January 05, 2008
Like Bacon for Vegetarians
posted by Nadia

People often say that bacon is the single food most likely to cause vegetarians to fall off the wagon. Sure, I know some people who have slipped for curried chicken salad, and others for mom's meatballs. But bacon is the evil temptress of meat products, the Angelina Jolie of straight women's fantasies. Don't believe me? See the Jews For Bacon website, and a recent Chowhound post which begins, "Iím vegetarian, except I like to eat bacon."

Dear readers, I am thrilled to be writing this post about something miraculous -- a dish that will have even committed meat-eaters thinking seriously about going meat-free. Or at least thinking about switching to an all-kale diet. Behold the New York Times' Raw Lacinato Kale Salad, which is likely to do to carnivores what bacon does to vegetarians. Since the recipe was printed in October of 2007, Carl and I have probably made it at least once a week, sometimes twice. We served it to my skeptical brother and sister-in-law, who are now converts. We eat this stuff religiously. I've made a few modifications to the recipe, below, but at this point I've made the dish so many times that the recipe is irrelevant. I could do it in my sleep. Whether you're a vegetarian, omnivore, or pizzatarian, I insist you try this recipe. You will love it. And if you don't, please file a complaint (in triplicate, of course) with What We Ate, and the authors will be sure to scoff at you in their next post.

Raw Lacinato Kale Salad
(adapted from The New York Times)

1 bunch lacinato kale
1/2 - 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small-to-medium sized clove of garlic
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
1-2 lemons
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

A note on lacinato kale: It is also known as black, Tuscan, or dinosaur kale, and differs from regular kale in that it is narrower and has crenulated dark leaves. In the fall, you can find it at the farmer's market, but Whole Foods usually sells it year-round. (Note: Do not use another kind of kale for this recipe -- only lacinato kale is tender enough to work in this recipe.)
Because of its texture, lacinato kale is tough to wash. The easiest method I've found is to chop the kale first per the recipe, then rinse in at least two changes of water in your salad spinner before drying.

1. Line up your kale leaves into a bundle (you may need to do this in two batches) and cut the whole package, including stems, into a not-quite-chiffonade (I like shreds about a half-inch wide or less) down to an inch or so from the base of the stems. Wash and dry as describe above.

2. Toast your panko with some olive oil in a pan until golden and crisp. Set aside.

3. Using a mortar and pestle, pound garlic, about 1/2 Tb. of kosher salt, and the red pepper flakes into a paste. Transfer this mixture to your salad serving bowl, and add the pecorino cheese, plenty of fresh ground pepper, and more salt if you like. Squeeze at least one lemon into the bowl and whisk to combine. [Note: I am a lemon fiend, so I usually use the juice of two lemons -- but you need at least enough lemon juice to smooth out the cheese and garlic paste into a loose, mayonnaisey consistency). Whisk in olive oil (at least 1/4 cup) to taste until emulsified.

4. Drop your kale shreds into the bowl and toss very thoroughly (the dressing will be thick). Let the salad sit for five minutes, then serve topped with plenty of panko, and more pepper.

Unlike most salads, this one doesn't wilt into an embarrassing green pile if you leave leftovers in the fridge overnight. But I doubt you will have leftovers. If making this recipe in advance, you can shred the kale and make the dressing a day ahead of time, and just store them separately (kale in a ziploc) in the fridge overnight.

The original Times recipe says this yields 2 to 4 servings, which may be right depending on how greedy you are. If you are serving this to polite guests in individual salad bowls, four servings seems perfectly reasonable. But Carl and I routinely polish off a single batch for dinner, and would probably growl and bare our teeth at anyone who tried to sneak some off our plates.