Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Kale Salad Is Both a Time Machine and an Airplane to New York City

by 
Naureen Khan
March 30, 2021

Okay okay, I get it, in the pantheon of food that screams, “Hellooooo, I am quintessentially New York,” a kale salad might not immediately come to mind. Not when there’s bagels with cream cheese and greasy pizza slices to be eaten while walking around or dim sum to be had in vast Chinatown banquet halls; not when there’s big bowls of ramen and pho to slurp while sitting alone at a counter on a rainy day. But hear me out: A fancy, probably overpriced restaurant kale salad is its own kind of delight and one that makes me ache for my still half-shuttered city. 

I started visiting regularly when I was in my early 20s, making the trip up from D.C. via an inexplicable seven-hour Megabus ride and spending idle weekends zigzagging through neighborhoods. I was, unabashedly and mortifyingly, dazzled. I couldn’t help it, not after years of being softly indoctrinated by Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sex and the City and When Harry Met Sally. I realize now that the fictional character I most resembled was Steve Carrell in The Office, eager to get his authentic New York slice at Sbarro’s.

In the 2010s, every tavern and bistro and trendy eating establishment seemed to be putting a version of a kale salad on their menus. The leafy green was at the height of its powers, virtuous because it took kind of a long time to chew, and sophisticated, maybe because it has that slight edge of bitterness. I ordered it for the first time in New York, probably after a weekend of a lot of bagels and dumplings, because I wanted to be both virtuous and sophisticated, a real-life grown-up who spends $15 on a salad, like some kind of millionaire. This salad takes many forms but usually there’s a bright lemon vinaigrette involved, lots of garlic and something to bulk it up — roasted vegetables or some chicken or in the best case scenario, a bunch of toasted breadcrumbs. 

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I live here now and this gussied-up kale salad is what I have alongside my pizza at my neighborhood Italian place while settling in for a good, long catch-up with a friend. It’s what I pair with the cheese board on a first date at a wine bar, when neither of us is willing to commit to the whole entree. It’s what I might order when I take myself out to lunch on a sunny Saturday afternoon and want to feel like Carrie Bradshaw herself. To be honest, I’m still dumb and dazzled by this city. 

New York is slowly coming out of its pandemic-induced slumber but for the many months of its hibernation, I’ve been making an approximation of this salad for myself when I’m hit with a particular acute wave of longing. Mine includes breadcrumbs toasted with red pepper flakes in olive oil, a dressing that’s heavy on the lemon juice, and the kale massaged until the leaves are slightly wilted and tender. Until it’s safe to sit on a stool at the bar or so close to a friend that your knees are knocking, it’ll just have to do.

The “I’ve Missed You So Much, New York” Kale Salad

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Ingredients

For the dressing (makes about ⅓ cup)

1 tsp lemon zest

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

4 tbsp olive oil 

Salt and pepper to taste


For the salad

2 medium bunches of lacinato kale, about 6-7 cups packed, chopped. Stems can either be removed and discarded, or removed and chopped small, and added back in.

2 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

 | 
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Ingredients

For the dressing (makes about ⅓ cup)

1 tsp lemon zest

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

4 tbsp olive oil 

Salt and pepper to taste


For the salad

2 medium bunches of lacinato kale, about 6-7 cups packed, chopped. Stems can either be removed and discarded, or removed and chopped small, and added back in.

2 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

Ingredients

For the dressing (makes about ⅓ cup)

1 tsp lemon zest

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

4 tbsp olive oil 

Salt and pepper to taste


For the salad

2 medium bunches of lacinato kale, about 6-7 cups packed, chopped. Stems can either be removed and discarded, or removed and chopped small, and added back in.

2 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Make the dressing first: Mix lemon zest, lemon juice, and dijon together. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, stirring constantly until dressing is well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Make the breadcrumbs: Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring constantly to prevent burning and until garlic is lightly toasted. Add breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt and toss quickly to coat in olive oil mixture. Remove skillet from heat and transfer breadcrumbs to a bowl, as otherwise they'll continue browning if left in the skillet.

3. Assemble: Combine cheese and salad dressing, then add the mixture to the kale in a bowl. Massage it all into the kale for a minute or two with your hands, until the leaves begin to get slightly tender. Mix in the toasted breadcrumbs, tossing until well combined.

About the Author

Naureen Khan

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