Although I had my first raw kale salad years ago in the form of a kale Caesar at a restaurant in Berkeley, it’s taken me until this now to make it myself. Raw kale salads haven’t appealed to me as much as they have to others for the sole reason that most of the kale sold has had tough, super curly leaves. Salads made from that kind of kale are like chewing on a wet Brillo pads. I know that raw kale is a super good-for-you food but how much of it can I really eat to be ‘healthy’? Not much. Kale, I thought, was best boiled, simmered, or sauteed. Well, until now.
We’ve been making an Asian style kale and seaweed salad once a week for a couple of months. The switch happened when I noticed that our farmer’s markets were loaded with kale whose leaves were soft, ruffly (not curly) and practically velvet-feeling. Local farmers were selling 2 bunches of organic kale for $3 and of course, I had to strike. The vendor I queried didn’t know what variety it was but vouched for the leaves as being extra suitable for raw kale salads. So I gave it a whirl.
The idea behind a kale salad is nothing new to Asian kitchens where salads and pickles often require that you massage or toss vegetables with salt and/or acid to soften their texture and force them to release some of their liquid. If you’ve made the Viet daikon and carrot pickle for banh mi or green papaya and beef jerky salad, you’ve gone through the same steps. It’s a similar thing with Japanese and Chinese-style cucumber salads.
For this kale salad, I take a slightly Japanese turn and add seaweed for cooling texture and taste, as well as cucumber for crunch and translucency. The result is refreshing and tasty. It’s also healthily cleansing. Wine expert Jeff Bareilles recently invited us over for a steak dinner with multiple bottles of fine French wines. I fried potatoes and to balance the menu, I also made this salad. We felt less guilt for our indulgences.
With the summer grilling season ahead, this salad would be great to offer as a side. We live to eat but should also eat to live well and healthily (so we can eat again). Happy Memorial Day!
Asian Kale and Seaweed Salad
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 to 3 tablespoons dried wakame seaweed (sold at Asian and health food markets)
- 1/2 bunch kale
- 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) English cucumber
- Sea Salt
- Unseasoned rice vinegar
- Regular soy sauce or vegan Japanese seasoned soy sauce
- Toasted sesame oil, grapeseed oil, or canola oil
- Put the seaweed in a bowl and add water to cover by 1 inch. Set aside to soak and rehydrate while you prep the other vegetables.
- Tear the leafy soft parts from the center ribs and stems of the kale. As you work, tear the ruffly pieces into bite-size pieces and drop them into a bowl. Discard the ribs and stems portions.
- Halve the cucumber lengthwise, then use a spoon to seed each half. Cut the cucumber into thin crescents then add to the kale.
- When the seaweed is soft and about quadrupled in volume, drain it well and add to the kale and cucumber. Sprinkle on about 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Drizzle on 1 to 2 teaspoons of mirin. Then drizzle on 1 to 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar.
- Now, use one hand to massage the vegetables for a couple of minutes, until they soften. Don’t worry if the cucumber breaks. When things are soft, season with soy sauce (or the seasoned soy sauce) for savory goodness. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the oil of your choice to inject a bit of fatty goodness. The salad can sit for an hour before serving. Transfer to a serving dish or bowl, leaving behind any liquid. Enjoy at room temperature or slightly chilled.