Bridging the gap between late summer and fall today with a warm salad that incorporates the last of the summer's bounty of ripe tomatoes and hearty, substantial kale, mushrooms, and walnuts. Another raw kale salad? Correct. I know - kale is no longer the trendy, sexy vegetable it was two years ago (three years?) and we are all suffering from kale salad fatigue now that every restaurant has ventured to place one on its menu. But stay with me because I've loved kale for years and never thought it needed to be the glorified vegetable of the moment.
With the advent of fall, though, and the slight chill in the morning air in New York these days, even I recognize that warmer kale dishes are needed now.
Feel free to use any variety of kale here - Tuscan kale has that gorgeous blue-green shade and I see baby kale popping up everywhere lately. If you would like to substitute a different green, some fresh spicy arugula or pea shoots or anything else that looks lovely at the market would work just as well.
I had the last of my late summer cherry tomatoes for this salad but if tomatoes are not in season when you make this, leave them out. It will taste perfectly delicious without them. Or add in a few slices of a sweet, ripe pear instead.
The salad has a lot of separate components but it comes together quickly and easily. The walnuts, mushrooms, and balsamic vinegar are added to the kale warm and the heat wilts the leaves ever so slightly making them soft and sweet. Reducing the balsamic vinegar transforms it into a tart syrup that accentuates the sweetness of the shallots, the warm toasted walnuts, the dried cherries, and the sweet juicy tomatoes. With the meaty cremini mushrooms, it's fairly substantial on its own but to turn it into a meal, feel free to add a cup of cooked quinoa or millet.
It's simply beautiful, healthful comfort food.
Warm Kale & Mushroom Salad (v/gf)
Adapted from Tasting Table
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as an appetizer
1 large bunch of organic curly green kale, stemmed
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup unsweetened dried cherries (see Note)
1/3 cup raw walnuts, chopped
1 large or 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
3/4 lbs cremini mushrooms (or other meaty variety), thinly sliced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (see Note)
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
sea salt, black pepper
Wash the kale, dry it, and then roughly tear it up into bite-sized pieces with your hands (no chopping here). Gently massage 1 tsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp sea salt into the leaves. As you work the kale with your hands, the leaves will become shiny and turn a vibrant green. Add the dried cherries and cherry tomatoes to the kale and set it aside while you prepare the rest of the components.
Toast the chopped walnuts in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are just fragrant. Be sure that they do not burn. Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven by spreading them out on a baking sheet and baking at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Start checking them at the five-minute mark and make sure they do not burn.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in the skillet you used for the walnuts over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently for a few minutes. If the shallots start to burn or brown too much, reduce the heat to low and cook until soft and translucent. Turn the heat back up and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms for a few minutes, stirring frequently until they are browned and have started to release their liquids. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt and continue to cook until the mushrooms are cooked through, about 2-3 more minutes.
In a small saucepan over high heat, add the balsamic vinegar and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes until thick and reduced. Take it off the heat when it has a syrupy consistency but note that it will continue to thicken as it cools.
Add the toasted nuts and sautéed mushrooms to the kale. Drizzle everything with the balsamic syrup and season with additional sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
Serve with a bottle of wine.
Notes: Be sure to use unsweetened dried fruit. The reduced balsamic syrup is fairly sweet on its own. If you can't find dried cherries, you can definitely substitute dried cranberries or blueberries. As for the balsamic, this is not the occasion for a fine aged import - a basic grocery store balsamic vinegar will do because once it reduces, it will become a thick, luxurious syrup. Of course, if you'd like to use your best balsamic for this project, I won't stop you.
Your soundtrack? A friend sent me this song and it seems fitting for the approaching fall evenings.