Kale Salad with Butternut Squash and Cheddar / by Amy Cantu

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kale salad

I began the new year like a lot of people do - thinking about ways I could eat more veggies. I’ll share this tidbit about myself - I’m super picky about salad and dislike a lot of them, including creamy dressings. (I know, who doesn’t like Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing??? Just me.) I generally prefer my vegetables cooked; maybe it’s growing up in an Asian household where vegetables were just incorporated into the dishes we were eating. Anyway, January rolled around, and I felt like I needed to give this salad eating business some real attention. A kale salad was in order. Has kale salad been overdone? Probably. It’s seems like it’s on every menu that includes a salad these days. So, I wanted a kale salad that would be simple, not overly thought out, and well . . . delicious! This salad is just the thing. The main ingredient is kale, so you can feel really good about eating a leafy green vegetable, but this salad also includes a healthy dose of delicious aged cheddar, which is equally important for making this salad too yummy to pass up. Add a sprinkling of toasted almonds and a tart lemon vinaigrette, and we’ve got a really simple salad that tastes amazing. I hate salad. I loved this salad.

Recipe adapted from Northern Spy’s Kale Salad.

Notes: This salad is highly adaptable. Instead of roasted squash, you could roast carrots or sweet potatoes. In the summer, you could use fresh or roasted strawberries or peaches, and experiment with a soft goat cheese or dollops of good ricotta. I’m a sucker for salad toppings, so I’m always extra generous with the squash, nuts, and cheese. To make this salad vegan, omit the cheese, but add 1 to 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast (found in health food stores), which lends a savory, cheesy flavor.

If you are staring at the butternut squash thinking, “What do I do with this thing???” here’s how to peel it.

It’s tempting to buy those bags of pre-cut kale in the salad section, but to avoid having to masticate your greens like a cow, don’t do it! The kale pieces are too large, and they don’t remove the tough rib (stem) that runs down the center of each leaf. If you are reading this note too late, and you already have a bag of kale salad, never fear. Spend a few minutes to sort through the leaves to find the pieces with hard stems and tear away the soft leafy part from the stem and discard. Then tear the leaves into smaller pieces with your hands (or use a knife).

Lastly, sometimes both new and seasoned cooks alike, forget to taste their food before serving it. Add the salt, then taste it. Add additional salt and pepper until it tastes good to you. (I tasted the salad three times before I got it right.) The right amount of salt and pepper can change any dish (and especially salad) from ho-hum to wow!

Read More: The Shared Lunch

Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash, or other winter squash (about ¾ lb)
1 tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)
1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt (divided use)
½ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper (divided use)
2 bunches kale (preferably lacinato, also called cavalo nero, black, tuscan, or dinosaur kale), ribs removed and sliced into thin ribbons, about 6 cups (see above photo)
3/4 cup almonds, cut roughly in half
1/2 cup crumbled or finely chopped Cabot clothbound cheddar (or any good, aged cheddar - I love Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar for this recipe)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 large juicy lemon)
Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other hard cheese, for shaving (Optional. Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices from a block of cheese.)

Heat oven to 425° F. Toss squash cubes in 1 tablespoon of olive oil to coat, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Spread on a baking sheet (lined with parchment or foil for easier cleanup), leaving space between the cubes. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes, tossing with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the same oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar and squash. Season to taste with lemon juice and olive oil (approximately 4 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil). Season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, adding more if needed.

Divide salad between four plates or shallow bowls. Garnish with shaved pecorino, if desired, and serve.