Kale Caesar Salad and Homemade Croutons

blog_ kale caesarDon’t be put off by the quotation marks around “Caesar.”  Technically, this isn’t a traditional Caesar salad– but that’s only because it has all of the good stuff and none of the bad.  I mean good-for-you stuff, obviously.  Some of that bad-for-you stuff can be pretty delicious!  But you won’t even miss it in this salad.  Perfect as an appetizer or side dish, this recipe has all of the richness and flavor of a traditional Caesar salad, with less fat and guilt and a lot more nutrients (you can check out my previous kale love fest here.)    Two important (and simple!) steps make this salad as amazing as it is– massaging the kale, and taking the extra ten minutes to make the homemade croutons, which turn out more like coarse breadcrumbs and give every bite a satisfying crunch.  I got both ideas from Kenji of Serious Eats.  Forrest has said he “loves” Kenji… Should I be worried?!  But in all seriousness, he’s pretty awesome!  This recipe for Kale Caesar differs from Kenji’s quite a bit (his includes the traditional mayo and anchovies), but since he has mastered the science of cooking, I use his techniques quite often.  And his crouton suggestions left me loving him, too.

Kale Caesar Salad (makes 4 appetizer/side dish portions)
1 bunch kale, stems cut off and chopped into bite size pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup plus 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons worth)
4-5 slices of baguette or other bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup shredded or grated hard sharp cheese (I used manchego, because I had it, but parmesan is more traditional)
Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.  In the bottom of a large bowl, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste.  Add the kale, and massage it by gently tossing it with the dressing and squeezing the leaves.  This step will allow the kale to soften just a bit (it will still remain nice and crisp, just not as tough).  Let the kale rest for 30 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, combine 2 tbs olive oil, bread pieces, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pulse until bread is in pea-sized pieces.  Arrange the mixture on a cookie sheet, and bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until croutons are golden brown.

Once the kale has rested for 30 minutes, mix in the cheese and breadcrumbs (if you plan on having leftovers, save the breadcrumbs to add later, they’ll get soggy overnight).  Garnish with a few shavings of cheese.

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