Somewhere in the course of trying to decide what to say about this salad, I found myself googling, “has kale salad jumped the shark?”
That question turns up quite a lot of hits. I kind of thought it might.
It’s a question that seems to encapsulate the overall discussion of kale these days. The narrative goes: “kale has made a comeback. No one used to eat kale, now it’s trendy…so trendy it has shown up on every restaurant menu everywhere and large food companies are making kale shishkahoozles and whatkabobs…ugh, kale is soo overdone. Kale has totally jumped the shark.”
Similar narratives have been constructed for other food trends like quinoa or cakepops, bacon and cupcakes. Actually, I kind of think this is what defines food trends. A food that has been languishing in relative obscurity has a resurgence in popularity, it appears at cutting edge places, then it appears everywhere, everyone gets sick of it, then the trend is over, except you still see the food in restaurants that are clearly behind the times and then you can feel smug because you know whatever food it is is not in anymore but they seem to have missed the memo.
It’s a really weird way to think about food, isn’t it? I mean, I totally fall for it sometimes and have caught myself feeling as smug and superior as the next person who has a tendency to read a lot about food when I see a new place open up that’s all proud because it has truffled tater tots, when actually truffled tater tots are so three years ago, maybe four. But, I will be the first to say it’s weird.
I guess it’s bound to happen in some guise in a field where there is a drive for innovation and change. And innovation and change in food is great. I love food traditions, but even food traditions need to be kept fresh. I think traditions are more homeostatic – in a state of constant change to stay apparently consistent – than constant. Therefore, I love food innovations.
Still, I really like kale salad, and I want to keep making and talking about kale salads, even if kale salads are at this point an overwrought theme. Ok? Good.
After having seen a kale salad with caesar dressing from Bon Appetit or some such place I have had the intention to make one for at least 9 months now, maybe more. But as these things sometimes go, it just kept not happening. Until last week. That was when I suddenly remembered an avocado caesar dressing from the inimitable InPatsKitchen, which I tested for Food52 about a year ago.
Everything Pat makes is awesome, and so had been the avocado caesar salads. Imagining that dressing on shredded kale was more than enough to send me running into the kitchen to get to work.
This dressing has all the punchy salt and tang of your standard caesar salad dressing, laced as it is with layers of anchovies, mayo, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and Parmesan. But, the avocado makes it unreasonably silky. You know how in commercials for fancy shampoo, they show someone with beautiful but slightly frizzy hair, and then they show how the shampoo has some sort of magical agent that soothes the hair and tames it and in the end the hair looks like a beautiful, shimmering, cascading waterfall? Well, that’s sort of what blending in avocado does to caesar dressing. It turns it into the shimmering waterfall version of itself.
This dressing is about as thick and powerful as a cascading waterfall as well, so it needs something hearty to stand up to it. Tender lettuces would be mauled into a limp pile by it, but crunchy romaine does the trick, and it turns out that leathery, toothy kale is perfect. The two together make for a heartily filling, intensely flavorful salad. You practically don’t need anything else to make it a meal. Which is not to say it isn’t delicious with some chicken or shrimp. Which would make it an updated version of a retro classic. Which would be so trendy, eh?
p.s. We didn’t have any bread in the house, so I didn’t make the salad with croutons. But, I think croutons would add some excellent crunch, so I’m putting them into the recipe as an option. If you want to keep it gluten free, just leave them out! You could add some pine nuts or something for crunch instead.
p.p.s. Speaking of Food52, I’m thrilled and delighted to be writing a new column for them, all about what I’m eating for breakfast, woo! Think of it sort of like a breakfast version of Canal House Cooks Lunch, but with recipes. It should be every Thursday! Check it out.
- 5-6 anchovies, preserved in oil
- 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 whole avocado, peeled and diced
- the juice from half of a lemon
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup good quality mayo (homemade, if you can)
- ½ cup finely shredded Parmesan
- 2 bunches of kale - I like to use lacinto, but any variety will work
- 3 cups cubed crusty bread, like baguette (optional)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Put the anchovies into a food processor along with the garlic, Worcestershire, and Dijon. Pulse together to chop up the garlic.
- Add the avocado, lemon juice, olive oil, and mayonnaise. Process until smooth. If the dressing seems way too thick, add in a tsp. or two of water and process again.
- Transfer the dressing to a bowl, stir in the Parmesan, and place saran wrap directly on the surface of the dressing. Refrigerate.
- Wash the kale, remove the ribs, then slice the leaves into very thin pieces. Put the kale in a bowl and sprinkle it with about ½ tsp. of salt. Use your hands to squeeze and rub the kale with the salt for a minute or two. This process helps make the kale a little more tender.
- Toss the kale with as much dressing as you want plus a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Refrigerate until you're ready to eat.
- To make croutons, drizzle the bread cubes with some olive oil, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, then bake in a 350F oven until golden, about 10 minutes.
- Serve the kale salad sprinkled with croutons, as well as extra parmesan, if desired.