I'm here to talk about salad. If that's not your thing, I still hope you'll stick around. This is a salad to get to know, with an exceedingly useful dressing that I'm keeping on speed dial.
To those of you for whom, like me, salad is entirely your thing — hey, good to see you.
This is a pretty basic salad. Its bulk is kale, either curly shreds of the big stuff or the petal-like leaves of the baby kind. Up to you. The rest gets made up of spindly, twisty sprouts, which break up the density of the kale, and enough apple keep things juicily crisp, because, let's be honest, while kale salads offer a jaw-tiring chew, the leaves lack a proper, snappy crunch. A scatter of nuts, and, all that's left is the dressing.
If you don't mind me saying, I think the dressing is terrific. Fist-bump, high-five, secret handshake terrific. It is made with miso and tahini, and the two meld in this gorgeous way; the softness of the miso lightening the tahini's clay-like texture until it relaxes. The orange juice lends a perked sweetness, floral and fragrant, and the garlic grounds everything to its background buzz. The rest of the suggested ingredients — rice wine vinegar, honey, a few drops of oil — are there to finesse the dressing into its final harmony, into a concoction with surprising depth and interest. You know what it's like when you wear a perfectly-tailored coat with an old pair of jeans? The dressing in here works something like that. It's not flashy, but it'll turn heads.
I double dog dare you not to lick the bowl.
Last night I realized I smelled like dirt. And sunscreen. And grass, right here at my elbow, where there was a stain from leaning into the lawn. After dinner outside, a dinner that included this salad, William and I had been trying to keep track of a bird that was hopping from branch to branch in the trees above us. We kept losing it in the sun. Benjamin wanted to see what we were looking at. I stretched back onto one arm so he could rest his cheek close to my shoulder and follow the other, which I extended to point.
It was a good day.
SEEDY, NUTTY KALE AND APPLE SALAD + MISO TAHINI DRESSING
The recipe for the dressing makes more than needed for one batch of kale salad. I store the remainder in the fridge, and use it up fairly quickly; as employed here, or alongside roasted root vegetables, or spooned over a halved avocado.
Kale is a sturdy green, so can stand up to both an assertive dressing and a thorough leaf massage. Don't hold back on either.
For the dressing, makes around 1 cup
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/3 cup white (shiro) miso
- 1/3 cup tahini, stirred
- Juice from a largeish orange
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Runny honey, fresh lemon juice or rice wine vinegar, and water, as required
- Toasted sesame oil or olive oil, optional
For the salad, enough for 2 to 4
- Approximately 6 cups baby kale, as above, or the same of Tuscan kale, as below
- 3 tablespoons mixed raw nuts and seeds, I used black and white sesame, shelled sunflower seeds and flaked almonds
- 1 decent-sized crisp, sweet apple
- 3/4 cup assorted sprouts
Sort the dressing first. In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic into a paste. Stir in the miso and tahini, then most of the juice from the orange. Season with salt and pepper, then taste. Here's where you'll have to decide how best to proceed; fiddle with the dressing until there is a balance of fat and acid. You'll want to smack your lips when it's right. You should be able to taste the orange — give it a boost if necessary with more orange juice, and maybe a scant spoon of honey. If the dressing tastes flat, add lemon juice or rice wine vinegar. The dressing should be the consistency of pouring cream; stir in some water, or a few drops of either of the oils, until it runs easily off the spoon.
To assemble the salad, grab a large bowl. Tear the kale into bite sized pieces, and add to the bowl along with a few tablespoons of the dressing. Using your hands, squish and bruise the kale, working the dressing into the leaves. Once completely coated, toss the kale lightly to fluff it up. Set aside.
If desired, toast the seeds and nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cool.
Cut the apple into eights. Remove the core from the wedges, then slice thinly. Add to the bowl of kale, along with the sprouts, half the seeds, and another drizzle of dressing. Again with your hands or a pair of tongs, toss the salad with the dressing. Check for seasoning and serve, topped with the reserved seeds and nuts, and extra dressing at the table.
Other options for the dressing and salad:
- Grated ginger
- Lime juice, citrus zests
- Walnut or avocado oil
- Fresh avocado
- Walnuts or pecans
- Dried cranberries or cherries
- Hemp hearts
- Fried shallot or thinly sliced sweet onion
- Cooked lentils, chickpeas, chickpeas, squash, grilled corn
- Nutritional yeast or some nice, big shavings of a hard cheese like Parmesan, or perhaps small chunks of Stilton