My lunch has left me fixating on leaves. It’s similar to when you think too long about a word and after a bit you aren’t sure whether it actually is a real word because at that point it sounds too weird to you. I do this relatively frequently with the word ‘which’. It’s awkward.
Anyhow, as I ate my lunch – this unabashedly leafy salad – the fact that we eat leaves became odder and odder to me. Leaves, people! I started to feel like maybe I was confused. Maybe I was a manatee or giraffe or some other animal that grinds away pensively at greenery.
Do we really eat leaves? The red bursts of the poinsettias decorating coffee tables at this time of year, those are leaves. On my run yesterday I chased some last oak leaves as they fluttered down from the trees (I find chasing after falling leaves to be one of the most elating and gleeful activities. It always makes me feel like I’m 4 or 5 again). They weren’t that dissimilar from the foundation of my salad (well, apart from being dried out and brown, which my salad distinctly wasn’t).
It was a disconcerting moment. Particularly because a not inconsequential portion of my diet is made up of leaves. In fact, I love leaves. In the summer, I eat salad like it’s my full time job. In the winter, I eat a lot of greens as well, but usually in sauteed or braised form, which renders them far less leafy looking.
Perhaps that’s why I was having trouble with the concept of leaf-eating. As mid-winter bears down on us, salads do tend to seem incongruous. Cool, refreshing, light, not exactly what you’re looking for when you want rib stickiness, something to warm you from the inside out.
But, there are exceptions. Salads robust and hearty enough to deserve a place on the winter table. And, in spite of my perplexing ruminations while eating it, I do believe this is one of them.
A friend of mine brought something similar to our Thanksgiving supper and I was bewitched by it. The thinly sliced kale is confetti-like, but sturdy. Using kale in place of chiffony summer lettuces is like putting the winter tires on your car. Suddenly you have greens that have traction, that give your meal real oomph and won’t leave you feeling stranded even if it’s icy or snowy out.
The salad is peppered with nibbles of persimmon, citrusy, cinnamony, balancing somehow between juicy-soft and crisp. Persimmon is a fascinating winter fruit that I have rarely eaten, and that feels like a shame. You have to be careful in choosing a persimmon though. For something like salad, you need a fuyu persimmon, short and squat, almost tomato like in its shape. These you can slice and savor while they are firm.
Hachiya persimmons are longer, a little tube like, and often come to a pointy tip. Do not eat these when they’re firm unless you want your mouth to turn into a tannin-ravaged, puckered cottonball. Hachiya persimmons aren’t ripe until they are mushy soft, and woe betide you if you try one before because they are acrid. Once ripened, they become sweeter (though I still find they have an elusive bitter aftertaste that bothers me) and you usually turn them into pulp to use in baked goods.
In sum, short and squat for salad. Beware the hachiya.
I also gently tossed in some creamy, nutty pieces of avocado, for while my friend’s salad didn’t have any, and hers was fairly perfect, there is no perfect thing that isn’t made even more double-plus time infinity perfect (and no backsies) by the addition of avocado.
She had dressed her salad with a tangy lemon dressing, made creamy with yogurt, and with just enough finely minced garlic in it to make it deliciously savory, and give you mildly fiery dragon breath. Like, a little trickle of smoke coming from your mouth, perhaps, but you won’t send villagers screaming and running. Especially not if they have eaten the same dressing. I knew I wanted to eat the same dressing, so I did my best to recreate it.
The final touch is crumbles of funky, salty blue cheese. The appealingly stinky and deeply umami pungency of the blue cheese plays off of the sweetness of the persimmon and the toothy leafiness of the kale in the same way as it does in the originally brilliant and now relatively overused salad with pear and blue cheese. It’s an invigorating little change-up. And avocado and blue cheese is always a winning combination in my book. That’s what’s on my favorite burger, and it is just as satisfying in a salad.
And, satisfying is what this salad really is. As I continued to chew and ponder leaves, I rounded a mental corner and suddenly it didn’t matter anymore whether or not it was weird that we eat leaves (and, thinking about it now, it’s no weirder than eating shoots, roots, flowers, animal, seeds…) because they really tasted good.
Kale Avocado and Persimmon Salad (serves about 4)
- One bunch of kale (I like lacinto/dinosaur kale best for salads, but I’ve found really any type works)
- 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 heaping Tbs. Greek yogurt
- 1 small garlic clove, very finely chopped
- 1 tsp. grainy mustard
- 2 tsp. honey or maple syrup
- salt and pepper
- 1 fuyu persimmon (if you can’t find one, you could use an apple to good effect), cut into smallish cubes
- 1 avocado, seeded, peeled and cut into cubes
- about 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (or more or less to taste – I feel like blue cheese quantity can be a very personal decision)
- Remove the stems from the kale leaves and slice the remaining leaves very thinly. Put in a bowl and toss with 1 Tbs. lemon juice (this helps soften the kale so it’s not too tough. You can also “massage” kale to soften it, but personally I feel like if anything in this household is going to get a massage, it should be me!), and set aside.
- Whisk together the remaining lemon juice, the olive oil, yogurt, garlic, mustard, and honey/syrup. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. This will be your dressing.
- After you’ve allowed the kale to sit for about 30 minutes, toss it with the dressing. Then, gently toss in the chopped avocado and persimmon and the blue cheese crumbles. And, if the spirit moves, don’t hesitate to add a handful of toasted pecans.