Best Kale Salad: Avocado, Lemon, Getting Your Hands Dirty

Best Kale Salad: Avocado, Lemon, Getting Your Hands Dirty

I first learned to massage kale about eight years ago, from a Gwyneth Paltrow-esque friend of mine who does all sorts of interesting vegan and gluten-free cooking. (Say what you will about vegan and gluten-free-ness, but in the hands of creative cooks, limitation breeds innovation. See Frankie and Jo’s.) As a mid-twenty-something, massaging vegetables was a revelation, and I’m forever grateful to Lindsey for showing me the ropes. This salad stands up on three ingredients alone—kale, avocado, and lemon—and requires nothing more than a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to make it great. The fat in the avocado combined with bright lemon is a makeshift dressing, and the acid in the lemon, when massaged into the kale, breaks down the cellulose for a crunchy-but-never-woody consistency. We add a bit of seasoning and cheese because obviously, but the magic of the three ingredients, plus getting your hands dirty, makes the salad what it is. It’s blissfully easy, clean eating, and I’m planning to make it for Gwyneth when we become friends.

Get yer hands in there!

I did a lot of food science stuff when I worked for ChefSteps, where I relied on a squad of food chemists and biologists for my every fact-checking need. I can still hear Chris Young telling me I got the plant science all wrong, but here goes: Kale gets its tough, woody texture from tightly-packed cellulose—the insoluble molecules that make up the cell walls of every plant. When we introduce acid (from the lemon), and later salt, and squeeze them together with the kale leaves, we’re breaking down that cellulose, and thus softening the kale. If you keep massaging, it will eventually turn to mush, so the key is this: taste constantly, and stop right when you get past woody, into crunchy, but before it’s too soft. The leaves will go from sage-colored when raw, to bright green when it’s ready, to dark green if you go too far.

Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2–4
Drink: Chablis, or another mineral-y, zippy white.

  • 1 head of curly kale, red or green
  • 1 large, juicy lemon
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1. Prep the kale
    Tear the leaves off the stems, and discard the stems. With your hands, rip the kale into roughly bite-size pieces.


    2. Add avocado and lemon
    Scoop the whole avocado and squeeze the whole lemon into the kale.

    3. Massage!
    Roll up those sleeves and squeeze and squish everything together until the avocado is evenly dispersed, and the kale is less stiff, but still crunchy. Taste as you go, and try not to overdo it. Mushy kale is gross.

    4. Season and serve
    Add the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss again, and serve.


    Um, excuse me?

    Should I use my fancy Parmesan?
    Nah. The Parmesan here is just for seasoning, and the extra-special flavor and texture of real-deal Parmesan gets lost. You want to grate an actual block of cheese—not that freeze-dried green can stuff—but no need to break the bank.

    Should I add nuts?
    Yep! I think chopped toasted walnuts would be delish.

    Can I make this in advance?
    As with any dressed greens, the longer you let it sit, the soggier it’ll get. This one’s best when it’s made a-la-minute, but can probably hang out for an hour or so before it’s too sad to serve.

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