent choice as an inaugural recipe, since it pairs kale with squash and lemon, the usual suspect, but also with aged cheddar and almonds, which are a bit more surprising. I was in it for the cheddar and kale and squash, in that order, and thought the almonds looked unnecessary, but I’m so glad I left them in because the combination of flavors and textures was really amazing. (The original recipe called for optional shaved Pecorino, as well, and I halfheartedly threw a few fragments of Parmesan on there, but it’s totally superfluous; the cheddar provides all the sharp creaminess this salad needs, and I won’t bother with the second cheese in the future.) If you’re suspicious of raw kale, this will be your gateway drug, and if you’re already an old hand at kale salads, this will probably shake up your usual routine.
As a bonus, the cheese and nuts add enough protein to make this light vitamin powerhouse feel quite filling. Unsure how much salad the recipe would yield or how much we’d like it, I served this alongside white beans with sausage and tomatoes, and while the two dishes complemented each other nicely, it was almost too much food. The salad portions were generous, and I think that with some fruit (pears spring to mind) and maybe some bread, this would make a lovely lunch or light dinner all on its own. I’d still serve it as a side again, but alongside a smaller main course, like soup, or a single piece of chicken.
Oh, and the leftovers are magical! Usually when I have salad leftovers I painstakingly store each component separately—greens in one container, toppings in another, dressing in a third, and so on—to prevent wilting and sogginess, until I have a teetering tower of Tupperware in the fridge. Kale is so hardy, though, that you can dress it one night and find it totally unchanged the next day. A ate his leftovers several days later and reported them still good. That makes this a perfect salad to take to work, without having to corral and tote a dozen little bowls in your lunchbag.
I couldn’t find Cabot clothbound cheddar, but I picked out some Old Quebec vintage cheddar at random from Whole Foods’ bewildering cheese selection, and it was plenty delicious. And although I’m usually not one for kitchen tips and tricks, I read somewhere that a pizza cutter is the perfect tool for trimming the ribs off of kale, and I must testify that I tried it and it works wonderfully, especially with the flat, narrow Tuscan leaves. (It also does a great job of slicing the leaves into ribbons once you’ve removed the ribs.) The more you know!
1 cup cubed butternut or other winter squash
4½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large bunch Tuscan (aka lacinato or dinosaur) kale, ribs removed and discarded, leaves finely sliced, about 5 cups
½ cup almonds, cut roughly in half
½ cup crumbled or finely chopped Cabot clothbound cheddar (or any other good, aged cheddar)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss squash cubes ½ tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread on a baking sheet (line with parchment for easier cleanup), leaving space between the cubes. Roast until tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes, tossing with a spatula every 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, leaving the oven on.
2. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet (I just used the same baking sheet, after removing the roasted squash) in the oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar, and squash. Add lemon juice and olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss well.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Surprisingly good.