The first time I had a massaged kale salad was at a neighborhood get-together a few years back. I had never heard of such a thing, but I loved the way it looked and enjoyed the rumpled texture of the torn kale as the crisp-tasting citrus dressing gracefully clung to the bruised leaves.
Now if you know me, you’re probably not used to me extolling the virtues of vegetables, especially trendy ones. I tend to talk about meat, or—for a change of pace—fish or fowl. My standard joke about vegetarian food is: “How do you make vegetarian food really great? Just add meat!”
But I do love vegetables, too, especially good old stand-bys. I can always make room for a new vegetable, though, especially one as versatile and easy-to-grow as kale. We’ve started growing kale in our garden, and a few good kale plants will produce all the kale we need, and keep going all season.
So I am all in for kale chips and hearty soups and stews redolent with kale and even kale in my omelets, but I think that massaged kale is great addition to my repertoire.
Not all kale needs to be massaged or should be massaged. Small or baby kale shouldn’t be massaged as it will quickly turn into a gloopy mess because it is already delicate. You also do not need to massage a kale salad that is going to be dressed ahead of time and chilled. Anything that is acidic in the dressing like vinegar, lemon, lime or other citrus juice will break down the cellulose in the leaves and do the tenderizing for you as the salad sits in the fridge.
Big, leafy kale is the best to massage. It first needs to be stemmed (save the stems for stock if desired). Then tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. You can massage the kale along with some of the dressing if you wish or you can massage it plain and add the dressing after you have tenderized it with your loving fingers. I do either one–for no particular reason.
Massaging the kale is also said to take out some of the bitterness. Personally, I don’t mind the kale being somewhat bitter, because I like to balance the bitterness with sweet, sour and salty ingredients (including the dressing) to try to hit the four most common taste sensations.
Here is a great version of a Massaged Kale Salad that utilizes some of the wonderful tastes of a Wisconsin fall.
Massaged Kale Salad with Fresh Apples and Honey
1 bunch hearty, large-leaf kale
½ teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup chopped apples
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Method: Wash the kale well. Pull the leaves off the stems and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Place the kale in a bowl and add the salt. Massage the kale for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add the oil, cider vinegar and honey to the bowl. Mix well with the massaged kale and add the apples. Season with ground pepper. Serve or refrigerate and serve. This will keep well for several days.