Charred butternut squash and a lemony garlic dressing remind us how good a kale salad can be

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Ten years ago this spring, I had my first raw kale salad, or at least the first one that made me sit up and take notice.

It was at Animal restaurant in Los Angeles, and I was ambivalent about eating there. After all, I was close to dropping the “almost” from my “almost vegetarian” identity and worried that my only options would come with bones attached. Instead, I managed to steer clear of the animal parts and was easily able to focus on some of the most vibrant vegetable dishes I had come across in a restaurant.

At the top of the list was the salad, unassuming on arrival – a giant pile of shredded, dark, glossy greens in a shallow bowl – but transcendent on first bite.

The kale was sliced so thin the pile was wonderfully fluffy, grounded by the crunch of breadcrumbs, and lemony, chile-spiked dressing punched through the slight bitterness of the greens. I couldn’t eat it quickly enough.

Ten years later, we’ve had so many kale salads that some eaters have cried uncle. Kale’s ubiquity didn’t always seem so well deserved, it’s true, and we should have long ago left room for appreciating many other greens.

Kale salad with bulgur, squash and apple. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

But I resist most attempts to cancel kale, because it’s not the poor vegetable’s fault that it was the main ingredient in too many badly made salads.

Jake Cohen writes about a kale-salad epiphany similar to mine in his new book. His was made by Chicago chef Zach Engel, and after he tried it, “I was shook,” Cohen wrote. “I thought I knew kale salad, but as is the case with most things, I knew nothing. It was balanced and delicate and hearty and I think about it often. more often than anyone should be thinking about salad.”

Cohen’s streamlined version maintains the appeal: Besides the kale, It’s got slightly charred butternut squash, apple chunks, bulgur, parsley and pumpkin seeds, all of it slicked with a garlicky, lemony dressing.

The bulgur and parsley make it reminiscent of the Lebanese classic tabbouleh salad, but it strays so far from the traditional that any resemblance is faint. And that’s perfectly okay because it has enough outstanding qualities without needing the reference.

KALE SALAD WITH BULGUR, SQUASH AND APPLE

Author Jake Cohen calls this salad a “very inauthentic take on tabbouleh“, which describes its base of lemony greens and bulgur wheat. But there are enough other things going on – roasted butternut squash, crunchy pumpkin seeds and sweet apple – to make it something else entirely.

This recipe comes together quickest if you get the bulgur soaking before you begin any other prep work. To make this a meal, serve with bread and/or a protein of your choice.

INGREDIENTS

Three-quarter cup bulgur wheat

One-and-a-half cups hot water

One-and-a-quarter pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into one-inch pieces

Quarter cup plus one tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Three-quarter teaspoon fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste

Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste

Quarter cup fresh lemon juice

Two garlic cloves, finely grated

One pound Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced

Half cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped

Half cup toasted pumpkin seeds

One Honeycrisp apple, cored and cut into one-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS

Position one rack in the middle of the oven and one rack closest to the broiler, and preheat to 450 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the bulgur and water. Let stand for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender but slightly chewy, then drain off any excess water.

While the bulgur is soaking, on a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with one tablespoon of the oil, quarter teaspoon of the salt and quarter teaspoon of the pepper.

Roast, tossing once halfway through, for 16 to 18 minutes, until tender. Turn the oven to broil, transfer the baking sheet to the upper rack, and broil until the squash is lightly charred, three to four minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining quarter cup of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, remaining half teaspoon of salt and remaining quarter teaspoon of pepper. Add the kale and parsley and toss with the dressing, massaging the greens gently with your hands until the kale softens slightly.

Add the drained bulgur, roasted squash, pumpkin seeds and apple to the bowl with the greens and toss to combine. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed, and serve.