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Outstanding Kale Salad with Sunflower Seed Pesto and Apricots

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  This outstanding kale salad with sunflower seed pesto and apricots will be the repeater in my kitchen, with plenty of variations. Like these– Use any pesto you wish and/or switch out the apricots with a different dried fruit.

Do be prepared to get your hands in the emerald mix—you are the outstanding kale masseuse/masseur.

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