Stop Ruining Kale’s Delightful Flavor by Cooking It

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 28 2012 8:15 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Kale

Kale2
Raw kale salad

Miriam Krule

There are lots of questions that you might ponder when tempted to make a salad. Some are easy to answer. Should I add fruit? (Answer: no.) Others are more complicated. When should I dress the salad? (Depends on what’s in it.) But the most important of these questions concern the heart of the salad, its green base. Gone are the days of iceberg lettuce and even the unintentionally Obama-endorsed arugula. Today, it’s all about kale.

The hippest of the leafy greens sometimes gets a bad rap. The leathery leaves and thick stalks can be daunting, and its ubiquity has generated a never-ending stream of kale jokes. It’s prime fodder for jokes about Brooklyn parents, vegans, hipsters, and so on—and it’s the basis for some crazy diets (both real and fake). Everyone has an opinion; even Andre 3000 has published a recipe for kale chips. But like many kale-centric recipes, that one ruins the leafy green by cooking it. All types of kale—from the tougher curly-leaved version to the more manageable dinosaur kale—can, and should, be enjoyed raw.

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This isn’t because cooking destroys kale’s over-hyped nutrients, though it can, but because kale happens to be delicious—which you might not realize if you bake it to a crisp or sauté it till it wilts. It only needs a bit of vinaigrette to reach its full potential. You can help it out with a lemon-based dressing—and a massage. As Lee Havlicek explained in Slate, “Adding lemon juice or zest to a dish, sweet or savory, changes its whole flavor profile.” The citric acid helps break down the leaves’ toughness and gives the kale the appearance of being lightly cooked without affecting the taste or the pleasantly crunchy texture. Massaging, or rubbing the leaves together, helps break down the toughness and also eliminates some of the bitterness. With mellow miso and a spoonful of hot sauce, this dressing takes about 3 minutes to make and will have you un-ironically obeying your “Eat More Kale” T-shirt in no time.

Raw Kale Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 20 minutes, mostly unattended

About 1½ pounds curly kale   
¼ cup white miso
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon harissa (or other mild hot sauce)
3 medium radishes, thinly sliced

1. Remove the thick stems and ribs from the greens and discard them; cut the leaves into bite-size pieces.

2. Put the miso, olive oil, lemon juice, and harissa in a medium salad bowl and whisk together until smooth. Add the kale and massage to combine. Let the salad sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Toss in the radishes and serve immediately.

Miriam Krule is a Slate copy editor and edits Slate's religion column "Faith-Based." Follow her on Twitter.