When the body craves a nutritious meal, try this crunchy kale salad tossed in a bright apple cider vinegar dressing. Each serving contains a healthy mix of chopped greens, fruits, nuts, and creamy goat cheese.
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A colorful bowl of kale salad is a nutrient-rich meal that’s easy to make. This staple superfood can be a bit intimidating to prepare, but don’t worry. I’ll show you my simple tips for breaking down the curly leaves and taming the bitter notes.
The rough texture of these leafy greens is ideal for pairing with vinaigrettes. I toss them with a sweet and tangy apple cider vinegar dressing to balance their sharp flavors. This recipe includes crisp apples, creamy avocado, and crunchy pecans. It’s a satisfying side dish, but you can always add a protein of your choice and make it an entree salad.
There are various types of kale, and each one delivers a unique taste and texture. For this recipe, I recommend using either green or purple curly kale. The wavy leaves are tender, compared to the more rubbery lacinato or Tuscan varieties. The rough surface also holds onto the dressing, effectively coating each slice.
Baby kale is also a good substitute for their smaller leaves, and they have a milder taste. However, trim off the long stems and don’t massage the leaves since you won’t be chopping and rinsing off the bitter compounds.
Cutting the leaves
Kale comes in long bushy stalks that need to be broken down. I use a chef’s knife to separate the leaves from the tough center stem, making it easier to chew. Cut them into ½-inch thick slices. We want the leaves to be identifiable but not so large that it takes longer than a few seconds to chew in the mouth.
Massage the leaves
Kale is one vegetable that gets the spa treatment. It’s known for its bitter taste, which becomes more apparent once you start chewing. That’s because it contains sulfur-containing compounds called isothiocyanates, that releases when ruptured. I find you can tame these undesirable flavors in two ways.
This first is to briefly massage the leaves, coaxing out those undesirable compounds, then rinsing the chopped leaves to remove a good portion of them. This technique leaves less of the taste in your mouth. The second is to mask it with ingredients that contain fat for coating, salt, and sweeteners for balance. That’s where adding a homemade dressing can help, making the eating experience much more enjoyable.
Make a dressing
To add brightness to the salad, I pair it with an apple cider vinegar dressing. This type of vinegar has a soft, savory flavor that doesn’t overpower the greens. Freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest provide a nice citrus note. Dijon mustard offers a hint of spiciness and helps emulsify the dressing, slowing down the liquid and fat separation.
Using a sweetener like honey is key to balancing the bitterness of the greens. Its flavor lingers so that the taste perception of the kale isn’t as strong. Olive oil adds thickness to the dressing while coating some of the tongue receptors to block undesirable flavors.
Add a variety of textures for mix-ins
A mixture of fruits, nuts, and cheese makes the salad more interesting and nutritious. Chunks of sweet and tart apples like Gala, Fuji, or Honeycrisp are my top pick. However, you can use other types of apples like Granny smith if you enjoy a more sour bite.
Dried cranberries add a pop of sweetness. Chopped pecans add an enjoyable short crunch, although walnuts and almonds are also good picks. The salad needs creaminess- diced avocados and tangy goat cheese delivers on that texture to complete the dish.
What to serve this with
- Grilled shrimp or pan-seared salmon if you are feeling fancy
- Slice baked chicken breast or tenders for a lean option
- Chop up carne asada steak into cubes and serve on top
The key to a more stable salad dressing
Most salad dressings are semi-permanent emulsions, and over time they separate back into their oil or water phases. Adding emulsifying agents like mustard and honey, help to prolong the suspension. Make sure to slowly add in the oil while continually whisking to break the fat into small droplets. This technique will properly disperse and thicken the dressing into a uniform emulsion. Just dumping the ingredients together, then mixing, will make the immiscible components separate within minutes.
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Kale Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
- 8 cups curly kale, red or green, ½-inch thick slices
- 1 cup diced apple, fuji, gala, honeycrisp, Granny Smith, ½-inch dice
- ¾ cup diced avocado, ½-inch dice, 1 medium avocado
- ½ cup pecans, roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons goat cheese
- Cut the leaves off the tough kale stem. Briefly massage the leaves. Slice them into ½-inch thick pieces. Rinse under cool water and dry.
- In a large bowl add the kale, apples, avocado, pecans, and cranberries. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl whisk together apple cider, honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper.
- Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until it becomes a lightly thickened emulsified dressing. Season to taste.
- To serve, add ½ cup of the dressing to the bowl of kale salad. Gently toss to combine. Crumble goat cheese on top. Serve with extra dressing on the side.
- Recipe Yield: 8 cups
- Serving Size: 2 cups of salad plus 3 tablespoons of dressing
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