Thursday, February 07, 2013
KALE SALAD WITH APPLES, ALMONDS, CHEDDAR, AND POMEGRANATE
Even though they’ve become trendy as a “superfood” (I just can’t bring myself to use that word without the scare quotes), pomegranates still seem exotic to me. My elementary-school best friend would occasionally bring a segment to school in her lunchbag (she was Jewish and I conflated these two things for years), but other than that, I never encountered them until I was an adult. Now that I live in California, I see them for sale at my farmers’ market sometimes but have been a bit intimidated by them. The fact that multiple methods exist for opening them, detailed in a host of online step-by-steps procedures, only makes them more daunting. (Internet tutorials can be extremely useful, but generally, if a cooking technique requires a video to teach it, I tend to avoid it. I’m not claiming this is a wise philosophy, since it kept me away from poaching eggs and making mayonnaise for many lost years.) I’ve bought the convenient boxes of seeds at Trader Joe’s a few times, but they’re ridiculously expensive, nearly four times the cost of a whole pomegranate. When I saw this delicious-looking recipe from A Tasty Love Story at The Kitchn, I decided it was time to buckle down and get friendly with pomegranates.
Following directions from, yes, The Kitchn, I found it quite easy to open my pomegranate underwater, with just a few stray squirts of juice marring my kitchen, and only when I got too enthusiastic about pulling the seeds out forcefully (one red splash stained my forehead and glasses, which I didn’t notice until hours later, and with some alarm until I figured out its source). The rest of the salad came together easily enough, although it takes a bit longer than some of the others I’ve made, between negotiating the pomegranate and having to candy the almonds. That process is quick and nifty enough in itself, just a few minutes on the stovetop, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. Maybe I overcooked them, but my almonds tasted a little bitter, and they were incredibly sticky; unable to reach the parchment, I grabbed the waxed paper instead to line the baking sheet I poured them onto to cool, and when I tried to remove them later, they took the paper right along with them. I had to spend 15 minutes trying to peel the tiny scraps of paper off, and then chopping them was equally awkward. All that and I’m not sure whether they added a lot of flavor to the salad; the dressing already has balsamic and honey in it, and when all was said and done I could barely even notice they were candied. I would be tempted to use plain ones in the future, but A disagrees that the flavor was indetectible, so maybe I was just cranky about my waxed paper gaffe.
One crucial improvement I made was to add sharp cubed cheddar cheese to the mix; besides the kale, and the almonds beneath their candied coating, everything else here is so firmly in the tart-sweet spectrum that I felt something creamy and savory/salty was needed to balance it out. Maybe I had a huge pomegranate, but there were a lot of seeds in there, although I appreciated the liquid they provided in each bite because there were also a lot of almonds, which sometimes make my mouth feel dry; I might slightly reduce the quantities of each next time. There was so much going on in the salad that the grassy flavor of the kale was in danger of being overshadowed. I thought kale was nearly indestructible, but it even seemed to be getting a little soggy under the weight of all the other ingredients. Perhaps I should have followed the original recipe in using finely chopped curly kale instead of the sliced Tuscan I prefer for salads, but Tuscan was all I could find at the farmers’ market that week anyway. In particular, with its balsamic base, the dressing was much more assertive than the lemony ones I usually use for kale, not to mention that it stained all the ingredients an unfortunate brown.
It sounds like I’m complaining, doesn’t it? I did really enjoy this salad; the flavors go together well and it has a tremendously pleasing juicy crunch. A liked it even more than I did, and in fact, I think the very things that make me compare it unfavorably to some of my other kale salad recipes--the big, bold, sweet flavors and the backgrounding of the kale itself--are precisely what he liked about it. So I’ll definitely be making it again as a nice change of pace, and I am now firmly in the camp of pomegranate eaters.
¾ cup almonds
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch kale (I used Tuscan)
½–¾ cup cubed sharp cheddar cheese
1. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast the almonds for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar; as soon as the liquid has evaporated, add 1 tablespoon of honey and stir for 1 minute. Transfer almonds to a baking sheet lined with silicon or parchment and let them cool. Afterwards, chop them coarsely.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, the remaining 1 teaspoon of honey, the Dijon, and salt and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, continuing whisking until dressing is emulsified.
3. Wash and dry the kale. Remove the stems and slice the leaves into thin strips (if using Tuscan) or chop them finely (if using curly). Place the kale in a large bowl.
4. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate and add them to the bowl. Core and thinly slice the apples and add them as well, followed by the cheddar and almonds.
5. Add the dressing to the salad and toss well to coat.
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.