Massaged Kale Caesar

Last week my friend Terrie and I lunched at Bodego in Darien, CT. I had eaten there a few months back and enjoyed an array of decadent, delicious antojitos (or little plates) that featured bits of rich pork belly, duck, and truffle cheese.
Today’s lunch was different. We were going clothes shopping, and neither of us wanted a leaden lunch before spending time in front of a department store dressing room mirror.

As we pondered the menu, my eyes wandered over to the salads. There was a charred beet salad. Yes! A chopped salad. Why not? But Massaged Kale Salad caught my eye. A must!

We ordered all three, but it was the massaged kale salad we wanted more of. This one was tossed with roasted kabasa squash croutons, a lemon-poblano dressing, and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Until now eating raw kale salad held little appeal, but this little pre-toss rub transformed the leaves’ texture from brittle to soft and their taste from bitter to sweet.

I couldn’t wait to try this salad at home. With Maggy and Andy coming for Easter lunch in a few days, I decided to serve massaged kale – Caesar style.

Maggy was intrigued as I described the salad, and even more curious as I drizzled the kale with a little oil and started to rub the leaves between my fingers. After one bite, her Easter wish was a bigger bowl of massaged kale salad instead of the ham and roasted spring vegetable main course that was to follow.

We had many other recipes we could have run today, but when I asked her what was on the Three Many Cooks menu, her response was immediate and enthusiastic—Massaged Kale Caesar!

Massaged Kale Caesar

Massaged Kale Caesar
Serves 4 as a side salad

Slice the bread with a serrated knife, but use heavy-duty kitchen shears to cut the sliced bread into cubes.

I had a half avocado that needed using up, so I tossed it in with yesterday’s salad. Clearly anything you’d add to a Caesar–shrimp, chicken, chopped egg–would be great here too.

4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 mounded cups 3/4″ bread cubes, cut from a crusty baguette or Italian loaf
Salt
1 bunch (about 8 ounces) curly kale, rinsed, ribs removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano), plus extra for sprinkling

Heat a 10-inch skillet over low heat. Mince garlic cloves in a food processor or blender. Scrape down sides of container and continuing to process, adding 1/4 cup of the oil through feeder tube until garlic releases its flavor into the oil, about 30 seconds. Strain garlic from oil through a fine-mesh strainer; reserve both.

Increase skillet heat to medium. Place bread cubes in medium bowl. Drizzle oil (you lose some of the oil during processing, so you should have about 3 tablespoons) evenly over bread, along with big pinch of salt; toss to coat.

Add bread cubes to hot skillet and toast, turning the cubes and shaking the pan often, until crisp and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Return croutons to bowl and set aside to cool while preparing salad.

Whisk lemon juice, mayonnaise, Worcestershire and half the processed garlic in a small bowl (reserve remaining garlic for another use). Place kale in a medium bowl and drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil massaging each leaf so that it turns shiny and darker in color. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle lemon mixture over kale; toss again. Sprinkle Parmesan over greens; toss again. Add croutons toss and serve, sprinkling each portion with a little more Parmesan cheese.