There is perhaps one food that each one of us chooses that is deemed a great sustainer. It could be chocolate. Red wine. A Chicago style hot dog. For me, it is kale.
I did not hop on the kale bandwagon until much later than most people, dubious about the hoopla surrounding this bitter green. I was partially right. It was my less-than-ample prep that turned me off. Trying to bake whole kale leaves atop butternut squash doesn’t cut it. The Pink Lady apple and kale salad I tried passed muster, being fair but not groundbreaking. I finally relented and tried kale chips and my world was transformed. A friend introduced me to a kale salad with chickpeas and cranberries that turned me finally, the salad that is today’s solid inspiration. It is today’s kale salad that is my sustainer, a regular star in my work days’ lunchboxes. One office I worked in wholly expected nothing less from me but that kale salad and a side of the kale chips. Free lunches didn’t have a chance with my kale salad: why would I eat a greasy, cafeteria style Alfredo pasta when I could have my balsamic-dressed kale?
Why this recipe works is the balance and mix of all flavors and senses. The kale gives the bitter and hearty, the avocado is the lush and creamy, the dried cherries give a pleasant tartness along with the sweet-sour balsamic-sesame dressing, and the almonds give a satisfying crunch. See? Everything is here. You can do no wrong.
The trick also is to chop the kale into bite-sized strips. Salad greens, dripping with dressing, too large to fit into my mouth at one go, are an abomination. Plus, the better the kale is prepped before eating, the better kale to dressing ratio there is. Cut up the kale, people. This fibery and frilly Brassica needs some tenderizing to lessen the chew you do: dress and toss the chopped leaves well in the dressing, and allow them to relax, maybe even massage them a bit. Add the sundry bits, save for the soft avocado, toss gently, and add the avocado last.
FOR THE SALAD BITS: A bunch of curly kale (I prefer the non-chopped, non-bagged kind and strip the leaves from the ribs myself. The pre-cut leaves tend to have a lot of thick rib bits left in the mix, which are not palatable.)
A large handful of dried cherries, apples, cranberries, some kind of tart-sweet dried fruit. I favor the dried cherries here.
Avocado(es) (Expect half an avocado per serving.)
Handful of raw almonds, which we will toast
FOR THE DRESSING (adjustable amounts depending on the size of the salad):
3:2 mix of Olive oil to balsamic vinegar
A glug of sesame oil (get Kadoya brand Japanese sesame oil – the best)
Smooth mustard (I don’t recommend a grainy one as it doesn’t mix in very well.)
Salt and pepper
Real maple syrup or honey
Optional bits: sesame seeds, furikake. you can also add chickpeas, edamame, similar.
OTHER EQUIPMENT: A jar to store leftover dressing and to shake it up in (no need for a whisk for this dressing).
PREP THE SALAD PARTS: Strip the kale from the thick ribs. Discard the ribs (or save them for smoothies, if you are brave and need a whole load of fiber). Julienne the leaves. Set aside.
Dry toast the almonds. Set aside to cool.
MAKE THE DRESSING: In a medium-sized jar, mix the olive oil, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, a squirt of mustard, a dollop of maple syrup (or honey), salt and pepper. Close lid tightly and shake well to emulsify. Taste and add more sweet or tang to your liking. I like this dressing somewhat sweet over sour to balance the bitter of the kale and sour of the cherries. The consistency of the dressing should be runny-thick, so it grabs onto the leaves and sticks rather than pooling at the bottom of a salad bowl.
ASSEMBLY: Place kale into mixing bowl and pour dressing over leaves, more than you would on a regular lettuce salad. Toss and allow to sit for 10 minutes to help soften the kale leaves.
Add the almonds and dried cherries and toss. Cut the avocado into bite-sized cubes and add. Toss gently so as to not mash the avocado too much. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or furikake, if desired. This salad is completely vegan, unless using the honey and the furikake.