Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spicy Kale Slaw: Old Salt, New Flavor

If you had told me earlier this year that I'd be writing not one, but two posts about celery salt within a few months time, I would have told you to step away from your Don Draper DVDs. I hadn't used celery salt in years. Aside from some kitschy retro appeal, I couldn't see the point of having the green seasoning in my kitchen. With so many incredible sea salts and finishing salts not to mention fresh herbs now available, celery salt was one of those vestiges from a by gone era that seemed quaint, but unnecessary. Its attraction for me was based in nostalgia, not in an actual recipe. But then I came across an exceptional product in the Foodzie Test Kitchen, an organic version of celery salt made from organic dried celery leaves that was simply called All Star Organic Celery Salt. It was, in a word, sublime. A revelation. The surprise was not only in how much I liked this celery salt, but also in my desire to actually look for more ways to cook with it!

After using the celery salt in a tuna casserole with edamame and shiitake for Foodzie, I saw an opportunity to put the seasoning back to work in my kitchen when I needed a quick side for rice-flour-and-beer battered cod. I was baking, not frying, the fish, but I still wanted to serve it with a side dish of crunchy freshness. Eyeing the bounty from that morning's farmer's market, I saw my answer in the big crinkled leaves that were poking out of the bags that I still hadn't unpacked. I would make a spicy kale slaw.

Now, I'd been inspired ever since I tasted the spicy cole slaw made by my friend Dontaye Ball of Good Foods Catering, and I was intent on trying to recreate a version of his excellent side dish in my own kitchen. I already had several slaw recipes in my own repertoire that relied on napa or green or red cabbage, but in looking at the crisp, wavy leaves of the kale I'd purchased that day, I saw an opportunity to make something a little different. I got out the cutting board, the knives, and the colander and I went to work.
Rather than cooking or even blanching the kale, I cut the leaves from their center stalk and then shredded them finely. I wanted these green strips to still maintain their fresh crunch; what I didn't want was for the slaw to seem like it was made from plate garnishes. There was another sensory component I was after: I wanted the thrill of the snap of fresh vegetables that I got with each forkful and bite I took of Dontaye's spicy cole slaw. So in addition to leaving the kale as nature intended, I cut a jalapeno pepper into strips and I allowed its spears to sit in the vinegar dressing for about an hour so that they could quickly pickle.

As for the inclusion of the celery salt in this recipe, it not only added a nice nostalgic flavor to the slaw, it also helped with the crispness of the veggies. I'm always happy when a recipe turns out to be quick and enjoyable. The biggest investment, time-wise, in the making of this dish is cutting the kale greens off of their stems. The carrot and apple you can shred quickly using a box grater. Slice the jalapeno carefully if you want long, thin slivers, otherwise chop away.

Spicy Kale Slaw
For the vegetables...
4 cups loosely packed kale leaves (about half of a bundle from a typical market sale)
2 medium sized carrots, peeled
1 Granny Smith Apple, cored
1 large jalapeno, veins and seeds removed
2 TBS fresh mint, finely chopped
For the dressing...
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup mayo
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 TBS brown sugar
1 tsp celery salt
cracked black pepper to taste

1. Remove stem, and slice jalapeno in half. Scrape out seeds and veins, and slice into strips. Set aside. Finely chop mint leaves. Set aside.
2. Pour vinegar, lime juice, celery salt and brown sugar into a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add jalapeno and mint. Set aside.
3. Using kitchen shears, cut green leaves from stalks of kale, and then cut into small strips. (If you want to cut the strips down further with the scissors, more power to you. I simply made a big pile on my cutting board and had at it with a knife.) Add kale strips to large bowl.
4. Core the Granny Smith Apple and then shred on a box grater. Add apple to bowl with kale.
5. Peel carrots if desired, then grate. Add to bowl with kale and apple. Toss. And toss. And toss, until all of the components are evenly distributed.
6. Scoop mayo into the bowl containing the vinegar mixture. Whisky thoroughly. Season with cracked black pepper, adding more brown sugar and/ or lime juice if desired. When dressing is mixed well, pour over kale slaw.
7. Repeatedly toss until dressing evenly coats the apple and vegetables. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Makes about six one cup side servings.

No comments: