Every fall, when the days start to grow shorter and colder, I sell myself on the merits of toasty fires, hot bowls of soup, and the beauty of the first snowfall. On the first day of winter, I remind my warm-blooded, sun-loving self that, although three months of chilly weather are in store, the shortest day of the year means that every day thereafter will bring a little more light.
And then, in a figurative blink of an eye, spring returns. True, the calendar alone doesn’t guarantee sunny skies, and we’re still a couple months away from the bounty of local produce that will soon sprout from the fertile farmland that surrounds us.
Enter the following kale salad. A few years ago kale was the “it” produce. Of course, as it goes with anything trendy, kale eventually made the news for being on the outs. (I think it was ousted by collard or mustard greens.) On trend or not, I stick with this wholesome green to satisfy that yearning for fresh local produce all winter long and until the first tender asparagus spears usher in a brand new growing season.
This hearty winter green is so cold tolerant that our backyard plants actually survived until they were completely buried by January’s two-foot blizzard. Greenhouses afford the proper protection and, when this vibrant green is combined with a light dressing and a few other seasonal staples, I can be temporarily tricked into thinking that the local fields are ahead of the game.
Though perfect for a casual meal, this vibrant salad is equally welcome on a holiday table. The bright taste of lemon mixed with the tang of Dijon offers a beautiful contrast to the slightly bitter greens, salty almonds, and sweet-tasting potatoes and apples. Yet the balanced flavors will complement almost any protein, from an Easter ham to a juicy steak.
With its combination of creamy, crunchy, and crisp ingredients, this wholesome salad is sure to satisfy. And unlike more delicate greens, kale’s sturdiness makes advance prep possible and ensures that any leftovers will stand the test of time.
For a hearty, all-in-one meal, top the salad with grilled or roasted chicken or salmon. For those who still think of kale as a fibrous garnish on a restaurant plate, the simple “massage” tip might just offer reason to reconsider.
- 1 1/2 pounds (about 2 large) sweet potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (no need to peel)
- 4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided use
- 2 bunches Tuscan or lacinato kale or 1 bunch curly kale, thick stems removed and leaves torn or chopped into bite-size pieces (about 8 ounces or 10 cups)
- 1 Pink Lady, Fuji, or Honeycrisp apple, diced (no need to peel)
- 1/4 cup chopped roasted almonds (I like smokehouse or salted almonds)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the sweet potatoes with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper on a rimmed, greased (or parchment lined) baking sheet.
Roast the potatoes until lightly browned and tender, about 20 minutes, checking after 15 minutes and flipping if the bottom sides are sufficiently browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil with the lemon juice, mustard, honey, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. (Tip: To easily emulsify—i.e., combine and thicken– the dressing, simply add the ingredients to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, screw on the lid, and give it a good shake.) The vinaigrette may be made up to a day or two in advance and refrigerated.
Place the kale in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. With clean hands, rub the leaves together or “massage” to tenderize the leaves. After a minute or two, you will notice the leaves turn a darker shade of green. Then add the apple and sweet potatoes, pour the prepared vinaigrette over top, and toss to combine. At this point, the salad may be refrigerated until ready to eat. Prior to serving, toss the salad again and sprinkle with the chopped almonds.
When tightly covered with plastic wrap or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the salad will keep for at least 5 days.
- Although I usually omit it in this recipe, cheese makes a nice addition. If you like the idea of adding some, try roughly 1/2 to 2/3 cup of crumbled feta or goat cheese or 1/4 to 1/3 cup of grated pecorino.
The bright taste of lemon mixed with the tang of Dijon offers a beautiful contrast to the slightly bitter greens, salty almonds, and sweet-tasting potatoes and apples. For a complete meal, top with grilled or baked salmon or chicken.