I remember the day I first heard the term basic bitch. I had no idea what my friend was talking about. I felt old. Out of the loop. I worried that I was possibly…basic myself?
According to my friend’s explanation, and some quick follow-up research on urban dictionary, basic people are only interested in things that are trendy and popular. And in the context of our interests here, that there’s nothing more indicative of the basic lifestyle than a kale salad.
Except, perhaps, if you were eating it on top of a SoulCycle bike with a Blueprint juice in your hand.
As kale salads have become more and more basic over the years, I’ve shied away from sharing some of my favorite ways to prepare them on the blog. And yet, they often find their way onto my cooking class menus and my program batch cooking meal plans, not just because I know that they are indeed crowd pleasers, but because of a myriad of techniques that go into making my kale salad the best fucking kale salad you’ve ever eaten.
So today I’m doing things a little differently than usual by doing a deep dive into what makes this recipe so basic, yet so damn good.
The Anatomy of a Basic Bitch Kale Salad
First, let’s put on our nerd goggles and break things down. Below are some of the elements that are most important for making this salad both basic and the best ever. Because, after all, sometimes things become basic because of their deliciousness. (See item 2, avocado.)
1. Massaged Kale: Not all kale salads are created equal, and I think the quality really comes down to which type of kale you choose. When I’m using kale in raw preparations, I opt for Lacinato (also known as Tuscan, Dinosaur or Cavo Nero) for two reasons. First, it’s darker, smoother and less toothsome than curly kale. Second, the leaf is much easier to separate from the stalk. And if you want a delicious, tender kale salad, first rule of thumb is that you must remove the thick stem.
The idea of massaging the kale has become a pretty big requirement for a kale salad’s basicness. But I think it’s misleading. I prefer the term “marinated” to describe the preparation since the idea is really that you’re coating every leaf in a mixture of acid, oil and salt. Like a ceviche, this helps to tenderize the vegetables by drawing out excess liquid and breaking down the leaves. The best way to do this is to use your hands. Since kale is sturdier than lettuce, you can get handsy with it, but a deep tissue massage isn’t really necessary. The marinade will do its job just fine as it sits.
2. Avocado: DUH. Enough said.
3. Color: Basic bitches love pretty colors. For this version, I love the vibrant combo of radicchio and garnet beets. But other variations include shredded purple cabbage or sliced fruit.
4. Sweetness: Since kale salads tend to have more acid than normal salads, they taste most balanced when there’s a pop of sweetness. I used to use dried cranberries or cherries for this purpose. Now I let the beets do double duty since I’m watching my added sugar.
5. Crunch: Toasted croutons or breadcrumbs are the less healthy options. I use chopped cashews in this version, but any nut will work. Almond is perhaps the most basic option. Go nuts!
Some Other Reasons That Make This Salad THE BEST KALE SALAD
Garlic Paste: You can use a garlic press for a similar effect, but mincing the garlic with a few dashes of salt does double duty in breaking down the clove and taking the edge off. This means less big bites of garlic that might offend your significant other, and by making a paste, you release the garlic’s juices which will seamlessly infuse the rest of the dressing.
Tahini Sauce: While you don’t need more than the oil, lemon juice, garlic paste and salt, if you have time to gild the lily, a drizzle of creamy tahini sauce makes this kale salad that much more luscious.
The thinnest ribbons: I use a similar technique to chiffonade basil. Stack the leaves roughly biggest to smallest, roll them up like a cigar, and slice the kale as thin as possible. This will give you that elegant restaurant effect, and it will also mean less to chew through when you get down to the task of eating it.
If all of these reasons don’t convince you that this kale salad has reached a higher level of mastery, read on for the recipe and decide for yourselves! And tell me in the comments: what elements are in your favorite kale salad? There’s always room for improvement over in these parts.
With health and hedonism,
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The Best Basic Bitch Kale Salad with Beets, Avocado and Tahini Dressing
- Prepare the kale: Remove the thick stem from the center of the kale by carefully tearing away the bottom part of the leaves and then grabbing ahold of the stem. Pull up along the stem. The leaf should come away intact, missing the center when the stem once was. Stack the kale leaves with the largest at the bottom, smallest at the top. Roll the leaves width-wise into a cigar. Turn the roll over so that the opening is touching the cutting board. Thinly slice the cigar – the result will be beautiful ribbons of kale. Add to a large mixing bowl.
- Make the garlic paste: Mince the garlic on a work surface. Gather into a pile on your cutting board, and sprinkle with sea salt. Keep mincing, rendering the garlic even finer. Now, begin scraping the garlic with your knife. The teeth should be flush with the cutting board. Put pressure on the blades as you draw it over the surface of the garlic forming a paste. 10 or so strokes should do it. Transfer to the bowl with the kale.
- Marinate the kale: To the bowl, add 3 tablespoons lemon juice, the olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss the kale with your hands until it’s very well coated in the lemon-oil mixture – don’t be afraid to man handle it!
- Make the tahini: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together (a fork is fine) the tahini, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. A thick paste will form – culinary magic! Whisk in water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is the consistency of ranch. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or lemon juice as necessary.
- Assemble the salad: Toss the radicchio with the kale and transfer to a serving dish. Top with the beets, avocado, and cashews. Drizzle with the tahini and garnish with the hemp seeds.
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