October 26 – November 1, 2020
Monday: Weeknight Fancy Rice with Chicken
Tuesday: Middle Eastern Bread Spread with Kale Salad
Wednesday: Grilled Tuna with Leftover Kale Salad
Thursday: Tagliatelle with Sausage Ragu
Friday: Leftover Ragu with Smashed Cucumber Salad
Saturday: No idea – Halloween took over the evening
Sunday: Uncle Rick, Annie and Nancy joined us to snack during Steelers wonderful come-from-behind victory in Baltimore: Muhammara and Hummus with Pita, and then dine on Turkey Chili with Jalapeño/Bacon Corn Bread.
I have lost track of exactly what we cooked last week, so that the list above looks unfamiliar to me. Mostly, we were just enjoying a late autumn stretch of sun and warmth. But I do distinctly remember the kale salad that went from being a sort of therapeutic afterthought (you need your greens, right*) to becoming a dish I crave and made again, just yesterday.
*For many years, my standard rebuke to anyone discouraging an additional martini was, “I’m only ordering it for the olives – you need your greens, right?” Recently, someone asked me what, exactly, is a martini and the full weight of my 71 years fell on my shoulders and darkened my hopes for the future of civilization. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Our son, Andrew, piqued our interest in kale by treating us to lunch at Sweetgreen – a restaurant chain that offers a Kale Caesar with Chicken. If you ever have a chance to go to a restaurant again, and if Sweetgreen survives the pandemic, go to see how the energetic salad assemblers beat the living daylights out of the kale (assisted by lime juice and a bit of salt) to make it soften. You’ll need to turn down the setting on your hearing aids – the thwacking of the kale in large metal salad bowls is deafening. But the result is a vibrant salad of lime, kale, garlic, croutons, chicken (and bits of feta?) that will knock you out and pay you back for having the fortitude to stand out like a button-downed hick among the diners and the salad makers with their tatoos, various piercings, hair-dos that my barber would consider actionable in court, and skinny jeans.
I tried to make that salad back at home, in Pittsburgh, when Andrew visited. But, while palatable, my salad did not measure up. Under-whacking may have been the problem.
But the week before last, a recipe in the Milk Street Magazine for November-December, 2020, caught my eye. The title was “Taming Kale Salad,” which, of course, is what Sweetgreen had figured out and I hadn’t. The secret here is not whacking – there is no whacking in this recipe which makes it perfect for arthritics like me who are a few years past the age of whacking. The secret is a mixture of tahini, salt and lime juice which, allowed to soak the kale for 15 or 20 minutes, softens it just the right amount. There are also dates, pickled onions and chopped pistachios to balance the reduced, but still potent, bitterness of the kale. The result is a dish I could eat for dinner any time and not feel in the least deprived. And, it is a dish you can serve to your distant cousin or niece when they show up with green hair, nose rings and a sleeve of tattoos on one arm. Or to Andrew whose hair is its natural color and has no piercings or tattoos.
Feel free to add some sliced chicken or salmon, if you need more protein. But why not take a night off and hang with the vegetarians?
KALE SALAD WITH DATES, PISTACHIOS AND GREEN TAHINI
(adapted from Milk Street Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2020)
Timing: 30 -40 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 6 as a side – 3-4 as a main dish
Note: No dates – no problem – substitute some raisins plumped-up in hot water.
In lieu of pistachios, you can use toasted walnuts, roughly chopped.
And you can skip the toasted sesame if you don’t have it.
Do not even think about skipping the tahini – it is what, along with lime juice, tames the kale.
2 bunches of kale (about 1.5 pounds) stemmed and leaves thinly sliced – about 12 cups, lightly packed. Note: Milk Street recommends Tuscan or Lacinato Kale, which I like, but we used standard, curly green kale, and it worked well.
½ small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 ¼ cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup lightly packed cilantro (we substituted more parsley)
1 medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 teaspoons honey
½ cup tahini
1 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
1 cup roasted pistachios, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Slice the onion and, in a large bowl, stir with 2 tablespoons lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt – give this mixture at least 10 minutes to tame the onion.
Wash, dry and slice the kale.
Measure out and prepare the other elements – roast the sesame seeds, chop the dates and pistachios.
Make the Dressing:
In a blender or food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro, tahini, oil, honey, garlic, 1/3 cup water, remaining ¼ cup lime juice and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Blend until smooth – about a minute.
Assemble the Salad:
Add the kale, dates, pistachios and dressing to the bowl with the onion mixture. Toss well, taste and correct for salt and pepper if necessary. Let this stand for 15 minutes to soften the kale.
Serve the Salad:
Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and distribute to your family, guests and hangers-on.