Flavorful and seasonal, kale is a prime candidate for a winter salad. But when eaten raw, the hardy leaves can be unpleasantly tough. We’ve learned that sometimes all it takes is a good massage to make them tender. Rubbing the leaves with coarsely ground smoked almonds softens the greens while adding crunch to a salad with a tart shallot-sherry vinaigrette. A massage with kosher salt draws out moisture for a tender yet hearty chopped salad flavored with toasted spices, cilantro, and walnuts. And lemon juice does the work for kale-laced savory scones studded with bright currants and two kinds of cheese.
Kale Salad With Smoked Almonds and Picada Crumbs
Makes 6 servings
We start with lacinato kale, also known as dinosaur or Tuscan kale. Its long blue-green leaves are sweeter and more tender than curly kale. Thinly slicing the greens is the first step in making them more salad-friendly. Then we massage the leaves with chopped smoked almonds that act as an abrasive to further soften their structure. An acidic shallot-sherry vinaigrette also helps soften and brighten the kale (look for a sherry vinegar aged at least 3 years). Intensely flavorful paprika bread crumbs, inspired by the Catalan sauce picada, tie everything together.
To keep the kale from wilting, slice it right when you’re ready to make the salad. You can, however, stem, wash, and dry it ahead of time.
2 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup smoked almonds
4 ounces chewy white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 bunches lacinato kale, stemmed, washed, dried, and thinly sliced crosswise (10 cups)
1 cup lightly packed fresh mint, chopped
In a small bowl, whisk together the shallots, vinegar, and ½ teaspoon salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Whisk in the honey, 5 tablespoons of the oil, and ½ teaspoon pepper; set aside.
In a food processor, process the almonds until roughly chopped, about 8 pulses; transfer to a large bowl. Add the bread to the processor and process to rough crumbs, about 20 seconds. Add the thyme, the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, the paprika, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Process until incorporated, about 10 seconds.
Transfer the crumb mixture to a 12-inch skillet. Cook it over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture is crisp and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer it to a plate and let cool.
Add the kale and mint to the bowl with the almonds. Massage the greens until the kale softens and darkens, 10 to 20 seconds. Add the dressing and crumbs, then toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Chopped Kale Salad With Cilantro and Walnuts
Makes 4 servings
This hearty chopped salad is inspired by the Georgian dish ispanakhis pkhali, which is made with spinach. It sometimes is so finely chopped that it is almost a dip or condiment, but we prefer the versions that maintain the different textures and crunch of the ingredients. Instead of spinach, we opt for heartier kale. Along with garlic, oil, and vinegar, the greens and walnuts often are dressed with the spice blue fenugreek, which usually requires a trip to a specialty market. While it cannot be copied, we find that a combination of coriander, mustard, and fennel approximates its unique flavor.
Toasting the nuts and spices is essential — it brings out their vibrant aromas, adding wonderful depth.
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
1½ cups walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, finely ground
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bunch curly kale, stemmed
2 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil
1 bunch cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped (about 1¾ cups)
In a liquid measuring cup or a small bowl, combine the vinegar and garlic; set aside.
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the walnuts, stirring often, until fragrant and golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. To the same skillet, add the coriander, mustard, ground fennel, and cayenne. Return to medium-low and toast, stirring, until fragrant and slightly darker, about 1 minute. Push the walnuts to the side of the plate, then transfer the spices to the clearing.
In a large bowl, toss the kale with the oil and 2 teaspoons salt until evenly coated. Using your hands, firmly massage the kale until it darkens in color and the volume reduces by about half.
Working in 2 batches, pulse the kale in a food processor until finely chopped, about 10 pulses, then return the kale to the bowl. Add the vinegar mixture, all but ¼ cup of the walnuts, and the spices and cilantro. Toss, then taste and season with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.
Savory Kale and Two-Cheese Scones
Makes 12 large scones
This recipe is our adaptation of the hearty kale and cheese scones created by Briana Holt, of Tandem Coffee + Bakery in Portland, Maine. Dried currants and a small amount of sugar in the dough complement the vegetal notes of the kale and counterbalance the saltiness of the cheddar and pecorino, while a good dose of black pepper adds an undercurrent of spiciness. Either lacinato kale or curly kale will work; you will need an average-sized bunch to obtain the amount of chopped, stemmed leaves for the recipe.
The buttermilk and butter shouldn’t lose their chill before use. Keeping them cold helps ensure that the dough won’t become unmanageably soft during shaping. When rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time, work quickly so the oven doesn’t lose too much heat.
½ cup dried currants
4 cups stemmed and finely chopped lacinato or curly kale
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3½ cups (455 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup white sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) salted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
1 cup sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into ¼-inch cubes
¼ cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
1½ cups cold buttermilk, divided
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
Heat the oven to 375 degrees with racks in the upper- and lower-middle positions. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with kitchen parchment. In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir together the currants and 2 tablespoons water. Microwave uncovered on high until warm and plump, about 30 seconds; set aside. In a medium bowl, toss the kale and lemon juice; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper.
To a food processor, add about half of the flour mixture and scatter all of the butter over the top. Pulse until the butter is in pieces slightly larger than peas, 10 to 12 pulses. Transfer to the bowl with the remaining flour mixture. Add the currants and any remaining liquid, along with the cheddar, pecorino, and kale. Toss with your hands until well combined. Add about 1/3 of the buttermilk and toss a few times with your hands, making sure to scrape along the bottom of the bowl, until the liquid is absorbed. Add the remaining buttermilk in 2 more additions, tossing after each. After the final addition of buttermilk, toss until no dry floury bits remain. The mixture will be crumbly and will not form a cohesive dough.
Lightly dust the counter with flour, turn the mixture out onto it, then give it a final toss. Divide it into 2 even piles, gathering each into a mound, then briefly knead each mound; it’s fine if the mixture is still somewhat crumbly. Gather each mound into a ball, then press firmly into a 5-inch disk about 1½-inches thick. Using a chef’s knife, cut each disk into 6 wedges. Place 6 wedges on each prepared baking sheet, spaced evenly apart. Brush the tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with the sunflower seeds, pressing lightly to adhere.
Bake until the scones are deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Cool on the baking sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes, then transfer directly to a rack and cool for at least another 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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