Thanksgiving is here, and for most people, that means lots of food! If you’ve been trying to eat healthy and don’t want to lose your momentum, the best way to maintain your good habits and still enjoy your favorite holiday dishes is to fill up on fresh veggies at the start of the meal so that you’ll eat less of the decadent dishes that follow.
The following recipe is tasty and healthy and a great choice for the pre-feast salad for an important reason: Kale, like other bitter salad greens, is great for your liver. It preps your entire digestive tract for the big meal that follows so that you feel less bloated afterwards. You will also absorb more of the nutrients from your meal. You might not care about all that when you’re 20, but when you’re over 40, good nutrition starts to take on new meaning and importance.
Here are more good reasons to include this salad on your Thanksgiving table:
- Kale detoxifies the digestive system, because it’s rich in fiber (so chew it well)
- Kale is considered one of the most nutrient dense vegetables known, containing up to 45% protein
- It’s rich in calcium, and is easier to digest than the calcium in dairy
- This salad is alkalizing to the body and contains lots of iron, vitamins, beta carotene, and other minerals
The ingredients are simple, but the flavors are a pleasing balance of salty and sweet; the tart citrus vinaigrette adds light freshness, and walnuts add a meaty richness along with more protein and healthy fats.
A few notes before getting started:
- Although the recipe calls for walnuts, these can be omitted in the case of nut allergy. You can substitute pepitas or sunflower seeds for the walnuts. You can substitute candied pecans for the walnuts as well.
- I like to soak walnuts overnight before using them, to remove any bitterness. Soaking nuts (or seeds) helps make them easier to digest. Simply soak them overnight in the refrigerator, then discard the water used for soaking.
- The recipe calls for Lacinato kale, also called black kale or dinosaur kale. I prefer this type for salads because the texture isn’t as tough as other varities, especially after massaging it. (Who isn’t better after a massage anyway?) But feel free to substitute other varieties of kale, or go crazy and use completely different greens.
- You can use baby kale, and you don’t need to massage it, as they’re already tender.
- A personal pet peeve of mine is when you’re pressed for time (or being lazy) and you buy pre-chopped kale and discover that those scoundrels don’t remove the stems. If you don’t already know, kale stems are like thin tree branches. If you don’t remove them before eating, you’re either showing off, or this is the reason why you hate kale.
- Removing Lacinato kale stems is EASY. Grip the base of the leaf, hold the leafy parts with one hand, and strip the stem right down the middle and off the leaf in one easy simple motion.
You will need:
- 2 bunches of Lacinato kale, stems removed, chopped or torn into bite size pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- the juices from 1 large lemon and half of an orange
- 4 – 6 tablespoons fruity flavorful olive oil (extra virgin, first cold pressed, and unfiltered has the best flavor)
- 4 tablespoons pre-soaked crushed raw walnuts (you don’t have to soak them)
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves (no stems)
- 2 tablespoons dried sweetened cranberries
- orange wedges or thin half-moon slices for garnishing
In a large bowl, add the kale, olive oil, lemon and orange juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.
With clean hands, massage the vinaigrette into the kale for about 30 seconds (I’ve never actually timed how long it takes to get the kale perfect), rubbing and squeezing until the kale is glistening and a bit softened. When the kale starts giving up some dark green juice, it has been softened but will not be soggy. It’s possible to over do it, so try not to. Err on the side of crispiness.
After the kale is nice and refreshed after a relaxing massage, gently toss in the walnuts, cilantro, and cranberries. Arrange some sweet little orange wedges or slices artistically on top, and enjoy.
If you like cheese, small cubes of Iberico or crumbles of sheep’s milk feta can be tossed in.
If you have any leftovers, you can use them in sandwiches, wraps, and weirdly enough, in vegetable soups.
Wishing you a healthy happy Thanksgiving!