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updated: 4/24/2014 7:22 AM

Turning raw kale into a salad you will crave

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  • Kale salad gets a boost from apricots and manchego cheese.

      Kale salad gets a boost from apricots and manchego cheese.
    Associated Press

 
By Elizabeth Karmel, Associated Press

There was a time when kale was just ornamental. Then suddenly it became a culinary superstar!

And with good reason. Because once you start eating kale, it will become the "new normal" base for your salads. It has a more robust flavor and texture than lettuce, and is good for you, too. And that's all because kale is part of the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

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Black kale -- also called Tuscan kale -- is the best choice for salads. It has soft, flat leaves and is not prickly or curly. It still needs to be de-stemmed and the leaves need to be torn, but it isn't nearly as tough as curly kale, which is a good choice for making kale chips. Baby kale is the easiest kale to use because all you need to do is wash and dry the tender leaves and finish making the salad.

There are many ways to dress kale in a salad. I love adding a touch of sweetness to both the dressing and the salad mix-ins. This counteracts the slight bitterness of the leaves. The other key is to dress the kale, then let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before adding the other ingredients. This will slightly wilt the greens, remove the bitter flavor and make the raw kale more tender.

My dressing is similar to Southern coleslaw dressing and I find that it complements the kale without overpowering it.

Once the kale is prepped, you can add any of your favorite combinations of salad ingredients. I like dried apricots, pumpkin seeds, grated manchego cheese and apple slices. The slivered dried apricots add texture, color and a sweet-tartness, the pumpkin seeds add a welcome crunch and a burst of protein to the salad, and the grated manchego adds richness that pairs perfectly with the crisp and refreshing slices of apple.

This is a salad that looks good on the plate and is good for you, but the taste is what will sell you. You will crave it. And because it has big, robust flavors, it's perfect for pairing with an Easter ham or roast lamb.

• Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

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