Kale is a bitter green, well-suited to brothy soups, hearty braises, even sweet smoothies in which the sturdy leaves are softened and broken down. Served raw in a salad, however, kale can be tough. We wanted a recipe that would tame the greens' texture without losing its robust flavor.
For that, we needed to tenderize. We looked to cabbage, kale's cousin, for clues. Recipes for kimchi and sauerkraut—both of which are heavily salted—often call for rubbing the salt into sliced cabbage. The salt draws out moisture, which keeps the plant's cell walls rigid, and the massage literally breaks down those walls. The combined effect makes the firm, raw leaves supple and easy to chew.
Since we didn't want to pickle our kale with a handful of salt, we instead used coarsely ground smoked almonds to massage the greens. The rough pieces of almond softened thinly sliced ribbons of kale—and added crunch to the salad, as well.
With the kale taken care of, we looked to add contrast and flavor. For a fresh take on croutons, we took inspiration from a well-spiced solution in Spain: picada.
Derived from “picar” (Spanish for grind or chop), picada is more of a seasoning mix than a sauce. Its list of ingredients can be long or short, but the basics are crispy breadcrumbs, toasted nuts, herbs and garlic. Sometimes mashed together with a mortar and pestle, the mix is added during cooking, usually toward the end. Picada can act as a thickener—it’s sometimes called the Catalan roux—and as a way to tie together the flavors of a dish.
We made our picada in a food processor with chewy fresh bread, which we pulsed into rough crumbs and seasoned with fresh thyme, sweet paprika and olive oil. Then we toasted the crumbs in a skillet until crisp.
To complement the Spanish crumbs, we crafted a sherry vinegar-driven dressing with shallots and honey. We also chopped fresh mint and added it to the kale for some brightness. The greens, crumbs and dressing got a final toss to create a kale salad that was crisp, flavorful and toothsome without being tough.