kale and cheese crispy salad

close-up of kale salad

Here's another one for all y'all who were stockpiling kale for the crisis. Long Meadow Ranch in Napa Valley used to serve this salad, and I liked it so much that I reverse-engineered it. The result has been delightful, and I've made it several times. It makes an excellent first course or side dish for roast meat, fish, or even pasta.

This deceptively simple salad nevertheless has a lot of flavor. Like other recipes with only a handful of ingredients, though, you don't want to substitute anything. This is part of my "good first recipe" series for anyone trapped at home and learning emergency cooking skills, so I've made the instructions very explicit.

The recipe requires a technique that might be new to a bunch of you, which is making "parmesan cheese crispies". If you can buy parmesan cheese crisps, which you increasingly can in the "keto" sections of upscale markets, you can skip that step, and this becomes a super-easy recipe. This video kind of shows the technique, except that he doesn't let his cook long enough.

Most of the effort is prepping and washing the kale, which you have to buy whole so that you can remove the stems.

kale and cheese crispy salad

  • 2-3 oz parmigiano cheese, grated fine (or substitute 2 oz store-bought parmesan cheese crisps)
  • 1-2 bunches Tuscan kale, 3/4 to 1lbs
  • High quality olive oil, up to 4 tsp
  • 2 tbs juice from 1 lemon (fresh)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground hot pepper (pequin)
  • pinch of salt
  • equipment: salad spinner, large salad bowl, large, good condition, nonstick pan

First, remove the stems from the kale leaves completely. This will be fairly tedious; see if you can get a family member to do it. Rip it into roughly 2" squares, then wash it and dry it completely, first in a spinner and then finishign with a towel. It needs to be really dry.

If you couldn't buy crispies, make one. Get the large nonstick pan and sprinkle the shredded cheese over the bottom, forming an even, thin sheet. Place the pan on the burner and heat it over low-medium. In 3-7 minutes, the cheese will start to bubble and melt. If there's hot spots, move it around on the burner. After another 3-5 minutes, the cheese will turn a darker brown and seem to "dry out"; at this point, it's done and you should take the pan off the heat.

Allow it to cool for 5 minute or so, and peel up the crispy. If you have difficulty getting it to peel up, wait for it to cool more. Place it on a plate or rack to cool.

Put the pan back on the heat and turn it up to medium-high. The pan should be oily with the oil from the cheese; if it's not, then add 1tsp of olive oil. Now "stir fry" the kale in the pan, constantly flipping and stirring it, for about 1 minute, just until it starts to darken slightly and some of the edges get seared. You do not want the kale to wilt. If your pan is on the smaller side, you'll need to do two batches.

Dump the kale in the salad bowl. Drizzle with another 2-3 tsp of olive oil, the lemon juice, hot pepper, and a pinch of salt (two or three pinches if your cheese isn't very salty). Break up the cheese crispy into 2" pieces and put it in. Toss the salad vigorously until all leaves are coated. Serve. Do not allow this salad to sit for more than about 20 minutes, or it will wilt and not be nearly as nice.

Ingredient Notes:

Cheese: you need Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, or a really good American aged parmesan for this. Also, pre-grated or shredded won't work because of the starch they put in it to keep it from sticking. Dry jack might work, but pecorino romano and asiago won't.

Kale: this is also known as lacinato kale, Tuscan cabbage, dino kale, or cavalo nero. Do not substitute other kinds of kale.)

Hot Pepper: dried pequin peppers you crush yourself are the ideal flavoring for this. Substitute ground cayenne, since most people don't have those. If you're very sensitive to spicy food, use fresh-ground black pepper instead.