Oh, kale. What a good friend to have. Surprisingly enough, kale was one of the first vegetables I started to regularly incorporate into my diet after my move to London, even when I was still a vegetable-averted vegetarian. Less texturally slimy and more mild-tasting than spinach (in my opinion), I was happy to have found a dark leafy green that I didn't want to spit out the second I put it in my mouth.
I think kale is considered to be one of those 'superfoods' we sometimes hear about, but label or not, this stuff is SUPER good for you. A member of the cruciferous vegetable family (along with broccoli and cabbage), kale is bursting with vitamin K (promoting bone health, preventing blood clotting, and crucially regulating our bodies' inflammation), vitamin A (supporting healthy vision and skin) and vitamin C (maintaining our immune system, hydration and metabolism). Kale also contains high amounts of manganese, fiber, and calcium (more calcium than milk, calorie-for-calorie!). Of all the leafy greens, kale boasts the highest level of carotenoids, which lowers our bodies' risk to developing certain types of cancers (in the case of kale, this includes breast, colon, prostrate, ovary and bladder cancer). On top of all this goodness, kale is also super detoxifying, as its high amounts of fiber and sulfur help maintain healthy liver function.* Pretty amazing.
If you aren't already overly jazzed about getting this stuff into your body, here's more good news for you: The peak growing period of kale is mid-winter through early spring, so we're in the thick of it!
Despite its simplicity, this salad has the ability to impress. The first time I made it, I brought it to a pot luck New Year's Eve dinner party for 10 people. The heaping salad was devoured. As the attendee seated directly across from me polished off his plate, he turned to me and curiously asked, "Did you put mint in this salad?" Why yes indeed, I did! I was so excited that he had identified the mystery herb, but at the same time, the fact that he had to ask--and that no one else questioned or mentioned it--told me I needed to include more mint, possibly in bigger pieces, the next time around.
Round two of the salad, which was made at a more intimate dinner party of close friends that same week, brought about surprise among the guests not because of the ingredients, but because of the process: the massaging of the kale. I was shocked that neither of my good friends, who definitely know their ways around a kitchen, had heard of massaging raw kale for a salad before; I thought I was among the last to get on that train back in the summertime. For those of you who haven't yet delved into the wonderful world of raw kale salads, a brief word: Massaging kale--simply vigorously rubbing the raw leaves for 2-3 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon and/or vinaigrette--is a wonderful method to use when serving it raw because breaks down the leaves' tough and fibrous cellulose structure, making it much easier to chew and digest. It also mellows out the bitter taste. So wash those hands and get ready to get intimate with your salad!
A final note, to those of you lucky enough to live in the vicinity of a Trader Joe's: Make this salad with TJ's honey chèvre. Have you tried this product? OH MY. Words cannot express the sheer delirium that this cheese produces upon consumption. Imagine the creamiest of goat cheeses infused with sweet honey, bursting in complete synchronicity upon your palette. It really takes this salad to another level. Why Trader Joe's has not expanded to the United Kingdom is an issue of great consternation for me, but we'll save that for another time.
Kale, Pomegranate, Goat Cheese & Mint Salad
6-8 stalks dinosaur kale (a.k.a. lacinato kale or cavolo nero)
1/4 of a pomegranate
goat cheese crumbles (as much as you'd like)
6 large mint leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. honey (runny, not solid)
1. Submerge the pomegranate quarter in a large bowl filled with water and remove all the seeds. (This method will prevent you from getting squirted by the pomegranate juices!) Discard the white pith and drain the water.
2. Slice the kale leaves into 1/4" strips lengthwise (you should get 2-3 strips from each side of the stem). Discard stems. Cut or tear the strips a few times horizontally, so you end up with ribbons approximately 1/4" x 2" in size. Place in a large bowl.
3. Drizzle the kale ribbons with olive oil. Using your hands, massage the kale for at least 2 minutes, rubbing the oil into the leaves. (Again, this is a great method to use when eating raw kale, as it breaks down the fibers, making the kale less bitter and easier to chew and digest.)
4. Add the pomegranate seeds, goat cheese and chopped mint to the kale bowl.
5. Squeeze the juice from the lemon half into a sealable jar. Add the honey. Seal and shake vigorously, until combined.
6. Pour lemon-honey mixture over salad and toss to coat.
*Info sources: WHFoods, MindBodyGreen, & My New Roots