These days, kale salad is everywhere. From fancy restaurants to fast food chains, anywhere that serves food probably has a kale salad offering on menu. And that’s great. Kale is packed with calcium, iron, vitamin C, and even contains more protein than your average leafy green, so it’s definitely worth eating more of. And, despite what some haters might have you believe, kale salad can absolutely be delicious.
Because kale is much tougher and more bitter than other leafy greens, it needs more TLC during prep. Since a lot of recipes and chain restaurants forgo these crucial extra steps, what we often end up with are bowls of raw, flavorless kale that are better fit for rabbit consumption.
Making kale salad that actually tastes good is always going to require a little more leg work than a plain ol’ romaine lettuce salad, but it’s worth it. Here, we break down everything you need to know to build a kale salad that doesn’t suck.
First things first: Choose your kale wisely.
There are two types of kale that you’ll most often find at the grocery store: lacinato (above, left) and curly (above, right). Lacinato—also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale—is more delicate than curly kale, which can be very tough and fibrous. Both types of kale are good, but for different purposes.
For example, since Lacinato is more delicate, Darren Carbone, executive chef at the New York restaurant El Vez, tells SELF that you can get away with pairing it with lighter, equally delicate ingredients. (He likes to combine it with citrus segments and vinaigrettes). Whereas, with curly kale, you’ll want to choose sturdier ingredients that can stand up to it’s tougher texture. Hearty things like nuts and croutons are all safe bets.
Once you’ve selected your kale and are ready to start making your salad, remove the stem before you do anything else.
The worst thing to find in a kale salad is big chunks of chewy, woody stems. Spare yourself the jaw workout and remove the leaves from the stem before you do anything else, Andrea Cuellar, executive chef at Just Salad, tells SELF. You can easily strip away the leaves from the stem with a knife, or you can just tear the leaves off with your hands.
Next, wash your kale and dry it thoroughly.
Carbone says that, after you wash your kale, you need to make sure it’s nice and dry. Otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting the dressing to adhere. Ideally, you’d give it a spin in a salad spinner, then leave it out to finish drying on paper towels. If you don’t have time for both, make sure you really spin out as much moisture as you can.
Then, chop it up into small pieces.
We’ve all eaten a kale salad with giant leaves. And when you take a bite it usually kinda makes you look like a dinosaur chomping on a palm tree. It’s not cute, and, per Carbone, “you shouldn’t need a knife to eat a salad.” That’s why he says it’s super important to make sure you chop the leaves into small, actually edible pieces beforehand, or slice them into thin ribbons. (Cueller uses a food processor. If you go that route, be sure you’re using the shredding attachment and not the S-blade, so that you don’t accidentally turn your kale to sludge! Personally, we feel safer sticking to a knife.)
Choose a dressing that will balance out the bitterness of the kale.
Because kale is so bitter, you should pair it with an acidic dressing to even out the flavors, says Carbone. “That’s why a lot of places serve kale Caesar salad,” he explains, “the acid in it makes it more palatable.”
Carbone explains that Caesar is also a good option for curly kale, because the thicker dressing stands up to the kale. “It really gets into all those nooks and crannies,” he says. Not a fan of Caesar? Buttermilk dressings are another great option. Or, if you’re using lacinato instead of curly, a light vinaigrette tastes great, too. We like to make ours with 1 part acid—like vinegar or citrus juice—and 2 parts oil, plus spices, herbs salt, pepper, and maybe a little honey.
Massage your kale.
Yes, we are telling you to massage your kale. It sounds silly, but works wonders. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil, a squeeze of acid (citrus or vinegar), and a sprinkle of salt onto your kale, and rub it into the leaves, kneading it like you would bread for a couple of minutes. You’ll know you’re done when the leaves are bright green and soft. If you’re using an oil-based vinaigrette, you can just massage that right into the kale. For creamy dressings, massage the kale first, then toss it with the dressing after.
After your salad is dressed, let the whole thing sit at least 30 minutes.
Add your dressing about half an hour before you plan to eat, says Cuellar. That way the acid in whichever dressing you’re using has time to break down the kale. She says that there’s no harm in letting it sit for a bit, because kale is so sturdy that it won’t wilt right away like other greens might. Personally, we love dressing our kale salads in the morning and letting them sit in the fridge until lunch, but if you want a super crunchy salad, you might not want to wait that long.
Mix in your other ingredients and dig in.
Finally, add the rest of your ingredients, mix it all up, and dig in. Need a recipe to get you started? Try out our tips in one of these ideas.
Get the recipe here.
Get the recipe here.
Get the recipe here.
Peanutty Kale With Chickpeas and Roasted Salmon from SELFstarter
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This article originally appeared on self.com