As was Saturday’s post, this recipe is a 100% scratchin’ original, but it was inspired by the same restaurant where we ate dinner last week. Now, we don’t want you to think that this brand-new restaurant had great food — the food was okay, and some of it could have been a lot better with just a bit more effort; in that respect this particular place was like almost every other restaurant — but it has just opened and we think that they deserve a proper chance to work out any problems and get the kitchen up to speed. Since we’ll talk a bit about what we didn’t like with their version of a kale salad, it wouldn’t be fair to let you know where we ate dinner.After all, this is probably only the second kale salad that we’ve made, and there are probably things that you’d change, too.
We ordered several dishes for dinner. Everything is served “tapas style,” which is code for “we don’t really want to coordinate the timing of the dishes ordered because it’s difficult, so we’ll just send stuff out as it’s ready.” Sure, you get your food as soon as it’s available, but, for a larger group, it can be pretty uncomfortable starting to eat while others wait for their food. We didn’t mind the tapas style that night, since we were sharing everything anyway, but we really don’t care for it (we also do not like the trend for fast-casual restaurants, so don’t get us started).
Anyway, one of the items we ordered was a kale and quinoa salad. It was good, probably the highlight of dinner, but it could have, and should have been, better. The biggest issue was that it was very onion-y, which, with an extra five-minutes work, could have been corrected. We’ll show you how.
Yes, we know, we didn’t use quinoa; we didn’t have any, so we used wild rice. We think that any sturdy grain will work very well in this salad: wild rice, quinoa, brown rice, barley, bulgur, etc. It’ll all be good. Note the use of the quick-pickled shiitake mushrooms; using other quick-pickled mushrooms will work, too. The most important thing to remember is to save the liquid used to re-hydrate and pickle the mushrooms, because that’s the salad dressing. In this salad, the olive oil is adding flavor, so use an extra-virgin olive oil — they have flavor. Taste different olive oils; just take a sip, straight, until you find one you like.
Procedure in detail:
Cook wild rice. Place the wild rice in a medium saucepan and cover with about an inch of water. The amount of water isn’t critical, because we’ll be draining the rice later. Just make sure that you have enough that it won’t all simmer away, leaving you with burned rice. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the rice and water, set the pan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about 45 to 60 minutes. If you’re using a different grain, you’ll need to adjust this appropriately.
Drain. Once the rice is cooked, drain off any excess liquid, and let the rice cool to room temperature.
Massage kale. Kale is tough, but one way to make it more palatable is to massage it. Place the kale shreds in a large bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt. Use your hands and start rubbing the salt into the kale. The sharp granules will cut into the kale and the pressure will bruise it slightly, both of which act as a tenderizer. Keep massaging until the kale seems moderately tender, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Soak onion. This is the secret for making onions that don’t taste so sharp and onion-y. Follow these instructions, and you’ll have all the good flavors of onion, without the harsh flavor. To prove to yourself that this technique makes a real difference, taste a piece of your onion. Not so tasty, right? Place those diced onions in a small bowl of cold water and swish them around. Now, let the onions soak for about 5 minutes. Pull one out of the water and give it a taste. Better, right? Drain the onions. See, five minutes work, well, not really work, and your salad will taste better. It’s worth it.
Reduce liquid. When you made the quick-pickled mushrooms, you did reserve the liquid, right? Good. If needed, strain it through a coffee filter to remove any small pieces of grit, and then pour it into a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, shaking the pan periodically until reduced by about half and the liquid is slightly syrupy. It’ll thicken more as it cools. Once thickened, remove from heat and let cool.
Combine. Add the rice, mushrooms, onions, and reduced liquid to the kale. Give everything a good toss, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss again.
Taste and season. Give your salad a taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Chill. Cover and place the salad in the refrigerator so everything can chill and the flavors can meld, about 2 hours.
Top with walnuts. Right before serving, chop about a quarter-cup of walnuts for a garnish. If people will be serving the salad themselves, just put them on the salad; otherwise, garnish each individual portion as you serve.
We like this salad, but we’ll tell you — since you won’t tell anyone, of course, that the version we made was slightly different. We modified it slightly as we tasted and ate, making it better. Those changes are reflected above and in the recipe for the quick-pickled mushrooms. Once those changes are incorporated, we think that this is a really good salad and a great way to eat kale (which can be a difficult vegetable to use in an interesting way). It’s pretty easy, so four stars. Oh, and don’t forget to use the tip about the onions in other places, too.