I love a good kale salad. When done well, it’s a satisfying and delicious dish that adapts easily to any season. Sadly there are a lot of mediocre (or just plain bad) kale salads out there, primarily because whomever is making them doesn’t know how to treat the kale. This isn’t tender lettuce, folks. If you just chop it and toss it into a salad bowl with some dressing it probably won’t taste all that great, and you’ll be chewing for days. Kale isn’t complicated, it just needs a little love and hands-on attention. A touch of acid, a drizzle of oil, a pinch of salt, and a minute or two of massaging, and those dry, fibrous leaves will transform into velvety greens right before your eyes.
Kale comes in many varieties that differ in color, flavor and texture, but for salad I’m partial to lacinato kale, a.k.a. Tuscan kale, cavolo nero, black kale, or dinosaur kale. The leaves of this variety are a bit more delicate than the others so they break down without too much effort, and they don’t need to be cooked to be palatable. (For those reasons lacinato is also the best option for juicing or smoothies if you’re into that sort of thing.)
This salad is one of my favorites. I make it year-round, but I’m particularly keen on how quickly it comes together when the weather is warm and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen. And to that end, I’m using *canned* chickpeas [gasp]. Don’t judge. I know, I’ve said before that it’s best to cook your own beans from dried, and the flavor and texture are better, and blah blah blah. All true. But it’s 95 freaking degrees outside and I’m not leaving a steaming, simmering pot on the stove for 2 hours if I can avoid it, so I’m opening a can and calling it a day. Of course they’re organic garbanzos, they don’t contain any added salt, and they’re packaged in a can that has a safe liner free of endocrine disruptors like BPA and PVC…because I’m still me, and I’m not willing to sacrifice quality and health for the sake of convenience. Eden is my go-to brand, and I always keep an emergency stash of their organic chickpeas, pinto beans, and either cannellini or great northern beans in the house.
Yes, I have bean emergencies. What, you don’t?
Anyway, In addition to chickpeas, the salad contains crumbled sheep’s milk feta (which you can omit or substitute to make this dish dairy-free/vegan), pickled red onion, and toasted pine nuts. It all gets tossed with a fabulously creamy and tangy tahini dressing that’s loaded with sumac, lemon, and fresh herbs.
This dressing is addictively delicious and I could eat it by the spoonful. Is that weird?
Okay let’s get cooking, and I’m using that term quite loosely here. Your active “cooking” here will involve heating the brine for the onions and toasting some pine nuts, all of which will take maybe 8 minutes, total. You’re welcome. Get the onion brine going in a small saucepan. It will come to a simmer in no time, just give it a stir and make sure the sugar and salt are dissolved before you take it off the heat. Add the onions and let them sit while you do everything else.
I used a dark pot so I transferred the onions to a bowl to soak, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to see them. Now go toast the pine nuts on the stove or in a toaster oven. I completely forgot to take a photo of that step so I’ll have to add one at some point. You want the pine nuts to be evenly golden and it happens quickly, so keep an eye on them and stir or toss frequently until they get there. Once the nuts are toasted set them aside and move on to the kale.
The stems aren’t pleasant to eat unless they’re sliced very finely and cooked, so in this case I tear off the leaves and discard the stems. (If you truly don’t want to waste them, save them for your next green juice.) Chop or slice the kale into bite-sized pieces or thin strips, give it a thorough wash in cold water, and spin or shake it mostly dry. It’s okay if there’s a little water left clinging to the greens, it’ll get worked in.
Time for a massage! Add the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil, toss it all together, and start crushing the kale with your hands and working it through your fingers to break it down. Take note of what it looks like in this bowl before massaging…
…and after. Can you believe how much it shrank down? When you massage the kale, all those tough fibers that held the stiff structure collapse, and the leaves tenderize.
Here’s a closeup. Soft, smooth, and nothing like it was two minutes ago. When your kale looks like this, it’s ready. Dressing is up next.
Whisk everything together and check for seasoning and consistency. Tahini varies in viscosity from brand to brand, so you may need to add some water if yours is really thick. Brands also vary greatly in quality, so please use a good one! I adore Soom – it’s an amazing product from a great company.
You’re ready to assemble the salad, so drain the onions. Here’s how they should look – nicely softened and translucent with a lovely pink tint.
Add the onions, chickpeas, feta (or alternative), and pine nuts to the kale, and pour about two thirds of the dressing over it. Fold everything together, and if it needs more dressing, add the rest.
You want to dig right in, don’t you? Grab a fork and go for it. Enjoy!
- 2 oz (¼ medium) red onion, very thinly sliced
- 30 ml (2 Tbsp) apple cider vinegar
- 30 ml (2 Tbsp) water
- Scant tsp coconut sugar
- Kosher salt
- 18 grams (2 Tbsp) pine nuts
- 1 bunch lacinato kale leaves, washed and chopped or cut into strips
- 1 well scrubbed lemon, zested and juiced, divided
- 20 ml (4 tsp) extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 40 grams (2 Tbsp + 2 tsp) tahini
- 1 small clove garlic, minced or grated
- 1 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
- 5 ml (1 tsp) tamari or 10 ml (2 tsp) coconut aminos
- 5-10 ml (1-2 tsp) maple syrup or honey, to taste
- ½ tsp ground sumac, plus more for garnish
- Generous pinch cayenne
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 can no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 2 oz crumbled sheep’s milk feta
- Pickle onions: Combine vinegar, water, coconut sugar, and ⅛ teaspoon salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Turn off heat, add onion, and let stand at room temperature while you proceed.
- Toast pine nuts: Add nuts to a small skillet over medium heat, and toast, tossing frequently, until golden and fragrant. Alternatively, you can spread them on a tray and do this in a toaster oven set to the medium toast level or 325°F. Shake the tray occasionally to ensure even toasting, and remove when nuts are golden. Set aside.
- Massage kale: Add kale to a large bowl with 5 ml (1 teaspoon) lemon juice, 5 ml (1 teaspoon) olive oil, and a generous pinch salt. Toss to combine, and massage firmly for 2 minutes, working the leaves though your fingers. The kale will turn a deeper, more vivid shade of green and begin to shrink in size and change in texture. Once the leaves feel silky and tender, set aside.
- Make dressing: In a small bowl whisk together remaining olive oil (1 tablespoon) with remaining lemon juice, the tahini, lemon zest, garlic, parsley, dill, tamari, maple syrup or honey, sumac, cayenne, and several grinds black pepper. If dressing seems very thick, whisk in water to thin to desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
- Assemble salad: Drain the onions and add them to the kale, along with the chickpeas, feta, and pine nuts. Pour in about two thirds of the dressing and fold everything together. If you’d like more dressing, add the rest and fold it in.
- Serve: Divide among plates or bowls, and garnish each with a sprinkle of sumac.