Otherwise known as The World’s Best Kale Salad. Now, I know what you may be thinking: raw kale is completely gross and people who claim to love it are just faking it. I kind of thought the same thing before I started frequenting Darwin Cafe in San Francisco. Since I worked just down the street from this sweet little lunch spot, I sampled pretty much everything on the menu (you may remember when I waxed poetic about this scrumptious turkey sandwich recipe) but the thing that kept me—and thousands of others—queueing up time and time again was the kale salad.
This is my version of the millennial obsession with avocado toast. Meaning, I spent an embarrassing amount of money on this salad over the years I lived in San Francisco, and according to this bit of supremely wise and not at all ridiculous interview given by a real estate magnate, that’s why I don’t yet own a house (and apparently never will). After I moved away from SF, I missed this salad so much that I soon dedicated myself to making the best homemade approximation I possibly could.
I’m happy to report that after a couple months of making, eating and tweaking I’ve settled on a very solid recipe that satiates my weekly cravings for Darwin kale salad quite nicely. The full recipe is detailed below, but first I figured I’d spell out a couple of tips and tricks that take this salad from ordinary to World’s Best status.
Most importantly, since this recipe is so simple, it’s really important to use only the most delicious ingredients (I sound like a regular Ina, don’t I?). That means only use lacinato (aka dino) kale, and cut out the thickest parts of the stems after you wash it. I’ve also found that balsamic glaze works better than regular balsamic vinegar. Since it’s so much more viscous, it keeps the dressing from becoming too runny. Finally, it’s really important to use real parmigiano reggiano that’s been grated with a microplane so it’s so fine it practically melts into the salad.
Oh—and don’t forget to massage the heck out of that kale!
• 1 bunch lacinato kale
• 1/4 head of radicchio
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 lemon
• 4 cloves garlic—I prefer to use the kind that comes pre-minced (I know, sacrilege!) since it’s a bit more mellow
• balsamic glaze
• pancetta or bacon
• parmigiano reggiano
• sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper
1. Wash the kale well and pat dry. Remove the thickest part of the stems—about the bottom half of each stem—then slice into 1-inch ribbons. Add to a large bowl with the chopped radicchio.
2. Chop your pancetta or bacon (the real Darwin kale salad is made with pancetta, but most of the time I just buy three or four slices of thick-cut bacon from the butcher counter because it’s easier and cheaper) and cook until crisp. Drain atop a paper towel.
3. Add the olive oil, lemon juice (use half a lemon if it’s large, the whole lemon if it’s small), garlic and a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze. Using your hands, really get in there and mix it all up, massaging the kale as you go. Make sure everything is really mixed in—I can usually tell when I’m done massaging once every piece of kale looks coated in olive oil.
4. Taste a piece to see if you want to add more lemon, garlic, etc., and season with a generous sprinkle of sea salt and plenty of fresh-cracked black pepper.
5. Transfer to your serving vessel (unless you’re like me and you just plan on eating out of the huge mixing bowl) and top with the bits of bacon and lots of microplanedparmigiano reggiano. And I do mean lots. Like, grate so much you can barely see the top of the salad…and then grate a little bit more.