Five years ago, before kale salads became staples on practically every restaurant menu in New York, I knew kale as a wholesome vegetable that you only ate cooked.
As soon it appeared in the raw, a star was born. Kale became the “it" vegetable, especially when it was served in a salad that glistened with creamy Caesar dressing.
A great kale salad requires more finesse than just plopping any old variety of the green into a bowl and tossing it with vinaigrette. While this works well with tender, young kale, and with Tuscan (aka black or dinosaur) kale, which has particularly supple leaves, it can backfire with the more common curly variety.
That is because curly green kale has leathery leaves that need to be softened before you can serve them raw. A gentle massage works — just rub the leaves with dressing until they relax. So does marinating the kale in dressing for at least 15 minutes before serving.
But the easiest and quickest way to raw green kale satisfaction is just slicing it finely enough. The tougher, older and thicker the leaves, the smaller you need to cut them.
So I knew what to do to with a wrinkly bunch of, let us say, mature kale: I chopped it right up. True, I could have easily cooked it, but I wanted salad.
The pile of chopped, dark green bits reminded me of parsley, and a mountain of chopped parsley made me think of tabbouleh.
Here’s the thing about tabbouleh salad: Most of the ones I have had invert my preferred proportion of bulgur to parsley. What you usually get is a bowl of tabbouleh studded with bits of parsley. I like a salad that is mostly parsley, studded with grains of tabbouleh.
I pictured a generous ratio of green to tan, but with kale standing in for parsley. It has a hint of parsley’s pleasing bitterness, but is far milder, which means that this tabbouleh salad didn’t have to be just a side dish, one best eaten in small portions. Instead, I could eat a whole bowl of it — a dream for a raw kale devotee.
So I mixed my heap of chopped kale with shallots, radishes and soft bulgur. It melded together seamlessly.
This salad also smacks of practicality. Like regular tabbouleh salad, kale tabbouleh can be made up to a day before and still retain its appealing character. How many other dressed green salads can you say that about?
And finally, it converted my husband, who thinks parsley should be used as a garnish and nothing more, into a tabbouleh salad lover.
Really, kale in the raw has so much to recommend it, it is a wonder anyone cooks the stuff at all.