Grilled Bread and Kale Salad with Red Onions, Walnuts, and Figs

Mollie Katzen
Fresh kale is wilted ever so slightly by tender-crisp, hot onions -- and glazed with reduced vinegar before being graced with freshly made croutons, shaved cheese, and figs (fresh or dried). A single pan handles all the parts of this recipe that need heat, and the flavor that accumulates in there is absorbed by the bread as it toasts. Deliciousness builds, step by step, and the results are glorious. (My feelings about this dish are pretty much summed up in the yield estimate.)
 
Note:
  • The ripeness of the figs is key. Make sure they are very soft when gently squeezed. If you can't find fresh figs, go ahead and use dried ones. Slice them first, and then give them an extra pre-soak (with some additional time) in a little balsamic vinegar or lemon juice --possibly beyond what the recipe calls for-- as needed, to soften them up.
  • Look for lacinato kale with smallish, very deep green leaves, for a more tender result. Also cutting the kale before washing and drying it ensures it will all fit into your salad spinner, and become drier and crisper.
  • Soak the figs, and cut, wash, and dry the kale ahead of time, but plan to assemble the finished salad shortly before serving, as the perfect texture of the freshly grilled bread will not hold. (Store the prepared kale in the refrigerator--directly in the salad spinner, if your fridge has room.) 
  • Once the ingredients are ready, final assembly will go quickly. (Open your windows in anticipation of step 8.)
  • Tongs are a great utensil for this. 
  • You'll be pleased to know that no pan-washing is needed between steps.
Ingredients
  • 5 or 6 ripe, fresh figs, stemmed and sliced lengthwise into wedges (about 5 per fig) (see note re: dried figs) 
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice 
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil-- 2 with the onions, 1 with the bread 
  • A piece of solid Parmesan (about 3 ounces or so) 
  • Ciabatta or sourdough baguette (fresh or day-old) 
  • 1 large or 2 small bunches (1/2 pound, total) very fresh 
  • Dino (aka lacinato) kale 
  • 1 small red onion (4 ounces), cut in half and then into 1/4 inch slices 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
  • A handful or two toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped 
  • Black pepper 
  • Squeezable wedges of lemon or lime, as garnish
Instructions

1) Stem the figs, and slice them lengthwise -- about 5 wedges per fig. Place them in a medium-small dish, and douse with lemon or lime juice. Toss gently to coat, and set aside.

2) Shave strips of Parmesan from a solid block of cheese, using a strong vegetable peeler. Lovely cheese ribbons will ensue. Set aside.

3) Slice the bread into approximately a dozen thin (as in almost-see-through) slices. Larger slices from a ciabatta can be cut smaller, for easier handling and consumption. Set these aside.

4) Hold each kale leaf by the stem, and use a very sharp knife to release the leaf from the base (okay to leave the narrow part of the stem that blends into the leaf farther up). Make a pile of the leaves, roll them tightly, and cut super-thin strips. Transfer to a large bowl of cold water, and swish around to clean. Spin very dry, and then transfer to a large bowl.

5) Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat and wait about a minute, then add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Turn up the heat to medium high, and add the onion and a big pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of salt. Cook, stirring and/or shaking the pan a little, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion becomes shiny.

6) Transfer the hot onions to the kale in the bowl and stir everything around a bit, then return then entire bowlful of kale-plus-onions to the still-hot pan, still on the heat. Stir-fry quickly -- just for a minute or so -- until the kale turns an even deeper shade of green and wilts slightly.

7) Return it all to the bowl, tossing in another big pinch of salt. You can add some of the cheese at this point, if you'd like it to melt in slightly.

8) Remove the pan from the heat, and wait a minute or two, then add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar to the pan (stand back -- it will sizzle), swirl it around, and then pour what's left of it into the kale. (It will mostly evaporate.)

9) Without bothering to clean it (beyond just wiping it out, if you want to) return the same pan to the stove over medium heat. Wait another minute, then add another tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the bread slices in a single layer, and grill on each side until lightly golden and perfectly crisp.

10) Transfer the toasts to the kale, along with the figs and all their lemon juice, and the shaved cheese (to taste). Toss quickly (no need to get things uniform), adding the remaining cheese and the walnuts as you go. Serve right away, passing a pepper mill, and offering wedges of lemons or lime (to be aimed straight at the figs).

From The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen, Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Yield: 
1 main-dish serving if it's me eating it, 2 main-dish servings for normal people. Up to 4 servings as a first course or side, also for normal people
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