Kale, apple, and pomegranate salad with spicy maple pecans (4+ servings)

I have a pal who thinks she hates kale, once describing it as tasting like shattered dreams. Every time she pronounces "kale," she spits the word out of her mouth with disgust, wrinkling her nose and glaring at me with disapproval.

(If looks could kale.)

And no, before you criticize, I'm not a kale chauvinist; I mean I love it, but I'm not one to get in your face about it. It's healthy, satisfying, and versatile, and it makes me happy. It's my kale-iwick, you might say. 

(I also enjoy terrible puns.)

But I'd like to think that this salad could turn even my dubious pal into a fan. It's topped with tangy cranberries, sweet apples, salty feta, and toasty-spicy pecans, so what's not to like? The kale is only a conduit for those embellishments anyway.

So this one goes out to my skeptical friend. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. Then kale me... maybe? 

Click here for printable version.

Adapted from VegetarianTimes.com

You will need:

Spicy maple pecans

  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground chipotle or cayenne pepper to taste

Vinaigrette (Note: I like my salads lightly dressed, so you might find you need more vinaigrette than I prefer. You can always double the quantities below and then save any remaining dressing for another purpose later.)

  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • a dash of onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Salad

  • 1 12-oz. bunch curly kale, washed, de-stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 large firm apple, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (If you live in the Triangle and can get some of Prodigal Farms' goat feta, I highly recommend it!)

Steps

  1. First, make the pecans so they have a bit of time to cool. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss pecans in a small bowl with syrup, oil, salt, and chipotle or cayenne (or hot sauce, even). Spread the pecans on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the pecans smell good and toasty. Set aside to cool.
  2. Use a small jar to shake up the vinaigrette ingredients. Take it easy on the salt since the feta will make the salad salty on its own. Set the vinaigrette aside.
  3. Place kale in a large serving bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over top and use your hands to massage (yes, kale likes to be pampered) the dressing into the greens briefly. Then add the apple, pomegranate seeds, feta, and pecans and toss gently to combine.

This salad keeps well in the fridge for a couple days!

Moroccan four-bean salad (6-7 servings as a main dish)

Can we just  get a #Sundaysalads trend going already? I'm sure I can't be the only one who preps a make-ahead recipe on Sunday afternoon to eat throughout the week.

Today's offering comes from the May/June issue of Eating Well with a few changes to make this dish even easier. I added a pop of color by throwing in a handful of thawed green beans from the freezer, and I saved myself the hassle of chopping carrots by using shredded carrots from the grocery store's salad bar. I used garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, and rather than chopping up the fresh herbs, I blended them with the oil and lemon juice to make a velvety, viridescent-speckled vinaigrette. (Plus, doing this keeps the mint leaves from turning brown.) I also decreased the oil, as I've found most bean salad recipes too greasy for my taste. Some of the Moroccan-inspired ingredients may seem a bit strange, but they all work together to make an intriguing, exotic flavor combination that will make eaters think, "Oooh, what is that?" And I can imagine that once the flavors have a chance to get to know each other in the fridge overnight, they'll taste even better than they did just after meeting!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

Salad

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained thoroughly 
  • 2 15-oz cans beans (I used dark red kidney beans and black eyed peas), rinsed and drained thoroughly 
  • 1 cup chopped green beans (feel free to thaw them from a freezer-aisle bag)
  • 1 cup shredded carrot

Vinaigrette 

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (If you can find roasted garlic powder, it really pumps up the flavor)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp cumin

Steps:

  1. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Starting with the parsley and mint leaves, place all vinaigrette ingredients in a wide-mouthed mason jar or the bowl of a food processor. If using a jar, use an immersion blender to blend all ingredients until smooth; otherwise, blend the vinaigrette in a food processor. Once the vinaigrette is smooth, pour it over the salad ingredients and toss gently. Taste to see if more salt is needed. (I needed more because all three cans of beans were sodium-free.) Serve cold or at room temperature.

So to sum up, this recipe doesn't require any heat for cooking, it's super quick to make, it's vegan, and it's gluten-free. I can't think of a better #Sundaysalad or potluck dish!

Redemption salad (variable servings)

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Shhh... I'll tell you a secret.

Sometimes, I eat too much bad food, especially when I'm stressed.

Okay, so that's not a secret at all, and in the grand scheme of things, it isn't even that bad. What's bad is my habit of making excuses for indulging, rationalizing extravagances I really don't want or need. 

Did the teacher in the room next to mine really need help finishing up the pizza from her girls' soccer team? Were those cookies in the cabinet really lonely, just waiting for me to eat them? It's easy to give in when I feel like I have too much to do and not enough time to do it.

But after a couple days of eating unhealthily, my body starts to crave vegetables. Just as I had been unable to stop thinking about salty, crispy snacks or sweet indulgences in previous days, I'm suddenly obsessed with thoughts of crunchy, deep green veggies. I know it sounds silly, but it's a mental white flag that tells me it's time to give it up and go back to eating sensibly, and that's the perfect time for what I call "redemption salad."

At first, I wanted to call this "penance salad," but that made it sound like some sort of punishment, and it really isn't. The Vegetarian Times calls it "crunchy green tahini salad," but no matter what you call it, it's simple, refreshing, nourishing, and filling. Before I made this recipe, I had never eaten raw kale (except in smoothies) but I was surprised to find how hearty and tasty it was. It sort of reminded me of what broccoli might taste like in leaf form. The almost-bitter taste of the kale is nicely offset by the sweet cranberries and cool mint leaves and carrots. The almonds lend a pleasing crunch, and the creamy dressing gives the salad just the right amount of richness.

For each salad, you will need:

  • several handfuls of washed, stemmed kale leaves, roughly chopped (maybe 2 cups or so)
  • a few mint leaves, torn or sliced
  • grated carrots
  • dried cranberries
  • toasted almonds
  • tahini-based salad dressing

Other suggested add-ins I didn't use myself:

  • roasted red potatoes
  • toasted pine nuts
  • orange segments
  • crumbled feta cheese

Steps:

  1. Throw everything together in a big bowl, toss to distribute the dressing evenly, and serve.

The original recipe includes steps for making homemade tahini dressing, but when I read the ingredients, I realized most of them were found in Annie's Goddess Dressing, which I already had at home. It's a creamy vegan dressing that's smooth and tangy, with hints of lemon, sesame, and garlic. It's a bit pricey, but I highly recommend the taste. It makes a great dip for raw veggies too.

I was pleasantly surprised that Bryan loved this salad as much as I did, considering he's not usually a fan of dark greens. It's a lovely dinner salad for dishing out after you've done a bit too much giving in.

Summer salad with arugula, peaches, walnuts, and goat cheese (2 dinner salads)

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I'm quickly realizing that the key to a delicious summertime dinner salad is a harmonious combination of cheese, fruit, and nuts. I've posted several different  variations already, and today's feature is no different. For this one, I really just simplified a Vegetarian times recipe by deconstructing the delivery of the goat cheese. If you're trying to impress your fellow diner, by all means, please go through the trouble of grinding up the walnuts and rolling tiny spheres of cheese in them. However, if you're eating with someone you're totally comfortable with and who won't mind you taking the easy route (hooray for marriage!), then take the steps I've listed below.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup walnut halves
  • 5 oz baby arugula
  • balsamic vinaigrette (homemade or bottled)
  • 1 medium peach, sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled

Steps:

  1. Toast the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat until they're fragrant and slightly darker. Allow them to cool, and then roughly chop them.
  2. Meanwhile, place the arugula in a large bowl and pour some dressing over the leaves. Toss to coat. (Remember that you can always add more dressing if you need it, but you can't take it away once it's there!)
  3. Divide the arugula between two plates. Top each plate with half the walnuts, peach slices, and goat cheese. Serve immediately.

And there you go! If you're not a huge fan of arugula, you could substitute half of it for spinach. Personally, I love the zesty, peppery taste of it, and I think it works well with the intense sweetness of the ripe peaches and the creamy tang of the goat cheese. But again, if it's too strong, you can always halve it.

Mixed greens with feta, almonds, and blueberries (2 dinner salads)

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Today in Chapel Hill, the heat index was 106 degrees. Yes, that's one hundred degrees and then six more degrees. Personally, I'm not into three-digit weather. The only things that kind of heat is good for are afternoon naps and ice-cold lemonade. Oh, and dinner salads.

This salad, from Epicurious, is one of my favorites. It doesn't require any real cooking (just toasting the almonds) and it's super quick to throw together. Plus, I love the sweet/tangy flavor combination and the way the velvety baby lettuces, crunchy almonds, and plump berries all work together. Blueberries are in season in North Carolina (and other places too, of course) so this is a great time of year to try out this salad!

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey (I microwaved it for a couple seconds to make it easier to work with)
  • 1 5-oz bag baby salad greens
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Steps:

  1. Pour the vinegar, oil, and honey into a small jar, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake it like crazy. Put the lettuce in a large bowl, pour the dressing over it, and toss to coat.
  2. Distribute the lettuce evenly between two plates. Top each plate with an equal amount of feta, blueberries, and almonds. Done!

I know that pre-dressing the lettuce makes extra dishes to wash, but it's worth it to me. I like the leaves to be evenly coated, especially because, for some unknown reason, I have a habit of inhaling salad dressing when the dressing is too heavy. (This always happens to me in restaurants -- never when I'm in the comfort of my own home and don't have to be embarrassed by a sudden coughing fit.) Anyway, so I would recommend pre-dressing the salad if you can.

I also like that this is a "do whatever" salad; if you want more feta, you can always add more, and if you don't like so many blueberries, you can decrease the amount you use. I'd imagine some other berries would work well for this salad too, although I think anything with seeds might be more distracting than appealing, but that might just be my personal preference.