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It has become a running joke among my friends and co-workers that I eat kale at every meal. I guess I fit right into the stereotypical view of a Southern California girl, but truthfully the hearty green is quite delicious. Last spring, when I was planning the menu for the first Popover gathering, I wanted the table to pop with color and reflect the season with locally found food and vibrant, fresh ingredients. This was also the first introduction of Popover to a group of lunch guests so I wanted the menu to be welcoming, like the food was cooked in their own kitchen and could be informal and delicious. I jotted down a list of ingredients and ventured to the farmers market to scour the stalls. The dark shade of tuscan kale was an instant winner so I packed my tote with bundles of the thick stalks with a plan to turn it into a lunchtime salad. Now, the playful taunting I usually get for my roughage choice begins when people find that I don’t prefer steamed, oiled, or fried varieties, but rather pure raw kale. For a spring lunch I knew that this ingredient needed to stand on its own and showcase the freshness of farm food so I crafted a shortcut salad comprised of only four ingredients. I find that cooking seasonal food should be something hands on, feeling the food, washing off the dirt, primping it so only the best colors show and crispest bites are achieved. Kale stems are a fibrous stalks of bitter green so each leaf needs to be cut into a little “v” to remove the stem. From there the leaves can be stacked, sliced down the middle, then chopped into short ribbons perfect for eating. The quick cheat involves store bought dressing; yes, I could have made my own champagne vinaigrette but truthfully when throwing together an off-site lunch a bottle just travels better. Topped with toasted pine nuts and thick shavings of parmesan cheese to round out the earthy flavor, the salad turned into the unexpected start of the meal.

I used this recipe for our summer picnic as well. The afternoon was a sunny day spent underneath a towering pine tree on the grass near a local museum. The salad was a hit in the spring so I knew recreating it for friends would be a welcomed decision. Casually resting on the canvas blankets, in a big wooden bowl, the salad circulated among the crowd along with platters of other seasonal food. Bite after bite, the bowl dwindled to a few chops of now tender greens and skeptical faces turned into believers of how tasty raw kale can really be.

As the year comes to a close and seasonal food turns into jewel-like cranberries, pomegranates, and beets, I’ll gladly take advantage of the fact that kale remains on that list. The salad is definitely one of the healthier options on the holiday table, but it isn’t any less comforting and it goes well with family dinners and friendly celebrations.

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Quick kale champagne salad – serves 8-10

2 bundles Tuscan kale leaves (appx. 10 stalks per bundle)
1/2 cup grated parmesan (thick shavings)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 bottle champagne dressing (Trader Joes light champagne dressing is what is used in the recipe)

– Wash each kale stalk thoroughly making sure to remove all dirt. Pat dry.
– Toast pine nuts by placing in a dry pan over low heat. Watch closely and swirl pine nuts in pan until they turn a golden brown.
– Lay stalk dark side down on a cutting board and slice down each side of the leaf to remove the stalk, creating a “v” shape with each leaf.
– Once 6 or 7 leaves have had their stalks removed, stack each leaf on top of each other, slice down the middle long ways, then chop stack into 1/2″ ribbons. (Here is a good tutorial on removing stems)
– Once all leaves have been chopped transfer to a large serving bowl, add parmesan, and toasted pine nuts.
– Toss with 1/2 bottle of dressing. Add more if salad looks to dry.