I thought it would be tough. Like treading my teeth through the untrimmed ends of out of season asparagus.
I thought it would be bitter. Like chomping on overcooked Brussels sprouts that have reached the sulfuric gag-me-with-a-spoon stage.
I thought it would be something I suffered through because “it’s good for me.” Like when my mother forced me to guzzle milk in elementary school in the name of “strong bones.”
I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love kale when I finally tried it for the first time at M Cafe de Chaya nearly two years ago. The macrobiotic eatery’s beloved kale with spicy peanut dressing transformed my perception of the leafy green, which, incidentally, is actually a form of cabbage.
In the time since, I have ordered the kale as my side salad every time I’ve visited the cafe (I just can’t get enough), and have recently been incorporating the cruciferous powerhouse into my cooking as well. A handful in a pasta e fagioli soup, a couple handfuls in a warm quinoa pesto dish, and a few delicate slivers in an amateur attempt at miso ramen.
It was only a matter of time before I would connect the dots and decide, “Heck, I should really just make my own version of M Cafe’s kale salad with spicy peanut dressing.”
This past Friday evening, I did just that.
While my application of the peanut sauce was more restrained than the version I’ve enjoyed countless times at the restaurant, and I subbed in roasted shallots for the raw red onions and cashews for the peanuts on top, the end result packed in the same great flavor as the original. I served the final product warm with some short grain brown rice and sautéed tofu cubes that I’d marinated in a soy-maple sauce. I ate every single bite. And not just because “it’s good for me.”
Kale with Spicy Peanut Dressing
Based on dish at M Cafe de Chaya
1 bunch kale, stems removed
2 tablespoons chopped cashews or peanuts
1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced into thin rings
Spicy Peanut Dressing
2 tablespoons natural creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove roasted garlic
Cayenne pepper, to taste (could also use red pepper flakes or syriacha)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place whole garlic clove in small roasting dish next to shallot rings and roast until shallots are tender and the garlic is soft enough to blend into the dressing. (Approximately 25 minutes for the shallots, 15 for the garlic)
Meanwhile, rinse kale to remove all dirt and debris and chop into chunky pieces.
When garlic is roasted, combine with other dressing ingredients (peanut butter, sesame oil, maple syrup/honey, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, cayenne pepper) using a blender or immersion blender. Set aside.
Steam kale in boiling water until wilted and then drain. Return the hot kale to the pot, and add the dressing. Toss until well-coated and then stir in the roasted shallot rings. Serve topped with peanuts or cashews.