Happy New Year, all! So, yes, I hope everyone had a lovely holiday. Mr. T and I had a wonderful time gallivanting around the snowy north with various permutations of family, which is always fun. But, helas, we’re now back to the grind and I at least am feeling the need for something cleanse-y. Of course, I have a fairly hardcore cleanse lined up and ready to go, but apparently I’m something of a hosebeast during the process, so I have to wait till Mr. T is on travel to do it. Sigh.

Meddlesome partners aside, it seems that most of you are looking for something similarly fresh and healthy after some holiday excess. I did an informal poll on the PassionFruits’ facebook page (which, obviously, you should check out if you’ve not already) and kale salad was a clear winner over the red velvet cake and pecan squares I’d lined up for the next week or so.

So, kale salad it is. In case you’ve not recently been accosted by a juicer, raw fooder, vegetarian, Prevention magazine-reader, or other holistic evangelist (lucky you), kale has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late. It is ridiculously, insanely good for you and thus is popping up in all sorts of places, both traditional and not.

Now, while I have yet to investigate kale chips up close and personal, the latest method of consuming the superfood du jour did intrigue me. Massaging the kale with oil or acid to relax it a bit–a pre-chewing, if you will–makes the whole eating endeavor less work and more pleasure. I tried it out while we were in Boston over the holiday and lo, it worked. Very cool. It was lovely tossed with a light vinaigrette, sliced green apples, fennel, and toasted pecans. So, there’s that version.

But I also wanted something a bit more substantial, a salad that could stand on its own for lunch. So, I turned eastward with a sesame-miso dressing, added some more veggies and a bit of chicken, and voila, a delicious salad that’ll keep the 3pm munchies at bay. An easy victory for healthy eating in the new year. And, having written this up, I can now get back to baked goods! (I’ll keep eating the salad though, and you should too!)

Kale & Sesame Salad
Yield: 4 entree servings

1 large bunch curly green kale*
1 lemon
1 red Bell pepper
4 oz button mushrooms
1 chicken breast, poached (optional)
1 tbs toasted sesame seeds
2 tbs tahini
1 tbs white miso
1 tbs soy sauce
1 1/2 tbs mirin
3 green onions
1″ piece fresh ginger

Rinse the kale well and shake it dry. Cut the central rib from each leaf. (This is where I’m supposed to tell you to save them for your compost worms, llama, or make stock. Yes. Well, one can be only so virtuous even in the new year. I tossed mine in the garbage.) Stack the deribbed leaves and cut into 1″ strips.

Put the kale into a large bowl. Juice the lemon and add half the juice to the kale. With your (scrupulously  clean) hands, massage the lemon juice into the kale until its darkened in color and slightly relaxed. The motion we’re looking for is kind of a squish it together then fluff it apart thing. Taste a piece and when it’s to the point where it’s no longer scratchy and raw, you’re good. It generally takes me 2-3 minutes to work one bunch into submission. If you’ve got smaller, less spastically energetic hands, add a minute or so.

Cut the top off the pepper and remove the core. Cut the pepper lengthwise in quarters and then slice the quarters into thin matchsticks. Wipe down the mushrooms, trim their stems, and slice them into small pieces. Add both pepper and mushroom to the kale. If using, shred the chicken breast and add the pieces to the kale. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Set aside whilst you make the dressing.

In a small bowl, combine the tahini and miso. Mix the two with a fork till evenly combined in a thick paste.  Add the soy sauce, mirin, and remaining lemon juice. Trim the green onions and mince finely before adding to the dressing. Peel the ginger and grate the pulp and juice into the dressing, discarding the fibrous solids. Mix well to combine thoroughly. The dressing will be stiff. Taste and add more lemon or soy to taste.

Scrape the dressing into the bowl of kale and toss to coat the salad thoroughly. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, for a day or so.

Notes & Variations
Do not use cavolo nero/lacinato/dinosaur kale for this recipe. It has bumpy, leathery leaves with a bluish cast. It is more delicate than the green kind with curly leaf margins and you’ll end up with limp leaves in kale water. Unappealing. Also, a quick squirt of hot sauce or a tiny clove of garlic grated into the dressing would not be a bad idea, if you’d like something with a bit more kick. Firm pressed tofu could also be swapped in for the chicken, but you’d probably need to double the dressing.