We went up into the woods over the weekend.  It felt so good.  Always does, really.

We went to the Boundary Waters, the forest in Northern Minnesota bordering Canada.  A wilderness where the only real way to get around is by slipping a canoe into the water and paddling from lake to lake.  There you can glide through still water, bounce through choppy, scramble over beaver dams, dodge moose…the only sounds around are the slap of the paddles, the drips of water, the occasional loon call, or easy conversation with the others in the boat.

Every wild area has its own unique silence and peace.  I think that of the Boundary Waters may be one of the deepest anywhere.  It affords the most beautiful solitude  (and the most comfortable companionship with the others paddling with you) that you can imagine.  Where else in the world can you canoe or kayak between hundreds of lakes with only hikes of several – ok, sometimes several hundred – canoe lengths in between?  It’s remarkable.

We paddled a nice 12 mile loop on Saturday.  On Sunday afternoon we decided to hike up one of the low ridges to take in the views of the leaves that are just starting to show hints of gold and scarlet.  On the hike down, for the first time in several weeks, I began to think in earnest about food.

Now, when I am in my normal state of mind, I tend to spend a lot of my waking time thinking about food, about spices and ingredients and ways to combine them, about meals I’ve had and meals I want to cook, new techniques I want to try or how to use up a stash of vegetables I’ve accumulated in the crisper drawer.  Often I plan out the meals for several days at a time, and every day I at least seem always to be planning dinner by the time I finish breakfast.  I would imagine that many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Which means you are the few people in the world who also understand when I say that the spells I sometimes go through where I just can’t wrap my brain around creating new or interesting meals, the dry spells, feel flat out strange.  Like a pump or maybe a circuit in my brain has gone out and it’s not working quite right.  It’s funny because when I’m in my normal state of thinking about food a lot, I catch myself wishing that I thought about it less.

My inner critic rags on me for not spending my time thinking about more noble or profound things or for being too food obsessed.  It tells me that it would be better to be a “normal” person who just thinks about meals when they start to get hungry, and even then only enough to plan out something that is adequately nutritious and palatable.  It doesn’t appreciate that I get giddy sometimes just thinking about the infinite possibilities contained within a cabbage or a carrot.

My inner critic is a jerk-wad.

When I’m in the state my inner critic prefers, the one where when I notice mealtime has arrived I have no particular plan or predisposition I just scramble to piece something together, I can tell the creative part of me is turned off.  I think that for me, thinking about food is a healthy state of mind.  And, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that brainstorming the possibilities for turning ingredients into something surprising and nourishing and beautiful can be a noble pursuit indeed.  I just need to tell myself that.

Anyways, the long drought, the forced-feeling phase of the past several weeks finally truly lifted on that hike.  I breathed in the smell of the forest, and scrutinized the wavy bends of the tree roots and the shorelines, and for whatever reason the rusty, squeaky wheels started cranking again.  Ideas for future meals came popping in here and there like little flashes from fireflies.  And, of all things, the thoughts that really got me going were those about kale salad.

Maybe I shouldn’t sound so surprised about that.  Kale salad really is inspiring.  But, lately folks in the know have started to refer to it as perhaps a little too inspiring.  That is to say, the word on the street is that every last restaurant in every big city seems to have a kale salad on the menu, and most of them could be carbon copies of one another, and at a certain point one may find oneself tossing one’s napkin aside and saying, jaw weary from chewing so much roughage, “enough already!  Can somebody please get me a crisp endive?  Or gentle leaf of escarole?  I beg you!”

However, I think one is really only likely to be at that point if one is a restaurant critic or frequent diner in the Big Apple (FYI, kale salad with apples is quite nice), and I believe the rest of us should be allowed to continue to enjoy our kale salads unassailed by feelings of being a worn out seasonal dining meme.  So there.  (Once again, I was probably the one who needed that convincing, not you.  My inner critic is a full-on nimrod.)

By the end of the hike I was sitting on at least a dozen ideas for kale salad.  They may trickle their way onto this site bit by bit, if the local store doesn’t get suspicious and start tracking me for buying so much kale.  But, for the bunch of kale that was waiting for me at home once we got back from the hike, I decided to take a grilled kale salad route.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I have an affection for grilled romaine salad.  The charred flavor standing in contrast to the freshness of the leaves and the sharpness of the dressing makes for a salad that’s even more alluring, more va va (voom, that is) than your usual bowl of tender greens.  I figured the same idea would work for kale, and then I stumbled across a recipe for grilled kale salad with plums in Bon Appetit.  Aha!  Support for my theory.

With a turn on the grill, the kale softens slightly and develops delightfully crispy charred patches.  There’s a slight similarity to the (shall we admit, this one is overly popular?) kale chips available now in some markets, but these won’t run you $7 for an ounce!  Rather than plums, I plucked other seasonal goodies out of the fridge, sweet golden beets to roast, and even sweeter figs.  Figs and beets always seem to beg for a balsamic dressing, and I chose not to deny them their preference.  And, inspired by the same Bon Appetit salad, I added creamy billows of fresh ricotta to gently anchor all of the other flavors.

With the rich sweetness of many of the components here, generous pinches of good salt on each salad will coax out a level of complexity and a savory aspect from a set of ingredients that may seem too uni-dimensional otherwise.  So taste, season, then taste and adjust the salt some more until everything pops.  Salt also helps tame any bitterness left in the greens after their brief visit to the grill.

I meant to add chopped, toasted hazelnuts for crunch, but I forgot.  And we didn’t miss them.  Already there was enough going on to hold our interest and make the salads filling.  Not to mention enough to make me want to keep thinking about food and rout any concerns about kale salads being trite.

Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta (serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a hearty main dish)

  • 4 small golden beets, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • one bunch of dinosaur (lacinto) kale (or green kale), bottoms of the stems removed
  • 12 fresh figs, black mission or Turkish brown figs, stemmed and halved
  • 1 generous cup of fresh ricotta
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 425F.  Toss the beet wedges with 1 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle them with salt.  Spread them in a baking dish and roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, 20-20 minutes.
  2. Whisk together 2 Tbs. olive oil together with the balsamic vinegar and the maple syrup.  When the beets come out of the oven, toss them with the dressing.
  3. Heat your grill and coat the kale with the remaining olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt.  Spread the leaves out on the grill and cook them, turning each over once, until they have developed crispy edges and charred splotches, several minutes.  Transfer the kale to a cutting board, remove the tough center stems if you wish (I don’t bother, but it definitely means more chewing), and chop it coarsely.
  4. Put a spoonful of ricotta on each salad plate, then divide the kale between the plates.  Divide the beets between the salads, and drizzle some of the dressing that is leftover from the beets over each of the salads.  Finally, divide the figs between the salads, dollop the remaining ricotta over the salads, sprinkle each with salt and pepper, and serve.

68 Responses to Grilled kale salad with beets, figs, and ricotta

  1. this post is amazing – combining two of my favourite things, the outdoors and a delicious salad with all of my favourite things! my mouth was watering just at the sight of those beets – this salad is definitely going on my must-make list. thanks for the post! seriously awesome.

  2. Looks divine! I would have never thought of grilling kale. I can’t wait to try this.

  3. Karen says:

    I love beets with creamy cheese, and I love figs with creamy cheese, so why it has never occurred to me to combine them all into one salad escapes me.

    But you can be sure I’ll be making this with today’s beet and kale harvest!

  4. Great posts and great musings! Don’t let the jerk-inner-critic win! Can’t wait to try this recipe! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Love the combination of this. It looks wonderful.

  6. I also love grilled romaine salad–never thought about doing this with kale! Very cool–thanks for sharing.

  7. I love your intertwined tales of two beautiful topics: wilderness paddling and kale. Grilled, no less! I’ll be trying this one soon, maybe shaking it up a little with early apples instead of figs. So many possibilities!

  8. Brianne says:

    There’s a local restaurant here that serves a grilled romaine salad that is to die for. I haven’t gotten the courage to try and recreate it at home, but your version with kale would be a great alternative!

    I will always regret that I never made it to the Boundary Waters during my four years in the Twin Ports. I gotta get up there!

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Ooh, work up the courage to try to recreate it…and then tell me how! 😉 Also, definitely do your best to someday make it up to the Boundary Waters. It’s a magical place.

  9. Katie says:

    Golden beets, kale, ricotta AND figs? Thanks for combining some many things I love in one delicious salad. Can’t wait to try this.

  10. […] We made a couple of quick, easy, and flavorful dinners this week. Both were really great! Plum recipes abound at this time of year. This butter and this jam sound equally scrumptious. I broke my mixer last week. At least I got a delicious lemon meringue pie out of it! Here’s an article I found featuring a couple colleagues on my research project. It’s from July, but it explains our objectives well. Speaking of blueberries, I really want some of this whole plant blueberry tea. Also, I love me some radishes. Like whoa. I discovered Punchfork recently. It’s like Tastespotting, but it’s arranged by how popular a recipe is online. Today’s recipes include these killer cookies and a tempting strudel. Emma’s delicious upside-down cake is on HuffPo today! Rad. One of my favorite bloggers recently moved from Boston back to the North Shore of Minnesota, near my former stomping grounds. I’m totally into her new adventures. […]

  11. Cindy says:

    Vegan substitute for ricotta, please?

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      I agree with Marissa that you could try blended tofu. You could also try some type of cashew cheese. Or skip the cheese element and add toasted hazelnuts instead.

  12. This is the most beautiful dish I’ve seen in a while. On my list to make THIS WEEK! thank you.
    for Cindy – how about silken tofu whipped in the food processor?

  13. Waverly says:

    Your post transported me from a Starbucks in the middle of a hot Texas September morning to paddling canoes on a cool and beautiful lake in Minnesota. Lovely post; wonderful recipe.

  14. Three ingredients in my all-time favourites list, all in one place. You are a treasure. Love your thoughts on kale salad as ubiquitious menu fodder. Haven’t been faced with that dilemma here in Scotland. Most folk here like to boil it to death. I have kale most days in some form or another (stir fried kale with sambal olek and poached egg for breakfast takes some beating). PS as always, fabulous images

  15. Sheila says:

    I don’t have access to an outdoor grill. Can I use an indoor grill pan? I buy kale every week.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      You know, I’ve never actually used a grill pan, so I can’t quite say how I think it would work, but I would guess it would work alright!

  16. What a PERFECT salad! Beautiful photos!

  17. sonalinsana says:

    Dying to try this! It looks amazing!

  18. jewhungry says:

    Any thoughts on how to get the flavor of grilled kale if you don’t have a grill? This looks wonderful and would be perfect for my husband’s upcoming birthday lunch. Thank you!

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Hmm, not totally sure. You could try spreading the leaves out on baking pans and broiling them or roasting them briefly.

  19. […] have been obsessing over figs as of late and so naturally this salad grabbed my attention right away.  It […]

  20. Jennifer says:

    I came because of the photo on Pinterest looked so delicious. I just needed to compliment you on setting such a beautiful scene with your words, It felt as if I was there. Thanks so much for thinking about food, because the Lord knows I am challenged when it comes to figuring out something different. I love sweet and savory meals with different textures and different temperatures. I have a grill pan which I am going to try. Its too cold to be cooking outdoors.

  21. […] Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta from Five and […]

  22. […] fresh: Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta. All. The. Things. Especially the figs – Ben and I have been craving figs like crazy […]

  23. […] Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs and Ricotta Cheese by Five and Spice […]

  24. […] meal was inspired by Five and Spice. I made my own modifications because I couldn’t find fresh figs and wanted this to be vegan. […]

  25. Hi, great post! I will definitely try this!

  26. […] Superfood Salad: Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta.  Holy cow am I excited to try this recipe.  I mean grilled kale?!  Gotta try it.  And beets?! […]

  27. Sarah says:

    We had your salad tonight, with gorgonzola instead of ricotta. It was delicious. Thank you!

  28. […] credits: 1) Five and Spice, Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta 2) Minimally Invasive, Gravlax 3) Edible Perspectives, Avocado, Strawberry, and Goats Cheese […]

  29. Donna says:

    This looks scrumptious…the vibrant colors and texture contrasts…so appealing!

    Question…here in France (near the Swiss border..close to Geneva)…kale is still sadly unobtainable…could I possibly use grilled romaine here without doing “dishonor” to this spectacular offering? This looks like such the perfect way to celebrate fall figs (and my fetish for them!) and I will attempt this beauty of a recipe without delay. Merci bien!

    • Emily says:

      I think grilled romaine could be quite good. Or you could possibly try other sturdy greens like beet greens, mustard greens, or chard.

  30. […] I want this Grilled Kale Salad in my belly – Five and […]

  31. […] Image credits: Seared Radicchio from Lily Beet, Carrot and Pomegranate Salad from Foodiecrush Grilled kale salad with beets, figs, and ricotta from Five and Spice […]

  32. Erika says:

    Emily I love this salad and all the flavours that you have combined together. Like you I think about food constantly. I love combining flavours from other cultures and am always thinking about what I can create for meals that I prepare on the weekend for the week. Right now I’m going through a bit of a dry spell, but I know my creative juices will start to flow again.
    Thank you for sharing and I really enjoy the way you write. To me it seems to come from your heart.

  33. […] my favourite food blogs just for you. Let’s dig in shall we!First up is a delicious recipe by five and spice…. If only I could find Kale on this island! I will be substituting this with some other leafy […]

  34. […] Grilled kale salad with beets, figs and ricotta […]

  35. […] of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, folic acid, iron, and vitamins A, B, and C. Click here for a delicious recipe that I found using beets. It’s a grilled kale salad with beets, kale […]

  36. […] Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta Ingredients: Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a hearty main dish 4 small golden beets, peeled and cut into wedges (or red beets…yum!!) 1/4 cup olive oil 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar 1 tsp. maple syrup one bunch of dinosaur (lacinto) kale, bottoms of the stems removed 12 fresh figs, black mission or Turkish brown figs, stemmed and halved 1 generous cup of fresh ricotta salt and pepper Directions: 1.Preheat your oven to 425F. Toss the beet wedges with 1 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle them with salt. Spread them in a baking dish and roast, stirring occasionally, until tender, 20-20 minutes. 2.Whisk together 2 Tbs. olive oil together with the balsamic vinegar and the maple syrup. When the beets come out of the oven, toss them with the dressing. 3.Heat your grill and coat the kale with the remaining olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt. Spread the leaves out on the grill and cook them, turning each over once, until they have developed crispy edges and charred splotches, several minutes. Transfer the kale to a cutting board, remove the tough center stems if you wish (I don’t bother, but it definitely means more chewing), and chop it coarsely. 4.Put a spoonful of ricotta on each salad plate, then divide the kale between the plates. Divide the beets between the salads, and drizzle some of the dressing that is leftover from the beets over each of the salads. Finally, divide the figs between the salads, dollop the remaining ricotta over the salads, sprinkle each with salt and pepper, and serve. (Recipe and photo from Five and Spice) […]

  37. […] Grilled Kale Salad With Beets, Figs, and Ricotta. (This is the salad pictured above.) Gollygeewhiz, kids! That name alone has me all googly eyed. And I have a confession: I have never purchased figs before. I’ve eaten my fair share and always intend to buy them, but somehow they are always gone or the lumpy, frumpy gooey guys are the only ones left. I am crossing my fingers there will be some available next weekend. […]

  38. […] Grilled Kale Salad with beets, figs and ricotta has been open in a tab on my computer all week. Definitely making it […]

  39. […] the simple act of preparing a meal. i had just bought beets and figs when i came across this recipe by five and spice on pinterest, so i decided to give it a try. my rendition is pretty much the […]

  40. […] Grilled Kale Salad with Beets, Figs, and Ricotta […]

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