Grab everything you need and put it out so they’re ready to go. Let’s make salad!
Kale salad is eaten raw, so first we need to remove those tough, fibrous stems that are too hard to eat without cooking.
Just fold the kale stem in half and start ripping the stems off. Yup, with your fingers. No magic technique to this. You can also use scissors, but I like the tactility of working directly with my hands.
Keep doing this until the whole bunch of kale has been separated into its tender and tough halves.
(You can save the stems to make vegetable soup. I like to chop them up and stick them in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer)
Put the kale leaves in a large bowl or salad spinner, and give them a good rinse.
If you’re using a salad spinner, spin the water off the leaves. If not, wrap them in a kitchen towel or paper towel and pat them dry. The leaves don’t need to be perfectly dry, but we want to get rid of as much water as we can. The more water remains on the leaves, the more the finished salad will taste, well, watery.
Finally, shred the leaves into bite-sized pieces by grabbing fistfuls and ripping them apart. We don’t know about you but ripping crisp, tender leaves in fistfuls feels super satisfying. Ah, to work with your hands!
Oil and acid are the primary components of “vinaigrette,” a common type of salad dressing.
As the name implies, the acid is usually some kind of vinegar. But in this recipe, we’re using lemon juice, because its bright, citrusy flavor complements the woodsy, nutty flavor of kale.
As for the oil, extra virgin olive oil is the most common. The “extra-virgin” part is key, because this means the oil has the strongest olive flavor. When using oil in dressings (as opposed to cooking things in them), the more flavor, the better. Other flavorful oils to try are toasted nut oils (sesame, hazelnut) and infused oils (like chili oil or basil oil). In the future, you can treat yourself to a small bottle of these and play around. But for today, let’s keep it simple!
Start by pouring a generous amount of olive oil all over the kale leaves—about 3 tablespoons worth.
Then add in about a quarter teaspoon of salt.
Then squeeze in about half of a lemon (this comes out to about 1 tablespoon of juice). If you’re not sure how juicy your particular lemon is, you can squeeze it into a bowl first and measure out the juice. But to be honest, this is a lot of work. We usually just trust the lemon.
And now. You massage the kale.
Don’t be shy. Work the oil, lemon, and salt into the leaves. Really get your hands covered. Forget about what your parents said about not playing with your food. This is what cooking is all about. (By the way, this also happens to make your skin incredibly soft afterwards. It’s like a spa treatment and lunch all in one fun package.)
As you massage the kale, you will begin to notice the stiff, dark kale leaves transforming right before your eyes. What started out fibrous and dull becomes glossy, bright green, and tender.
We won’t tell anyone if you decide to pop some into your mouth at this point. In fact, you probably should. Give it a taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed.
Mincing garlic is a piece of cake, as long as you’re persistent. First peel the clove (the skin comes off easily if you smack it with the knife blade first).
Then slice the garlic thinly (Remember to tuck your fingers in via the Claw Grip!).
Then, placing your hand on top of the knife for leverage, and keep making random chops until all the garlic pieces are adequately small. The smaller the better. You don’t want to encounter a huge piece of raw garlic as you’re eating.
When done, mix the garlic into the kale.
Now take your serrated bread knife and cut the bread into thick slices.
Use a single, firm forward motion to break through the hard crust—you want to press downward hard enough with your knife that the serrated teeth bite into the crust, but not too hard that you lose control of the knife and let it slip onto your fingers. Be very careful—it’s easy for the knife to slip sideways on a smooth, hard bread crust! Once you’ve broken through the crust with this initial slicing motion, you’re good. Just saw back and forth until the slice comes free.
The cut the bread into cubes. We cut ours large because I actually prefer croutons that are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. But you can make yours smaller. Smaller ones are more bite-sized and easier to eat.
There are 2 ways to make croutons: One is to heat up an oven and bake the bread cubes, which requires a lot of waiting. Or you could just sautéeing bread in a hot pan. This is what we’ll be doing because we’re impatient and hungry.
Go ahead and heat up a skillet over medium heat. Add the bread as soon as the pan feels hot (you can hold your hand over it to check). Don’t add all of the bread if it won’t fit. Just add enough to fit in roughly a single layer. Then pour a lot of olive oil on top. Just go wild. It’s almost impossible to use too much.
Start tossing the bread. Keep them moving so no pieces burn.
If the bread starts to look dry, add more oil. You want there to be enough that the bread browns a little.
Finally, test the croutons for crunch. I like to just press down with the tip of my stirring utensil. If it seems crunchy, you’re done.
Final assembly time!
Put some kale on a plate.
Then add some grated parmesan cheese. If you have a whole block, excellent—freshly grated cheese is a lot more intense in flavor than pre-grated. Just grate that right over the kale leaves. If you have pre-grated cheese, though, no worries. We know how it is—sometimes it’s just easier!
You can also use a potato peeler to shred thin strips of cheese on top. Doing this makes the cheese more texturally present—you know, so people can recognize and appreciate the fact that there’s cheese in their dish. I sometimes do this if I’m using some really fancy, expensive cheese. In that case, I want to really feature that cheese. But here, in the case of kale salad, I’d rather the parmesan “disappear” into the dish and form more of a rich coating over the leaves. This is all up to personal preference, of course. Feel free to do whatever you like!
Finally, put some croutons and freshly ground black pepper on top. You’re ready to eat!