massaged kale

If you subscribe to food or lifestyle magazines, or even if you glance at magazine covers from the grocery store checkout line, you know there is a tried-and-true pattern. January ushers in austerity—juice fasts, diets, and low-fat vegetable drivel. Where did all the prime rib and truffles of December go?

As a January baby, I protest. It’s depressing that my birth month is associated with kale smoothies and broken resolutions. At the same time, the recipe I’m about to share would seem to align with January’s stereotypes. But I assure you the salad pictured in these photos is savory and satisfying—and a touch silly, as you get to play with your food. And frankly, I had planned to share this dish in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but life with a baby… you know how it goes.

massaged kale and a fork

The past week was my first week back at work and my son’s first at daycare. Heck, Monday was the first time we’d spent more than four hours apart. The first couple days were a tumultuous transition, but by the end of the week I was reminded that discipline has its place. Daycare has accomplished in three days what I had failed to do in four months: Noah is on a schedule. The fact I’m typing this at 8 p.m. and not 11 p.m. is a minor miracle.

I say this only as a gentle nudge. Sometimes the things that are supposed to be good for us really are what’s best for us. It’s nice when they taste good, too.

My sister-in-law, who is a natural foods chef, whipped up a batch of this salad three years ago when I shadowed her as she cooked for her clients. I’d been hankering for the recipe ever since. You’ll be astonished by how much the greens shrink, so go crazy. Buy more kale than you think you can possibly eat. You might surprise yourself. Two bunches is roughly 6 cups, and I’d recommend doubling that quantity. It’s the rare salad that improves with time (within reason), so if you’re going to the trouble of making it, you might as well make a big batch.

washing kale in the sink

kale salad

bunches of kale

The original recipe called for 2 to 3 teaspoons of ginger, much more than you’ll see called for here—I have dialed it back significantly—and I often skip adding the herbs. Otherwise this recipe stands very close to the original by Renée Loux. If you are unable to find umeboshi plum vinegar, try a squeeze or lime or lemon juice. I’d recommend using rainbow Swiss chard or dino kale (also called lacinato kale), but anything goes. I even threw in the dregs of one of those pre-washed bags of salad greens once.

massaged kale

Massaged Greens

Recipe adapted from Renée Loux, The Balanced Plate

6 cups finely chopped greens, such as kale, spinach, chard, or a mixture (see note)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon umeboshi plum vinegar and/or lemon juice

2 teaspoons shoyu (soy sauce)

1 teaspoon agave nectar or maple syrup

2 green onions, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

Sea salt

1½ cups or more chopped herbs, such as basil or parsley

A few pinches of fresh oregano, thyme, or marjoram (optional)

Yield: 4 servings (I’d say closer to 2 servings)

Toss the greens with the olive oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice, shoyu, agave or maple syrup, green onions, garlic, and ginger. Taste and season with salt if desired. Use freshly cleaned hands to massage with love. Pay attention to the tougher parts. Allow to stand and marinate, rubbing now and again for an hour or two. Toss in the herbs and allow to stand for 10 minutes to absorb flavor before serving.

Note: Tough stems may be included or removed as desired. They have good fiber but are not as delectable to chew. The more finely you chop the greens, the more quickly they will soften in the marinade.

half-eaten massaged kale