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Smoking Kale Salad

Kale is often considered a bitter green, appropriate for soups, stews, even smoothies that allow you to break down the leaves in some way.  Being vegetable farmers, we sell a lot of kale at market in late summer and early fall. The most familiar variety is Tuscan or lacinato.  But why limit yourself to this one variety?  There is also curly, redbor, red Russian or Siberian, scarlet and winterbor to mention a few.  There are times I have to really pitch these additional varieties to our customers, but they are every bit as delicious.

Kale was once something most people used as a garnish around other foods, but now it’s the darling of health conscious consumers.  And why not?  It has so many good things going for it.  It’s low in calories, high in fiber, iron, Vitamin K, C and A not to mention loaded with calcium and powerful antioxidants.  Personally, I’m all over kale salads, particularly during the fall and winter months when quality lettuce is sometimes challenging to find.  I am crazy about kale Caesar salad and prepare this as much as I do  the more traditional one made with romaine lettuce.  It’s simply nice to have some flexibility.

When using raw kale in a salad it’s important to macerate the leaves so that they are supple, tender and easy to chew.  There are a couple ways of approaching this objective. One way is to rub olive oil into the leaves with your hands then let it sit for 20-30 minutes.  Another way is to use ground nuts  to break down the cell walls by massaging those into the leaves.  Both techniques work well depending on the additional ingredients you are using.

Other things to consider when working with raw kale is contrasting textures.  In this salad you not only the the crunch of the nuts, but also their smokiness.  Putting shallots or red onions into the dressing allows them them to soften and pickle slightly.  Pan toasting flavor packed fresh breadcrumbs with garlic, thyme, paprika and cumin adds interest along with a slight crisp crunch.  I had one friend ask if there was bacon in the salad.  Amazingly enough it’s vegan!



  1. 1/2 cup shallots or red onion, thinly sliced

  2. 5 tablespoons of sherry vinegar

  3. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  4. 2 tablespoons local honey

  5. 1 cup smoked almonds

  6. 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  7. 3-4 slices crusty white bread, cut into 1″ cubes (I use sourdough)

  8. 1 garlic clove, grated with a micro-plane

  9. 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves,  chopped

  10. 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  11. 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  12. 2 bunches kale of your choice, stemmed, washed, spun dry and thinly sliced (about 10 cups)

  13. 1 cup lightly packed mint leaves, chopped

  1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the shallots or red onions with the sherry vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Whisk in the honey, 5 tablespoons of the olive oil and a few grinds of pepper; set aside.

  2. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until coarsely chopped, about 8-10 pulses; transfer them to a large bowl.  Add the kale to the bowl with the almonds and massage the kale until it softens and darkens.  About 30-40 seconds.  Set aside.

  3. Add the bread to the processor and process to rough crumbs, about 30 seconds.  Add the garlic, thyme, paprika, cumin and additional salt and pepper.  Process until incorporated, about 15 seconds.  Add the additional 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Process 10 seconds more.

  4. Transfer the crumb mixture to a large skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp and browned, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.

  5. Add half of the dressing and onions to the kale.  Toss to combine.  Add 1/2 of the breadcrumbs and chopped mint.  Toss again, adding additional dressing and/or breadcrumbs if needed.  (Kale will have reduced in volume after macerating leaves).  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.

Smokey, healthy and delicious!

“Salad can get a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”

–Marcus Samuelsson

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