Is your kale salad too tough? Maybe it needs a massage

Does your spring mix salad feel a little out of season? Chef Jenn Louis of Lincoln Restaurant, Sunshine Tavern and Culinary Artistry in Portland, Ore., has a fresh take on winter salads.

Her winter salad recipes include: 

Sally Swift: Some of us are in the dregs of produce land during the winter months. What inspiration do you have for us for new salad ideas?

Jenn Louis
Jenn Louis (Photo: David L. Reamer)

Jenn Louis: I look to see what's available locally. I love the whole idea of local and sustainable. But the real thing is that when you use what is in season and local, it hasn't traveled that far, it tastes great and it's most flavorful because it's really freshest.

What we have locally is a lot of chicory, so radicchio Treviso, that kind of green, or lettuce. We also have cabbages. They hold true pretty well through the winter. I focus on those types of lettuces or vegetables rather than what you traditionally think of as a lettuce salad.

SS: You're talking about greens here.

JL: Those are what are really good for you in the winter time if you think of the health benefits. Things like kale have all of that great iron, citrus and vitamin C. All of those things are really important for your winter diet.

SS: Kale is everyone's love child right now. Do you have an idea for a new take on it?

JL: I love raw kale. I think it has gotten incredibly popular, which is great because it's a good, healthy green to eat.

I like it raw. I like it with a few different flavor profiles. Sometimes I serve it with goat cheese vinaigrette or blue cheese vinaigrette, something that's bright and acidic. It pulls out some of that iron and chlorophyll and brightens it up. I love it with citrus. I love serving it with grapefruit especially, or persimmons when they're in season.

I like to think of texture in my food as well. So instead of breadcrumbs, which are delicious, or croutons, I like to think of something like cocoa nibs. They have a real rich, deep flavor.

SS: Explain what cocoa nibs are.

JL: Cocoa nibs are the roasted bean that has been broken apart into small pieces. They have a great texture. They are crunchy but they're not hard. They've got fat in them so they have a really nice texture. They're almost like the texture of a little bit of a hard walnut.

SS: Do they taste chocolatey?

JL: They do. But they don't taste like the chocolate that you're eating in a chocolate bar. It doesn't have the sugar added, but it has got that deep, chocolate, coffee flavor.

SS: Are you a kale massager, may I ask?

JL: I am. It can be kind of toothy, a little tough to eat. When I toss a salad of kale, I don't like big leaves of kale. I like to julienne mine into really thin strips. Then I put it into a bowl with maybe some shallot, some salt and pepper, and my vinaigrette. I toss it, squeeze it and massage it roughly to break up some of that tough texture.

SS: I think it's one of the funnier things we've been doing as of late. But it's true, it helps to massage that kale a little bit.

Do you do anything with bread salads in the winter?

JL: I do. I have one at our tavern right now, at Sunshine Tavern. It has roasted fennel, oil-cured olives. I put some salami in there and put in some cheese. It has a really bright red wine vinaigrette. I put in the croutons that have been cooked with a little bit of Parmigiano and then I toss them with a vinaigrette so they can soften just a little bit but still keep a good amount of texture.

At Lincoln we have been running one that has winter squash, so you can use anything -- pumpkin, delicata squash, acorn, butternut. Whatever you prefer, whatever you have on hand. Even if you have some left from dinner the night before, cube it up. Blue cheese goes with it beautifully.

SS: I bet that's great with the big chunks of bread and squash.

JL: It can be a really fun salad. If you have Brussel sprouts or roasted onions left from dinner the night before, it's a really great place to use some roasted vegetables. I like to toss the breadcrumbs or the croutons ahead with a little bit of vinaigrette, just to soften up a little bit, then add my vegetables, a little more vinaigrette and season it. But you can use a good variety of vegetables.

SS: What about cabbage?

JL: Cabbage is great. I love cabbage. It's funny because I think a lot of people think of cabbage as slaw.

SS: We think of summer. We don't think of using it in the winter.

JL: Exactly. In the winter time we have really great heirloom cabbages. We have the tiny ones that are conical in shape, the green ones. We have this one that's a red mammoth cabbage. It's an heirloom. But they're really, really lovely.

I love the red cabbage with a bacon vinaigrette and dried cherries. I think that's really wonderful. I like to have a little bit of roasted shallot in that one.

With the green cabbage I really love the blue cheese vinaigrette. Sometimes we'll put in some bacon or some house pancetta that we make. Some horseradish vinaigrette is wonderful in there as well with some apple.

You can really take that one ingredient and do a variety of things.

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