It’s not my best quality, but I have a hard time talking about kale or quinoa with a straight face. When an ingredient is everywhere, when it is treated as if it were the answer to all food questions — what might feed us dinner/a kid be tricked into eating in muffins/be juiced for longevity/and possibly even save the earth — I can’t help but want to rebel against it and both of these ingredients, these darlings of the farm-to-table circuit with their ubiquity on nearly every restaurant menu in lower Manhattan and upper Brooklyn, make easy targets. I know, I know, I should grow up and stuff.
Fortunately, I took what should be clear from the preceding paragraph was probably an overdue mini-vacation this past weekend, someplace warm and sunny, someplace that involved flip-flops. Do you mind if we take a brief but gratuitous mid-article daydream break?
Right, so where were we… Besides, you knew where this is going — the joke is on me, it always is. It was really just a matter of time before I fell for a salad at a local restaurant that contained both kale and quinoa and it was so good, it became an obsession. I had to have it everyday and this quickly became expensive and so I made it at home. Everyone needs a good lunch salad (well, except maybe those people on the beach last week in string bikinis eating cheeseburgers and fries?). A good lunch salad, as my friend Tracy recently put more eloquently, is like a reset button. It also means that if you end up working late, losing momentum and having a slice of pizza for dinner, all hopes of nutritional balance for the day were not washed down the drain with it. True story: You only need to eat like a grown-up during one meal of a day to pass yourself off as one. (Fine, I just made this rule up, but I say we run run with it.)
I miss the salad bar salads I’d get every day (applying a strong dose of cognitive dissonance to what they probably cost over the course of each month) when I had an office job. The beauty of salad bars is that you can put sixteen ingredients on a salad without actually having to keep sixteen ingredients fresh and chopped at-the-ready at home, which is good because that would just never happen. This salad, with just a few ingredients, manages to hit all of the notes a good salad should — leafy greens, bulk from quinoa, a little sweet-tartness from the dried cherries, crunch and flavor from the deeply toasted almonds, salty cheese and a little extra fragrance from lemon zest and dill — without requiring you keep a veritable salad bar at home. Just about everything can be prepped a few days out and tossed together as needed.
One year ago: Chocolate-Hazelnut Macaroon Torte (I’m making a gigantic version of this for my FIL’s birthday this weekend. Wish me luck!)
Two years ago: Raspberry Coconut Macaroon
Three years ago: Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers
Four years ago: Spaghette Cacio e Pepe
Five years ago: Toasted Coconut Shortbread
Six years ago: Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs
Seven years ago: Baked Tomato Sauce
When I first had this salad at The Smith, I couldn’t figure out why it was so familiar and I’m really not proud of the fact that I’d had it three times before I remembered: my cookbook! Right, that old thing. In the book, I tried to teach myself, a kale resistor, to be a kale lover and I did so by taking it back to the 1990s, when restaurants discovered that if you add dried fruit, toasted nuts, a crumbly salty cheese and a honey-and-dijon vinaigrette to any previously unappetizing pile of salad greens, it will taste delicious. Here, the dried fruit is dried cherries (but The Smith uses dried cranberries), the toasted nuts are almonds, the honey-Dijon is barely sweet and uses coarse Dijon as well. From The Smith I learned to add a little snippet of dill, a touch of grated lemon zest and cooked, cooled quinoa to make the salad that I’m literally counting down the minutes to lunch so that I can have it again.
Yield: 2 to 3 quite large meal salads or 4 to 5 side salads; salad will wilt a bit and seem smaller the longer it sits with the dressing
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
8 ounces Black Kale, also known as Cavolo Nero, or Lacinato, Dinosaur, or Tuscan Kale
1/2 cup slivered almonds, very well toasted and cooled
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped a bit
2 to 3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
2 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled or finely grated
Few gratings of fresh lemon zest
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse Dijon mustard
Just shy of 1 teaspoon honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Rinse quinoa well in a small colander. This is essential to remove bitterness. Place quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer with a couple pinches of salt. Simmer at a very low temperature for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Drain any un-absorbed liquid from cooked quinoa. Spread quinoa on a plate to cool quickly.
Wash your kale and dry it well. Then, with a knife, remove the rib from each stalk, leaving long strips of kale leaves. Stack the leaves in small batches, roll them tightly the long way, and cut the roll crosswise into thin ribbons. Add the kale ribbons to a large salad bowl. Add remaining salad ingredients to kale and toss to mix.
Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small dish, and pour the dressing over the salad. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then dig in.