Massage Your Kale With Avocado for a Better Salad

Smoky Chicken and Avocado Salad on a metal platter

I am not a medical professional, but recently I’ve started treating my loved ones’ culinary aversions like a doctor might treat a list of symptoms. It looks a lot like how you might imagine, with me squinting and asking questions to suss out where things went wrong. “You don’t like mushrooms?” I ask, tapping my chin. “What don’t you like about them? What varieties have you tried? Do you know about squishing?” The goal is to get to the root of the issue and—with recipe suggestions and a few helpful tips—try to find a cure.

The easiest food dislike to diagnose is kale, because most people cite the same reasons why they hate the leafy green. It’s too sturdy, and requires too much chewing. It tastes like plants in a bad way, even under a boatload of Caesar. Some say they’ll eat it cooked but never raw. Some say they’ll eat it raw but only if the leaves are cut very, very small. All qualms point to the same problem: under-massaged kale.

Kale doesn’t need to be cooked, but it should be broken down, its fibrous texture softened into something silky and flexible. Un-massaged kale isn’t dangerous, but it is more difficult to digest and just not very good tasting. To address the issue, dousing your kale with dressing is not enough. You must use your hands to rub fat, salt, and acid directly into the leaves, physically changing their composition. The bigger the leaves, the more vigorously you must massage—which is why some people prefer the finely chopped stuff. It’s often the only kale they’ve had that’s been paid enough attention.

When treated right, kale is special enough to inspire real fandom, so I know there’s a prescription to turn things around. In fact, the solution is very simple: Buy an avocado.

Thick and creamy, avocado is the ideal moisturizer to transform raw kale into something that doesn’t feel like a chore to eat. The fat content is high enough to adequately break down the robust leaves, leaving kale tender and flavorful. And by using an ingredient that might otherwise be a delightful salad topping as the cornerstone of your dressing, you do double duty: changing kale’s texture for the better and ensuring you get a bit of something good in every bite.

While you could absolutely make a blended avocado dressing to achieve this result, why dirty an appliance? My suggestion, which is simpler and slightly more rugged, is to smash an avocado directly onto your kale. Place a bunch of kale (stems removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces) and half an avocado in a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and drizzle of acid (like lemon or lime juice), roll up your sleeves, and mash away until the leaves relax, a full minute or more depending on their size.

Yes, it will feel weird at first to crush an avocado between your fingers. Yes, you will get slimy. But the resulting salad will be so good I promise you will not mind. I often eat avocado-and-lemon-dressed kale on its own—it is that delicious—but the tenderized greens make a fantastic base for whatever you’d like to add, like cherry tomatoes and grilled salmon or roasted chicken and crunchy pumpkin seeds.

If my many years of medical school (ahem, working in test kitchens) have taught me anything, it’s that most people will change their mind about an ingredient provided you find a way to make it shine. Kale needs more love than your average green, but after an avocado massage, you won’t remember why you didn’t like the vegetable to begin with. Sounds to me like just what the doctor ordered.

Once you mash avocado into raw kale, you might never eat the hearty leafy green any other way.

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Author:Kendra Vaculin |

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