Kale & Orange Salad with Smoked Almonds.
A riff on the best kale salad I've ever had which you can use as a template to make a delicious kale salad every time!
This month here on ingredient we’re focusing on curly kale: one of my favourite colder weather brassicas whose shape is perfect for collecting flavours and sauces, but which I think is often overlooked by fancier greens such as Cavelo Nero, frilly Savoy cabbages and the vibrance of those last few bunches of rainbow chard.
You can already find the recipe for my super customisable, make-ahead friendly White Bean, Bacon & Kale Soup here, and my recipe for a delicious and weeknight friendly pan of Lemony Kale Chicken with Good Sourdough & Dressed Beetroot here. Do upgrade your subscription to unlock every recipe in the ingredient archive, and of course to help fund the free part of what I post here! No creative likes asking for money, but without it ingredient can’t function.
The best kale salad I’ve ever had was in Venice Beach. Lemonade is a chain of Southern California-style healthy food cafeterias who serve, amongst other things lots of delicious flavoured lemonades (guava is my favourite), some of the best slow cooked beef brisket I’ve ever tasted and a rather good, super crunchy and sesame-heavy snap pea salad.
When I was staying in an AirBnb a block away from the Venice Canals writing my first book proposal in the coffee shop at the back of the Toms store on Abbot Kinney every day and trying to figure out if I really wanted a career in politics when I flew back to England (and as almost a decade later I work in food, not Westminster, at the time making the wrong decision!) quite a few evenings I’d grab that brisket, that guava lemonade and a different rotation of salads to take back to the apartment in time to watch it in front of Jeopardy! (R.I.P Alex Trebek) If you’re not American or did not spend at least some of your education at an American institution and therefore don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, it is now on Netflix - though the cliff notes version is that it is a bit like Who Wants To be A Millionaire but with no multiple choice and a unique formula for answering the questions. At the time of my attendance, UCLA as a school was big on watching Jeopardy! not only because there was a rockstar professor in the Classics department who lasted weeks on the show before being eliminated, but also as a teaching aid. I will never forget my confusion where we played a ‘Jeopardy!’ themed Shakespeare pop quiz and as of yet had no idea why everyone was answering the questions in such a weird way..!
Anyway, I’ve gone off topic. Back to the kale salad.
That kale salad - which I ordered one night on a whim then every other night it was available - was something else. I know the idea of a ‘kale salad’ usually conjures up visions of members of the ultra clean eating brigade circa 2010 attempting to chow down on big, vegetal, tough bowlfuls of ‘kale salad’ whilst trying to contain their grimace as they promise that no, I do actually like how this tastes, promise! And I know I’ve not done much to dispel this image setting my story today in 2015 Los Angeles. But here’s the thing about kale: you need to massage it. Break way those tough stems, rub it through your fingers as you would butter into flour making pastry until it turns dark, soft and damp, and then you’ve got something that is actually pleasant to chew, has an enjoyably grassy rather than vegetal flavour, and which holds up to dressings in a way we simply wish it’s lettuce cousins would emulate.
Back to the corner of Abbot Kinney and Venice Boulevard where my most frequented branch of Lemonade can be found.
Lemonade’s kale salad was pure Southern California, a cuisine I hope current residents will forgive me for describing with the authority of a former denizen to be very much focused on fresh, farmers market produce with the added inflection of Mexican and Asian flavours. It was those Asian flavour profiles that came to life in that salad with a soy-sesame based dressing, paired with plenty of juicy orange segments, and the unusually, but in this context totally excellent addition of very thinly sliced raw mushrooms to add another foil to the punchy dressing. Not only did it taste amazing, but it still tasted freshly made by the time it had walked 20 minutes in a takeout container and been plated up alongside my beloved brisket. Not something that can be said for what must be one of Lemonade’s most popular market salads, the cherry tomato, avocado and pine nut combo.
The only problem I had with that kale salad? Unlike the brisket (pg 110) it does not feature in The Lemonade Cookbook: Southern California Comfort Food from L.A.’s Favorite Modern Cafeteria (out of print, never digitised but thankfully still available on the second hand market - and yes this an affiliate link because I’ve done the legwork for you!) So I had to recreate it on my own.
You can spy the resultant California Kale, Orange, Almond & Mushroom Salad (pg 112) on the bottom of One Pan Pescatarian’s cover. It’s as close as I could get to the Lemonade original, but with the lovely addition of flaked and toasted Californian almonds for added crunch.
And today’s kale salad? Today’s kale salad is a riff on that one, keeping the kale and oranges, switching out the flaked almonds for smoked ones because they’re something I’m obsessed with at the moment and they add yet another layer of texture and flavour, removing the mushrooms to make things more versatile, and most importantly, switching out the dressing for something a bit more subtle so that you can make this salad with any salad-friendly fruit (think pomegranate seeds, or blood oranges once they come in season), any nut, and with any type or flavour of vinegar in the dressing. It’s a kale salad to make your own.
Kale & Orange Salad with Smoked Almonds
Serves: 1-2, Preparation time: 15 minutes
This recipe makes enough to serve two generously as a side dish, or up to four people as part of a larger spread, though, to be honest I was enjoying it so much and distracted by Ed Smith’s 2023 review of cookbooks I had open on the screen in front of me this lunchtime, I ate the whole thing in one sitting. It can easily be scaled up though and can sit around for a few hours before serving, but do massage the kale in two batches if doubling as that much kale will probably not fit in your largest mixing bowl all at the same time pre-prep!