Monday, June 11, 2012

raw kale salad with walnuts, pecorino, lemon and mushrooms/balsamic blackberry juniper ravioli

My first couple of seasons in the food co-op, I was not exactly what you would call a kale fan. The curly leaves and woody stems would totally languish in the fridge for weeks, and was always in danger of wilting and yellowing and even getting thrown out. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with the stuff, to be honest, and even I had a hard time finding many kale recipes online. Oh how times have changed.

Fast forward three years, and kale is the total darling of the foodie set, super trendy and seemingly everywhere. These days, you can't turn around without stumbling upon another kale recipe. Which is exciting, because last week was the start of CSA season, and with it came a big bunch of kale, and there's only more of that to come.

This particular kale salad I adapted from a post by one of my most admired food bloggers, the Amateur Gourmet, although I should give credit where credit is due: I probably wouldn't have given Adam's raw kale salad a second thought if I had not previously tried a similar recipe from the inimitable Dorie Greenspan. I was surprised to discover that raw kale becomes a whole different animal if you toss it vigorously with a nice acidic dressing (and remove the thick, fibrous ribs and stems!). Suddenly, it's much less bitter and chewy, and ready to become the star of a delicious meal. 

Dorie's salad had a delightful south-of-the-border flavor, thanks to a healthy amount of lime juice, cumin powder, avocado, tomato, jalapeƱo and red onion, but what made the dish so memorable was the hearty greens. Their substantial heft made the salad a real standout in a meal that also featured some amazing mustard grilled chicken. It was just so unexpected and different that I knew I had to try making it again (even going so far as to buy my own kale from the store!), this time with grated romano cheese, toasted walnuts and plenty of lemon juice. I did make one addition to the Amateur Gourmet's salad by sauteing up some mushrooms and garlic, just because I had them lying around. The end product was both totally different and strikingly similar to my first foray into this salad species: the raw kale was still the star, but it was now equally at home among a cast of new supporting players. Another decisive victory for a previously unsung leafy green.

As is my usual m/o, I just eyeballed the amounts, but I've been trying to be better about including actual recipes on the blog, so I'll at least include the ingredients and some basic instructions in case you want to recreate this at home.

Lemon Kale Salad with Walnuts, Mushrooms and Pecorino Romano
inspired by the Amateur Gourmet

olive oil
mushrooms, thinly sliced
garlic, minced
kosher salt
crack black pepper

Wash the kale and spin dry. Using a knife, cut out the center stems and stalks and discard them. Chop or shred the leaves and set aside in a salad bowl.

Toast the walnuts, either in a frying pan or the toaster oven. Don't be impatient and crank up the heat, as you can easily burn them. You just want them nice and golden brown. Once they smell and look delicious, remove them from the pan, let them cool off, and chop them up a bit.

Add a little olive oil to the frying pan, and set the heat to medium. Add the minced garlic and sliced mushrooms to the pan once it heats up, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are just cooked through and the garlic is fragrant. I didn't want them to get too brown, since the rest of the salad was so light and fresh.

Wash and zest the lemon into the bowl with the kale. Squeeze in the lemon juice, then add some kosher salt, cracked black pepper and a healthy glug of olive oil. Dig your hands in, rubbing the kale together vigorously until it starts to wilt. Add a few heaping spoonfuls of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, mushrooms and garlic. Toss everything together and taste. If necessary, add more oil, cheese, lemon, salt or pepper.

You can serve the salad immediately, but it only improves if you let it sit for a little while, so try to plan ahead.

But wait, I'm not done with you all yet! What did I serve it with? Blackberry juniper ravioli in balsamic reduction sauce. Yeah, you know how I do. Total culinary risk taker/trailblazer.

Okay. So I will freely admit that this is weird, but hear me out. There was a really cheap carton of blackberries on sale at Wild Olive (my favorite supermarket in Harlem), and that made me remember some recipes I had seen for blackberry pork chops and goat chops that I thought sounded fantastic. Unfortunately, as wonderful as Wild Olive is, they have a pretty minimal selection of meat products, so I had to go in another direction, but for some reason, my mind was still stuck on savory.

Enter my old favorite, Borgatti ravioli, conveniently stashed away in my freezer. I decided to follow the lead of the first pork chop recipe, which had a nice balsamic gastric, and use that as the sauce for the pasta.

I also added some crushed juniper berries, which I bought awhile ago and have never really used, mainly because I don't exactly go around cooking venison and other wild game, which is just about the only thing you ever hear of using juniper with. I think I was partially just looking for a change to finally use my impulse buy juniper, but I was also thinking that blackberries are wild and woodlandy, so if you could serve them with meat, maybe you could serve them with juniper too. Also, a blackberry balsamic pasta sauce is already highly unorthodox, so I figured why not really go for broke.

I'm not going to say this was a home run, but it was a fun experiment and didn't taste half bad in the end. I mean, I'm not going to say you should run out and make it, haha, but sometimes its fun to be a little adventurous with your ingredients. So take some culinary risks once in a while. You'll never know where they might take you.

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