Massaged Kale Salad is my most requested dish for family gatherings. The original recipe is from Jennifer Adler and is a great make-ahead meal when you want to have nutritious greens ready to eat. This salad will keep and even get better as days go by. Make a bunch because it will be gone before you know it.

On Jennifer’s Facebook page I had to search back through over seven years of posts before I found her bare bones version. Here’s what she said then: “Due to its incredible nutrient density, kale is what some people call a “superfood.” Kale has beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and is rich in calcium. Kale also contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol which research has shown to have cancer fighting properties.”

Hearty greens can have a somewhat bitter taste if you are unaccustomed to eating them. Preparing it properly is important to learn to love this flavor. One of the easiest ways to enjoy kale is by making a simple massaged kale salad. Jennifer’s original version has only 4 ingredients! Below is the one I learned from her when I went on one of her seaweed foraging trips in the San Juan Islands many years ago.

Making the Salad Base

Make the basic massaged salad with 1 bunch of kale. You can use flat or frilly edged kales. However, my favorite is lacinato, also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale for its dark green bumpy texture. It is often sold in bunches. This salad can be made with an entire bunch. Strip the dark green leafy part from the tougher stem if the leaves are not small and tender. The ones I pulled off the last “kale tree” in my garden this spring don’t need the center rib removed. Neither do the first tender leaves on the new plants just starting to get big enough to harvest. Rinse and spin the leaves to release most of the wash water.

Kale leaves and flowers
Kale leaves and flowers from the kale treee

Stack the leaves to cut cross-wise into narrow strips. If the leaves are very wide, cut the stack lengthwise to make bite-sized pieces. When I have finished cutting they resemble crinkly packing material shreds.

Cut kale leaves
Kale leaves cut into bite-sized pieces.
Kale leaves after massaging
Massaged kale

Add one-quarter to one half teaspoon of salt in a medium sized mixing bowl. Massage the kale with vigor! Rub, squeeze and knead salt into the kale shreds. Keep massaging for two to three minutes. The kale will turn darker green and shrink as if you had cooked it. Now you will see why you needed so much kale! Over a quart or more will have been reduced to about a cup or two depending on how big a bunch you started with

Squeeze thee juice from about a quarter of a lemon over the massaged leaves
Squeezing a lemon by hand to catch the seeds

Add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and massage a little more, or until the leaves feel tender. The salt and acid of the lemon juice help to break down the cell walls of the kale, shrinking the leaves, creating a sweeter flavor. After 3-5 minutes of massaging, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and give the kale another quick massage or stir. You can stop here if you want to try the salad plain.

The Basic Salad Boosted

Jennifer suggests enhancing it with toppings like dried cranberries, feta cheese or pumpkin seeds.

The recipe I use over and over with minor variation includes adding a teaspoon or two of Apple Cider Vinegar, giving it a stir. Check for oil and acid balance at this point and if too salty, add a little more ACV and/or EVOO. Or you can wait until you have added the remaining ingredients to check flavor balance.

To the basic salad I add about a quarter of a purple onion, sliced and one small or medium apple, cut roughly into eighths then sliced into little wedges. I also add a tablespoonful or so of either currants (Zante have the highest antioxidant levels) or elderberries or goji berries, or any other small dried fruit available. Cranberries are a nice addition, just make sure whomever you are serving it to is not on blood thinning medication as cranberries are not advised in that case. At this point I do a taste test and adjust oil, vinegar and salt one last time.

sliced purple onion and chopped apple added to salad
basic salad with onions and apples added, drizzling a little hempseed oil into the mix.

This Makes Mine a Meatless Main

When the salad is all done I add a handful of sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Jennifer serves hers with feta or gorgonzola. Since mine is a vegan version, I add either a purchased vegan cheese substitute or some blu-cheez I make myself. If I have made cashew cheese or almond ricotta, I will use that. But if I am out of pre-made, I make up a quick and easy substitute.

Faux Cheese in a Pinch

Finely chop a few Brazil nuts (Walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios or even pine nuts, if you can afford them, could also be used. Brazil nuts are the easiest. They can be sliced very thin, then chopped fine with a knife. To the chopped nuts I add a clove of garlic, either raw or roasted, a very generous shaking of nutritional yeast flakes or powder and a sprinkle of salt. Then I either chop, chop, chop until the mix is very fine and starting to stick together just a bit in crumbles. Or I put it all in my little spice grinder and buzz, making sure it doesn’t turn into nut butter. When I have the crumbles just sticking together (the garlic and nut oils help, but you could also add just a drop of olive oil) I dust it with a couple of pinches of Spirulina powder and lightly fold the blue-green algae into the nut crumbles to resemble the veining in blue cheese.

Now you have a delicious smoothie to start your day, a marvelous healthy mix of greens with additional protein. Coming next, a stew or maybe even two for more ways to make ahead meals with greens.

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