Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
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Man oh man do I love kale. For a long time I went thinking only of it as a braised vegetable side dish, or perhaps something to add to your soup for a bit of color and flavor. Then a (vegetarian) friend of mine introduced me to marinated kale salads and my world was rocked. At least, as much as a leafy green can rock one's world.
Here's how it works.
Take your raw kale, dress it with a standard vinaigrette, let it sit overnight in the fridge, and boom—what was once a tough, leafy green is now tender and crisp. The greatest part about it is that after marinating, the salad will last for days and days without losing its crispness.
It's not like preparing a salad is a time-consuming chore (especially not if you do what I do and keep a squeeze bottle of dressing in the fridge at all times), but you've still got to dirty a bowl up to toss it. With marinated kale, you don't even have to take that step. It's good to go straight from the fridge.
You might assume that it's the acid in the dressing that's causing the leaves to break down and tenderize, but as I discovered a while back when I took a closer look at vinaigrettes, it's in fact the oil that causes the leaves to break down.
Leaves naturally have a waxy coating on their top surface designed to allow rain water to slick off of them—without this coating, leaves would absorb water every time it rained causing them to fall off under their own weight or break tree branches. Since most culinary acids (lemon juice, vinegar, verjus and the like) are mostly water, they're not particularly good at clinging to leafy greens. Oil, on the other hand, penetrates the waxy coating quite easily.
A good way to speed up the marination process is to toss the kale with olive oil alone, adding the acid only after it's already wilted (this takes about an hour). Combined with some sort of bean—in this case chickpeas, but any bean would work just as well—and topped with some sumac-marinated onions (or just plain onions if you like), the salad makes for a hearty side dish or a light lunch.
Combining the exact same ingredients in a completely different way, a messy sandwich of braised kale and chickpeas topped with sumac onions is a hearty, filling, and delicious combo. I first tasted braised kale as a sandwich ingredient at Cutty's in Brookline, MA, where they serve a great greens and shallot sandwich with saffron mayo. The juiciness of the filling reminded me of doubles, the Trinidadian chickpea sandwich served on fried bread.
SE overlord Ed always claims that any sandwich can be improved by using pizza bianca as its bread. I'm not sure he's always right, but in this case I'm inclined to agree.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.