There are leafy greens aplenty at the farmers’ markets these days. It’s a little surprising — I’ve always thought of kale, collards, and the like as cool weather crops, and cook them accordingly (that is, low and slow, with lots of bacon). I suppose the unusually comfortable July we in the northeast enjoyed this year has something to do with the extended harvest. Thanks, July!
Of course, now it’s August, and it’s swelteringly hot and humid, and — much as I love bacon — I am not in the mood to braise anything. My mom made a raw kale slaw with carrots and peanuts recently (from the July issue of Martha Stewart Living, I believe) and raved about it (high praise indeed since, like daughter, Mom also likes a little kale with her bacon). It did sound interesting, so I figured I’d try a nut-free version with the enormous bundle of curly kale I’d bought just before the weather turned on me.
Thank goodness for the heat wave, because the salad is a delicious discovery! The key to working with raw kale is to slice or chop it as finely as possible, so it’s not tough to chew, and dress it with enough fat and acid (sunflower seeds and lemon juice work nicely) to balance its natural bitterness. I used raw sunflower seeds, toasted in a skillet, rather than the roasted, salted variety because the latter is invariably roasted in peanut oil. If nuts are not an issue in your family, you could substitute roasted seeds for raw and skip the toasting step; the dressing will not need added salt and may not need as much oil.
Kale slaw with toasted sunflower seed dressing
Yield: Makes about 3 quarts
1/2 c. raw sunflower seeds
Scant 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3 tbsp.)
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 hefty bunch kale
1/2 small head red cabbage
Fine sea salt
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
Toast sunflower seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, tossing or stirring occasionally until they start to color, then often until they are nicely browned and fragrant. Be patient: it may take up to 10 minutes to turn the greyish, bland seeds crunchy, nutty, and brown. Transfer toasted seeds to a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
Combine toasted seeds, oil, lemon juice, honey, water, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Add a bit more water if dressing is too thick.
Wash kale and pat dry. Remove ribs from leaves and discard. Stack leaves on a large cutting board and, using a large, sharp knife, cut into the thinnest strips possible. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Core cabbage and cut into four wedges. Thinly slice each wedge, crosswise. Add to mixing bowl.
Sprinkle kale and cabbage lightly with salt. Using your hands, work salt into vegetables. The kale will soften, release a bit of water, and reduce in volume. Toss with diced red pepper and dressing. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Kale slaw will last a few days in the fridge, though I like it best the day it’s made. Serve at room temperature or chilled (but not cold).
For fall, I think a diced apple or two and a handful of currants in place of the red pepper would be lovely.