The Inspired Chef Massages Her Kale

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Kale salad with butternut squash, beets,cranberries and pepitas

Is kale the new bacon? Seriously, five years ago I didn’t even know what kale was (although, if pressed, I might have recalled its use in dividing produce on grocery store shelves and as garnish under crudité platters).

Believe it or not, kale’s history dates back to 600 BC, when the Celts brought it back to Europe from Asia Minor. Ancient Greeks and Romans grew it, and kale was one of the most common green vegetables in all of Europe until the end of the Middle Ages. Apparently, it still has quite a foothold there. In Germany, there’s an annual Grühnkohlfahrt, a celebration dedicated to eating a lot of cooked kale (in addition to sausage and schnapps). Over in the Netherlands, they feast on a traditional dish of stamppot boerenkool, mashed potatoes and kale. 


Kale from Abode Farm CSA in New Lebanon, NY

Kale made its way over to North America in the 17th century but was slow to gain ground until it’s monster spike in popularity a few years after the new millennium. In 2008 Whole Living deemed kale a “powerfood” and in 2009 Martha Stewart published a recipe for kale slaw. (And who could forget Gwenyth Paltrow making kale chips on Ellen in 2011?) Now kale is being touted by every celebrity chef and featured on the menu of most upscale restaurants. On top of that, the farm-to-table movement is very keen on pushing kale into the limelight, so I think this leafy green is going to be enjoying the spotlight for the foreseeable future. 

That’s good because, unlike bacon, kale is very healthy for you.  According to an article in, “The possible health benefits of consuming kale include improving blood glucose control in diabetics, lowering the risk of cancer, lowering blood pressure, improving bone health, lowering the risk of developing asthma and more.” The article points out that kale is chock-full of essential vitamins A, C and K as well as minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Also noteworthy, is that a cup of fresh kale has only about 40 calories but packs almost 3 grams of protein.

And there’s no shortage of what you can do with kale either, from salads to chips to smoothies, and apparently even cake. I appreciate that because as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) member, I basically get a “share” of vegetables grown on by a local farmer every week in the summer/fall and once a month in the winter (see Abode Farm). That “share” more often than not includes kale, so I’m always on the alert for new ways to put it to use. 

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The Inspired Chef with her brother, David Joseph, at a recent family dinner

It just so happens that I recently found a recipe for “Kale Salad with Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Pepitas” on The New  York Times “Well” blog. This salad is a real crowd-pleaser (even my cousin’s 12-year-old son devoured it) because, it blends the fresh earthy taste of the kale with salty, crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds); chewy, sweet dried cranberries; and creamy, roasted squash. I also like to add roasted beets for an additional layer of taste and color.


Toasted pepitas

While the adapted recipe is below, I want to share with you the Inspired Chef’s big kale secret: add the salad dressing to the kale and massage it through with your hands, and I mean a really good massage! You’ll notice quite a dramatic change – the leaves will get darker, shrink in size, and develop a silky texture. The Los Angeles Times explains why this happens: “That tough cellulose structure breaks down — wilts, actually.”

So, get out there and massage your kale today!

Kale Salad With Butternut Squash, Beets, Cranberries and Pepitas


1 pound butternut squash

2  medium beets

5 tablespoons olive oil

 Salt and pepper

1 bunch of kale, de-stemmed

1/4 cup apple cider

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped

1/2 cup pepitas

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon brown sugar


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the squash, cut in half, and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch cubes and then toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Scrub the beets well and wrap them in tin foil, then place the on the baking sheet with the squash. Put the vegetables in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, or until the squash can be pierced by a knife. Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool. Continue to cook the beets for another 25 minutes, or until slightly soft to the touch. Can be done a day or two in advance.

Slice the kale into bite-size pieces. In a small bowl, mix together the apple cider, cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons oil and maple syrup and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle half the dressing over the kale and gently massage the kale to soften it up.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, pepitas, cinnamon, brown sugar and a dash of salt. Toast the pepitas in a shallow pan, just until they start to get tan and fragrant. Set aside to cool.  Note: I’ve also added store-bought, salted pepitas and that is a fine substitute.

Add the squash, beets, dried cranberries (I like to roughly chop these), and pepitas to the kale. Toss with as much  of the remaining dressing as needed. One other note: let this salad sit out a while before serving, otherwise the beets and squash are a bit too cold for my taste.


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