Kale and Chickpea Salad (That Actually Tastes Good)
I thought that we had turned the corner on kale in our house, but I was wrong. After spending several years trying to convince Mike (and myself, for that matter) that we were “a Kale Loving Couple”, I was almost ready to admit defeat and just buy spinach instead. Because, you see, I had learned to tolerate kale, but I was still a far spell away from loving it. The thing is, I figured that it was just mind over matter in this case. If I truly believed that I loved kale, I would eventually love kale.
Except that I totally didn’t love kale.
I had found ways to make kale palatable by hiding it in pasta or grain dishes. I had even found ways to make it delicious on it’s own by wilting it down with pancetta, pine nuts and raisins, but I still didn’t love kale, in and of itself. That’s when it occurred to me that I no longer had a phobia for kale, exactly, but rather raw kale, that tough and bitter scourge of the vegan rice bowl.
You know what? I was okay with that. Sure, my relationship with kale was conditional, but eating within those parameters we were still able to enjoy this leafy nutrient powerhouse at least once or sometimes twice a week. At last, Mike and I had graduated into the realm of “a Kale LIKING Couple”. That seemed like enough of a win. That is, until my sister-in-law introduced me to her now infamous and celebrated kale and chickpea salad. The kale was both raw and revelatory; I loved it. Raw kale, and I loved it.
You see, something very special happens when you dress kale well with a slightly acid dressing and then massage it into the leaves. Lovingly. Tenderly. Like someone who loves kale would do. The leaves soften almost immediately and become supple and flexible. In the mouth, the texture is more similar to a raw curly parsley than the hardy and crunchy raw kale that I had grown accustomed to (hating).
At first, I tried her salad to be polite. Then, I went back for a second helping. I took leftovers home and ate them greedily for lunch the next day at work. Yes, greedily.
I don’t know where my SIL got her original recipe from, but this is my adaptation. She has finished the salad with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese in the past, but I prefer the creamy texture and salty tang of a good quality feta. Other than that, this is pretty close to the one that she makes and which I covet. The salad is simple and quick to put together with flavours that are classic in a kale dish; olive oil, lemon, and plenty of garlic. With nutty chickpeas and salty cheese, this is a side salad that quickly subs in as a light and healthy meal in a pinch.
Also, raw kale, and it tastes delicious. Did I mention that? Because I’m still rather startled by this revelation, and I feel like the whole world should know. Finally, it IS possible.
Kale and Chickpea Salad
serves ~ 6-8 as a side dish but leftovers keep well for days
- 2 bunches curly kale
- 1 very large (2 small) cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 fat lemon (juice of whole; 1 tsp lemon zest)
- 1 large can (28 oz) chickpeas
- 100 g (~2/3 cup) feta cheese *
- salt, to taste
* For a vegan option you could omit the feta cheese, or use a vegan feta substitute.
Strip the leaves from the kale and discard the tough stems. I find that the fastest way to do this is just to grasp the stalk firmly in a fist and pull upward, stripping it; the leaves will naturally separate from the stem.
Wash the kale leaves thoroughly to remove all grit and grime from the leaves. Spin dry to remove any excess moisture and then roughly chop into smallish bite sized pieces.
Grate or press the garlic (mash if you prefer) and add one teaspoon of lemon zest. Squeeze in the juice of the full lemon (there should be about 3 tablespoons of juice) and add the olive oil. Season generously with salt and whisk to combine the dressing.
A quick note here on the word “generously”: I mean it. Kale loves salt. Kale craves salt. Kale cries out for salt in it’s sleep. Chickpeas echo the sentiment. Don’t believe that the slight smattering of feta in here will be enough to adjust for under-seasoning the kale, because it won’t. Be brave, because I speak from unfortunate experience when I say that a light hand with the salt will give you a salad that’s, well, kinda ho-hum and boring. Seasoned correctly, it is almost suspiciously delicious.
Drizzle the dressing over the kale and start to massage it into the leaves.
Unlike a delicate mesclun mix that you barely want to toss lest it bruises, kale likes a firm touch. Rub the dressing into the leaves brusquely and thoroughly. Watch the kale go from dusty looking and coarse to glossy and supple. It will also lose about 50% of the volume. This is the kale right after drizzling the dressing….
….and this is the same kale after a brief 2 minute massage.
Rinse and drain the can of chickpeas. Crumble the feta, and mix the chickpeas and feta into the kale salad.
The beauty of this salad is that it is both delicious and robust. You can serve it immediately or let the salad marinate in your fridge for up to 3 days. It can be eaten cold or at room temperature and you won’t need to worry about a pool of dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
Because it can be made in advance and holds up so well, this salad is perfect for an outdoor BBQ or potluck with friends. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I make it all the time.
Raw kale and it actually tastes good. Who would’ve thought?
UPDATE: The original recipe for my sister-in-law’s salad is here! It seems that its really more of a (delicious) chickpea salad with kale than a kale salad with chickpeas. I guess that was the gateway that I needed! Over time, looks like I have unconsciously upped the kale quotient by about ten-fold. It’s that good.