If my mom had to choose one dish to live off of for the rest of her life, it would be this salad. No matter how much kale we strip to create the dish, there never seems to be enough to go around. Often I will look over at my mom’s dinner plate and see only a mass of dark green sitting in front of her, which she contemplates with a positively gleeful glint in her eye. She simply can’t get enough.
I have to hand it to my mom: before this salad, I didn’t consider kale to be of much importance. I assume most kids don’t go out of their way to pick kale on a trip to the grocery store—”Mom, look at that bunch of green leaves! Can we get it, please, PLEASE?!” That would be being optimistic to the point of foolishness (yes, that is a partial Albus Dumbledore quote). Therefore, I did not get a chance to see kale shine until Mom began making salads out of it.
This kale salad is a staple at the O’Regan House and the go-to dish that Jonji and I bring to parties. Relatively easy to make and quite delicious to eat, it’s a sure winner—I am constantly asked for the recipe when we bring it to share. When my mom is asked for the recipe, she will reply with her typical, “It’s SO easy…” and begin explaining each minute step necessary to make your own kale salad. While she may be right in thinking that, compared to all her other dishes, this one may be “easy,” I do not presume that everyone has a perfect memory, nor do I think that any person will whip out pen and paper and furiously scribble the recipe down on the spot. Therefore, I am providing this recipe for those who do not want to memorize it, but who still want to make this incredible salad. The kale gets coated in a fine layer of parmesan and the almonds and croutons are the perfect crunchy counterpart.
Mom’s Parmesan Kale Salad
2 bunches dino kale (lacinato kale)
1 small clove garlic
juice of 1 lemon
parmesan cheese, finely grated
croutons and/or a handful of roasted almonds, roughly chopped
If you’re making croutons, cut a couple of hefty chunks of bread off your loaf and tear or cut into 1-inch chunks. Toss with plenty of olive oil and bake in the oven for 10–15 minutes at 350°F, until golden brown and crisp.
The first, and most arduous, step of this salad requires you to strip the kale leaves from their stems. I recommend starting from the bottom of the leaf and, holding the leaf folded in half, pull the leaf off the stem, working your way to the top in one smooth motion. I also recommend enlisting a friend or two to help you complete this task.
Once all the leaves are stripped from the stems, complete your victory dance and then return your attention to the kale. Bunch together as many leaves as you can, trying the keep them in an even bunch. Hold the bunch down and slice, trying to achieve slivers 1/8 inch wide (or even thinner, if you can manage it). Repeat until all leaves are sliced.
Pile your chopped kale in a salad spinner and rinse with cold water. Drain and spin until dry. Place the cleaned kale in a large bowl and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a squirt of lemon juice. Massage the kale (seriously) for 30 seconds with both hands, squeezing the leaves like you’re kneading bread, and then set aside.
For the dressing: smash your garlic clove, remove the skin, and place in a mortar. Grind the garlic with your pestle until it resembles a lovely, garlicky goo. Add a couple big pinches of salt and grind into the garlic. Scrape into a mason jar. Squeeze lemon juice from one lemon into the jar and top off with olive oil. You’ll want to have roughly twice as much olive oil in the jar as you have lemon juice. Add salt to taste. Shake the dressing until the lemon juice and oil have thoroughly mixed. Keep tasting and tinkering until you like it.
To assemble: grate enough parmesan cheese over the kale to lightly cover each piece of kale (no, I am not joking. You’ll thank me later). Toss and grate until everything is sufficiently coated in cheese. Add your croutons (and/or chopped roasted almonds) to the cheesy kale. Drizzle with 3/4 of the dressing and toss. Add more dressing if necessary.