The title above is a misnomer. As anyone who has eaten raw, unadulterated kale knows, it is not unpalatable. It only looks that way. Intimidatingly curly, tough, bitter—or all three at the same time. But when you taste it, you realize the rugged tangle of green leaves that is kale is not half bad even in its virginal state. But once you do a little doctoring, a wee bit of manipulation, kale can easily be transformed into a delightful rich salad vegetable, like a darker, more ethnic cousin to cabbage.
So how do you do the kale legerdemain? How does one massage kale anyway? Sounds slightly kinky. But it isn’t complicated. There are simply a few rules of raw kale to know. And with those rules, you can be as free as you want in whipping up raw kale salads in many variations that are gobbled down with great relish by even the non-crunchy crowd. And don’t forget one of the big reasons for kale’s burgeoning popularity—turns out it is one of the powerhouses of antioxidants and nutrients that grows in the garden. Now making it delicious too is your new super-power.
Lose the Stems. Kale leaves aren’t so tough—they are easily subdued. But the stems are bad boys, through and through. Get rid of those right away, by ripping, slicing—any way you like. Compost 'em, fearlessly.
Cut leaves into small, easy-to-eat pieces. Like cabbage, which is similar in toughness, kale has a hearty tooth resistance. Cut it into small slivers, though, and like cabbage, it submits to your will. Unlike more tender salad greens, you cannot simply tear and toss and expect good results. Do your diners’ teeth a favor and make kale pieces easy to bite. If the pieces are the size of your mouth, you will find them hard to chew. Let your sharp kitchen knife do the dirty work ahead of time. You don’t have to mince— smallish pieces are good enough.
Marinate ahead of time. Again, unlike salad greens, kale is tougher and actually gets better when doused with salad dressing ahead of time (cabbage does too!). It even tastes great the day after marinating--really! Any combination of oil-acid-salt will work (you probably want to stay away from creamy dressings because kale will turn them green). Be sure to dress your kale at least 20 minutes or more before serving. This softens and lets the leaves be saturated with flavor. It’s lovely—trust me on this. And I don’t mean soaking chopped kale in a bucket of liquid. I mean splashed with dressing, tossed to coat, and left to sit.
Sweeten and go. Because there can be a slight—and I do mean slight—undercurrent of bitterness to kale, you can banish it once and for all with a bit of honey, or sugar, or you-get-the-idea. Just a little is all you need.
Get your hands dirty. After you have done the steps above, dig your hands into your bowl of chopped, marinated, and sweetened kale and stir things up. You do not have to massage it per se. You can simply toss and push and cajole and squeeze occasionally. Do this hand-tossing thing for a couple of minutes without trying too hard and you are finished.
That’s all there is to it. Massaged kale salads are going for double-digits in chichi restaurants all across the country. Congratulations! You have just transformed $2.50 cents worth of grocery store kale (or, my husband says, clipping it from the backyard garden--nada!) into the same thing. Without the fancy name, of course.