Now that winter seems to FINALLY be behind us, I got around to planting my spring garden this week. I planted all sorts of goodies: English peas, sugar snap peas, green beans, RAMPS, chard, kale, butter lettuce, arugula, mesclun mix, Romanesco cauliflower, broccoli rabe, strawberries, and a whole mess of herbs. Yay! I’m super stoked to be growing again.
I got interested in gardening several years ago when Chaser and I bought our first house in Atlantic City and we had a little plot of land out back. I approached gardening the same way I’ve always approached cooking: by researching as much as I can and then experimenting. It’s a lot of trial and error. Mostly error. But that’s how I learn, and I have fun with it.
Keeping a vegetable garden is deeply soul satisfying. Planting a seed into the earth and watching it transform into a beautiful, edible plant is pure magic. When you harvest food you’ve grown yourself, you feel a deep rooted (pun intended) connection to it, to the earth, and to nature. Ok, I know this sounds like a lot of new agey hippy dippy stuff, but its true! The bottom line? Gardening is a super fun and beneficial pastime. Even if it’s just a pot of basil in a sunny window- Grow something. I think you just might like it.
Lucky for me, I got away from the east coast for a good portion of the winter this year. Had I been home the whole time, I’m not sure I would have survived the so-called “polar vortex” that swept the nation. I don’t take well to the cold, and especially not the extreme cold. But to my surprise, when I went back into my garden earlier this week, the entire crop of kale I planted last fall was still alive and well. Now that’s one bad ass vegetable- surviving a polar vortex and all. But it was going to seed and I had new stuff to plant, so it was time to start harvesting.
Now its a good thing we eat a lot of kale in this house – in chips and smoothies and lots of kale salads – because there was a ton of it to harvest. I’m always coming up with new flavor combinations to use in salads, often just working with whatever I have on hand. I had some chorizo laying around from a recent dinner party, so I started playing with a few Spanish flavors and came up with this combo. It’s a winner, ya’ll.
This isn’t a wimpy salad to eat before your entree. This is a big, hearty salad loaded with lots of stuff to keep you satiated and satisfied. Its got bulk from the roasted fingerlings, a salty, smokey punch from the chorizo, creamy, nutty manchego, tang from the roasted tomatoes, crunch from the hazelnuts, and that earthy, sweet kale. I mean really, what more could you want in a salad?
Anyone who’s ever grown their own food will tell you that it always tastes better when you’ve grown it yourself. And it really is true. Just like anything in life, when you put in the care and effort, it makes you appreciate it that much more. Now don’t worry, this salad will taste just fine with kale from the grocery store. But if reading this has inspired you to give gardening a try, start with kale. Its one of the easiest crops to grow. And maybe it will even survive the next polar vortex. But here’s to hoping that never happens again, and on to warmer, sunnier thoughts. Happy Spring, my friends.
Spanish Kale Salad
When kale came rushing on to the food scene a few years ago, I was a pretty big skeptic. I’m all for eating healthy, but its got to taste good first and foremost. To me, kale had always been a hearty, unpalatable leaf saved for garnishing fruit platters at banquets. It had no place at my table. But everywhere I looked, I kept getting beat over the head with it. So finally I gave in to the trend and started messing around with some different applications. For having such a tough texture, its actually remarkably mild in flavor and slightly sweet, which is why it’s the perfect leaf to hide away in a green smoothie. But salads were still a little hard to get used to. That is, until I learned about massaging the leaves first. That’s right. Massage your kale, and you too will become a believer. Read on to learn more.
Crispy garlic and sherry vinaigrette:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
1 small or ½ large shallot, minced
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon pepper
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in the sliced garlic and fry until golden and crisp, stirring constantly, about 1-2 minutes. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper towel and season with salt. Whisk together the shallot, vinegar, honey, salt a pepper. Once the oil has cooled, pour it in slowly, whisking constantly, until emulsified. Store in a mason jar or other air tight container, and shake before using. *Recipe makes more than you will need for the salad.
6 fingerling potatoes, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch kale, washed, dried and tough stems removed (reserve for juicing, if you’re into that)
2 oz Spanish chorizo (the cured, salami-like variety from Spain, not the fresh sausage used in Mexico and Latin America), sliced very thin
2 oz Manchego cheese, sliced into thin pieces
2 tablespoons hazelnuts or almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
¼ cup oven roasted tomatoes (click here to see how I make them) OR sun dried tomatoes, (if using sun dried tomatoes, cut into strips)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, then spread out in an even layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast the potatoes for about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. About half way through cooking time, give them a little toss to make sure they raost evenly.
For the kale: Gather the leaves into a bunch as tight you can, and slice into thin ribbons. This is called a chiffonade, and it vastly improves the texture of a kale salad. Place the shredded kale into a bowl, drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Then use your hands to get in there and squeeze, rub, and massage the leaves. This helps to break down the fibers, making the kale softer in texture, more palatable, and easier to digest.
Toss the massaged kale with 3 tablespoons of the dressing to coat. Spread the kale out on a plate or bowl, then arrange the roasted potatoes, chorizo, Manchego cheese, hazelnuts, and tomatoes over the top. Drizzle with a little more dressing if desired, and sprinkle with the crispy garlic.