Though my palate seems to be getting broader with age, my tortured history with vegetables is well-documented. That's why it came as such a surprise to discover a salad at my office holiday potluck last month for which I fell head-over-heels. My supervisor, Tara, had made it, which is why I had felt obligated to try it; otherwise, the "Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad" label would have been enough to deter me, no matter how "yummy" she claimed it to be.
You see, I have never had a particularly good experience with kale; it is so tough that the only time I seem to be able to tolerate it is in soups, and even then it does a shockingly good job of maintaining its robust texture. My experiences with kale salad have been even worse, to the point of being completely inedible. Plus, even though I've been nursing a burgeoning love affair with Brussels sprouts, I've never been particularly fond of them in their raw state.
As a result, I spooned the most meager of portions of Tara's salad onto my plate -- enough to say I'd tried it, but not a morsel more. When I reluctantly brought the fork to my mouth, I was blown away! It tasted very similar to a Caesar salad (probably my favorite way of consuming lettuce, maybe because its also the least healthy), and the thinly-sliced ribbons of kale and Brussels sprouts were surprisingly tender. The cheese provided a sharp tang, and the nuts added crunch to an already texturally-rich dish.
It was so good that I went back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths. I noshed on salad all throughout the day, even though I knew we were going to Girl and the Goat for our office party later that day. I just couldn't seem to stay away, and for me to have that experience with something that is actually relatively good for me is practically unheard of. I made sure to get the recipe from Tara right then and there.
However, later that night, I started to feel terrible. My stomach hurt throughout dinner, but I thought I was just overly full and figured I probably wasn't doing myself any favors by continuing to sample every new dish that was brought to our table because I didn't want to miss out. However, by the time I got home, my stomach ache was so bad that I could hardly sit up, or stand. There were no other gastrointestinal symptoms -- just horrific and debilitating pain. It continued to be so bad that I had to stay home from work the next day.
I couldn't figure out what I had eaten that had upset my stomach so much, because I had eaten so many things, both at the holiday potluck and at Girl and the Goat that aren't normally a part of my diet. It really could have been anything.
Fast forward to this evening, when I persuaded Justin to make Tara's salad for me, because I was feeling too tired to cook. He meticulously cut up all the vegetables, toasted the nuts for garnish, assembled the dressing, and tossed everything together. I was in seventh heaven -- the salad was just as good at home as it had been at the office potluck. I rejoiced over finally finding a dish that was good for me and good for my palate.
And then it started; the stomach pain was back with a vengeance. A friend of mine has been suggesting to me for a long time that I should get checked out for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, based on a number of symptoms that have been plaguing me for years. She has the conditions, and recognized a lot of similarities between our complaints. Doubled over in pain on the couch, I did some Googling and discovered that people who have the type of IBS my friend thinks I might have tend to not be able to tolerate raw kale, and other otherwise healthy raw vegetables.
So maybe there is something to my friend's hypothesis; I'll have to bring it up at my next annual physical. But until then, there is a huge Tupperware container full of kale salad in my fridge that Justin is going to have to polish off on his own. For my part, I am heartbroken that I'll have to watch him eat it from the sidelines, knowing how delicious it is but not wanting to injure my insides any more.
As long as you don't have a sensitive stomach, you need to make this salad. It is seriously one of the most delicious bowls of greens I have ever consumed in my 27 years, and I consider it a tragedy that I will not be able to savor it again. So enjoy it on my behalf, loyal readers, because I feel that even though I can't eat it myself, I owe it to the universe to spread the word about this tasty vegetable treat. Go forth and enjoy -- I'm jealous!
Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad
adapted from Bon Appétit
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 c. almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 c. finely grated Pecorino
Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 c. oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.