Monday 5 November 2012

The Perfect Autumn Salad

If you're no stranger to my blog then you know that I'm a big fan of healthy salads and taking advantage of fresh ingredients when they're at their peak season. In October I covered some of the many uses of squash/gourds and kale which are available in abundance now, everywhere in Southern Ontario where I live.  I only lightly touched on the concept of massaging kale for salads. I wanted to get into that a little deeper with you because it's a fantastic way to enjoy all of the nutritious gifts that raw kale has to offer, and in a way that is delicious. Personally, I find that this an extraordinarily healthy dish that makes you forget just how healthy it is. So I present to you, my massaged kale salad with roasted butternut squash, dried cranberries, dried apricots, fresh persimmon, crushed pecans and hemp seeds.

Take a bunch of kale and tear the dark, leafy green from the stalks. I don't have much use for the stalks so they usually end up discarded in my green bin (compost), but if you have a juicer that's a great way to use everything up. When you have your kale leaves, you can either tear them up for a rustic look (like I did here) or for a more refined salad you could slice them into strips. Place the kale into a large bowl and sprinkle with a little salt and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (if you like, fresh lemon juice can also be added). Then, for about two minutes, massage all of the kale with bare, clean hands. When you're done the kale will have reduced in size and be much softer.

So what's the point of massaging kale? Aside from making the texture more palatable, it does help to release the bit of bitterness that kale has while awakening all of the good flavours that it holds. The kale reacts by wilting a bit, but it does so in a way that requires no heat so none of the health benefits are compromised. After massaging the kale, you may see a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Discard that liquid as that's where the bitterness that left the kale ends up. 

Once you've done that, then you're left with endless possibilities of what you can add. Be creative! This salad is so good for you that you can afford to add salty cheese, crispy bacon or anything else your indulgent heart desires. For this particular example, I had some butternut squash that I had prepared prior to use for this. I peeled and diced a butternut squash, tossed it with some olive oil and a pinch of salt. Then bake in the oven at 400°F/205°C for 45 minutes to an hour. This particular squash roasts so nicely because its flavour gets sweet and nutty. Once it was out of the oven and cooled I put the roasted butternut squash cubes in the fridge. If you're doing this all at once, just add the squash to the kale once its cooled down to room temperature. I peeled and diced a Hachiya persimmon and added that to the mix. Then there was nothing more to it than dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, crushed pecans and hemp seeds.

Let's talk about hemp seeds for a moment. Hemp has had hundreds of uses for centuries. It's been used to make ropes, clothes, fuel, oil, moisturizer, milk substitute, animal feed, various medicines, paper, composite material, jewelry and yes... there are varieties of hemp that can be smoked for recreational purposes. That kind of hemp (referred to as cannabis) contains a potent, natural ingredient called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the element that produces the euphoric high in humans that hemp is both famous and infamous for, depending on who you talk to. Hulled, edible hemp seeds that you get at the market contain no THC whatsoever. You have my word on that. So whether that's a relief or a disappointment to you, rest assured that hemp seeds will provide the following: all 20 amino acids, fatty acids (the good kind), omega 3s, vitamin E and it's one of the densest sources of animal-based protein known to man. Hemp seeds are sensationally good for you, and get this, they have a mild buttery flavour. A perfectly sustainable ingredient with an extensive resumé of health benefits that tastes like melted, unsalted butter. You're welcome. Of course hemp seeds are optional, but they do work wonderfully in salads and this salad is no exception.

As I mentioned, there are countless ingredients you can add to a massaged kale salad. Please give this a try. Your body and bank account won't only thank you, but anybody else you make one of these bad boys for. 

Be happy, and you guess it, stay fed!

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