Raw kale salad is a perplexing dish.
On the one hand, it’s what the French (or, at least, certain Parisians) call “très Brooklyn,” a term, according to a notorious recent New York Times trend piece, that “signifies a particularly cool combination of informality, creativity and quality.” I was introduced to raw kale salad years ago in the kitchen of an excellent Brooklyn hipster home cook and recently sampled a stellar version at Al di La, the groundbreaking Italian restaurant in Park Slope. Très Brooklyn Manhattan restaurants Back 40 and Northern Spy also feature it to great effect.
On the other hand, it’s hippie food straight out of a backwoods ’70s commune. I mean it’s raw … kale. Just the words strung together conjure images of nutritional yeast and Bragg’s Amino Acids and wheat germ.
Well, whatever it is, hipster or hippie, it turns out that raw kale salad, done right, is really delicious—and a great way to get a healthy blast of nutrient-dense greens into your dinner. I’ve gotten quite hooked on it. I like to tame kale’s pungent spice and bitterness with equally pungent ingredients: anchovy, garlic, lemon and Parmesan cheese, the flavor palate in a classic Caesar salad. And—I forget which culinary authority taught me this—I massage the dressing into the shredded kale with my hands, allowing it to penetrate the greens and tenderize them a bit.
Unlike traditional tender salad greens like lettuce and arugula, which need to be consumed soon after being dressed or they turn soggy, raw kale actually benefits from sitting for a bit after being dressed. In fact, it’s still great the next day. In this way, it’s like cole slaw, whch is made with kale’s fellow hearty brassica, cabbage.
Raw Kale Salad, With a nod to Ceasar
1 bunch kale, preferably the long, skinny variety known as lacinato or Tuscan, but other varieties work well too; washed and patted dry with a towel
2-4 olive oil packed anchovy filets, pulled from a jar
1 clove of garlic, the fresher the better
Freshly ground black pepper
About a tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
About a half cup of freshly grated Parmesan or other hard, flavorful cheese
Stack the dry kale leaves on top of each other and roll them lengthwise into a cylinder. Slice them crosswise into thin strips, stems and all, down to where the leaves end. (This last bit is controversial; I bet fancy restaurants remove the stems. I find that if you cut the kale finely enough, the stems are just fine.) Now rotate your cutting board 90 degrees and slice the kale strips again, as thinly as you can. You should have a pile of kale confetti. Don’t worry if the pieces aren’t particularly uniform. Place the chopped kale into a salad bowl.
Now make the dressing. If you have a good mortar and pestle, add the anchovies and garlic to the mortar, topping them with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Crush them into a paste. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, mince the garlic and anchovies into a paste on a cutting board, topping them with a bit of salt halfway through the process and adding the paste to a small bowl.) Add the lemon juice to the paste, and whisk with a fork to incorporate. Now do the same with the olive oil. (Don’t fuss over achieving a perfect emulsion.)
Give the dressing a final stir and immediately pour half of it onto the kale in the salad bowl. Using your hands, massage it briskly into the chopped greens. If the salad seems too dry, add a bit more dressing, taking care not to over do it. (You may have leftover dressing, which will keep well overnight.) When the kale is evenly dressed and well massaged, add the cheese and a good grind of pepper, and taste for seasoning adding more salt (or dressing) if necessary. Toss, and serve. Or let it marinate a while while you cook the rest of dinner.