Kale likes a good massage. It wants a rubdown from your fingers to turn into a happy salad. There is nothing like a couple minutes of friction to transform kale from rough and bitter-strong to pliant and downright addictive. Try it, you’ll agree. Not too long ago, I ordered a kale salad at a restaurant in California and I swear it took me an hour to eat it. The best parts were the croutons, the avocado and the pine nuts. The large pieces of curly kale were practically inedible. If the chef had just finely chopped the kale and massaged it with some of the “Caesar” dressing, it could have been a winner.
At Outstanding in the Field last month I devoured an outstanding kale salad, the inspiration for this recipe. That chef, from Clyde Common in Portland Oregon, knows how to treat his kale. Finely chopped, massaged in lemon juice and sunflower seed pesto, every morsel, not just the bites of apricot, tickled with tender flavor.
Outstanding in the Field is a culinary road trip—the organizers and servers do the travel part. They arrange the local chef and libations, and (usually) outdoor venue. Following the mission of “re-connecting diners with the land and origins of their food,” tables are set in a field, garden, orchard or vineyard. Their goal is to “honor the farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.”
On the meandering Sandy River near Portland, on organic Stargazer Farm, with Big Table wines and Clyde Common cooking served family style, we wined and dined. It was one of those warm magical evenings, with just the right amount of puffy clouds and whispering breeze to make it perfectly pleasant.
After gorging on some really fine appetizers (buttermilk ricotta and wild mushroom toasts) and savoring 3 portions of kale salad, it’s a wonder I found room for anything else. I did.
I picked around the pork belly for the tarragon-dressed frisee and silken cranberry beans, ate more than my share of butter braised red potatoes and fennel bedding the grilled strip loin and I went bonkers for the chocolate ‘salami’ and salt and pepper shortbread that was dessert.
No holds barred. I confess to sampling each of the meats, just because I could. I will be making my version of that chocolate salami one day, but it’s this unfibrous kale salad that will be the repeater in my kitchen. Be prepared to get your hands in the emerald mix—you are the outstanding kale masseuse/masseur.
Outstanding Kale Salad with Sunflower Seed Pesto and Apricots
1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
2 tablespoons white wine
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic
¼ cup plus ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds
Pinch Real Salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large bunch kale, stems removed
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Sprinkle the diced apricots with the white wine and sherry vinegar and set aside to macerate while you prepare the pesto and kale.
Make the pesto: In a food processor with the motor running, mince the garlic by dropping it through the feed tube. Add the first ¼ cup of cheese, the basil, the first 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds and the salt. Process for about 10 seconds, stopping to move things around if they get hung up. With the machine running, pour oil through the feed tube in a thin stream, processing until everything is well blended.
Chop the kale into ribbons about ¼-inch wide and put in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice and about ¼ cup of the pesto. Massage the mixture for 1 to 2 minutes and then set aside for about 15 minutes to give the kale time to tenderize and marinate.
To serve, toss with the apricots, the remaining cheese and sunflower seeds.
Makes about 4 servings.
- Clyde Common’s kale salad incorporated both apricots and golden raisins, grated baked ricotta salata cheese and a bit of diced Stargazer Farms summer squash
- I used lacinato or dinosaur kale but red or green curly kale is just as good. Use what you have.
- Make a larger batch of pesto, use 3 to 4 tablespoons to dress the kale and save the remaining pesto for another use. Beets with sunflower pesto vinaigrette anyone?