Last Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, I bent over my kitchen counter cutting Brussels sprouts and curly kale into slender ribbons. I’m mandolin-phobic, so I used my chef’s knife, brandishing my sharpener at regular intervals. A glass of red wine stood next to the cutting board and regular swigs from it helped dull the growing pain in my wrist. The baby was asleep, my husband was out to dinner—it was just me and four pounds of cruciferous veg.
Do you ever get into those cooking moods where the tasks seem like the labors of Hercules but you can’t stop? (Or is it just me?) When you’re so focused on making one recipe, you completely forsake a meal? That night, I ate dinner on my feet, snatching bites of black bean taquitos from a hot cookie sheet. (I know, I know, but, hey, they were from Trader Joe’s!)
To be honest, I knew what I was getting into when I offered to bring this salad to the pot luck. A week earlier, I had made a trial version, spending a frazzled Sunday evening trying to to feed a, er, discerning toddler, boil spaghetti, and shred roly Brussels sprouts without cutting off my fingertips. The salad was pretty good that night, though I did wonder if it was worth all the work. But when I ate the leftovers the next day, I discovered the salad’s raison d’être, glimpsed its very soul. After marinating overnight, the sharp vinaigrette had tamed the rough leaves into silky crispness, still satisfyingly crunchy and tangy, but softer, more mellow, a sophisticated slaw heightened with toasted almonds and generous handfuls of Pecorino cheese.
At some point during the pre-Thanksgiving chopping marathon, I wondered if the salad could kill me. My wrist ached. My feet throbbed. Maybe the wine had slowed me down, but when I looked at the clock, I was shocked to find that two hours had gone by. My husband came home and confiscated the bag of washed kale. We went to bed and I vowed never to slice anything ever again.
But here’s the thing: The next day found me starving (apparently black bean taquitos do not a satisfying meal make :) And yet, anticipating the turkey and trimmings ahead, all I really wanted was a… light, crunchy pile of shaved Brussels sprouts and kale. When the baby, her father, and granny went out, I whipped out the leftover veg and started slicing. This time, the work went faster, jollied along by Alec Baldwin on NPR. In deference to the day’s celebratory meal, I added a mere dusting of cheese. You could try other variations, too—swap the almonds for pecans, add a handful of dried cranberries, go in a Caesar-ish direction and mash an anchovy into the vinaigrette.
We ate the salad with great relish for lunch, and ate more of it at dinner, and more of it last night (it was a perfect bright counterpoint to the rest of the holiday plate). If I had my druthers, I’d be eating more right now.
Shaved Brussels sprouts and kale salad with almonds and Pecorino cheese
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Note: I like to marinate the minced shallot and garlic in the lemon juice to tame their sharp bite, before whisking in the olive oil to create the vinaigrette. Also, I used pre-grated Pecorino cheese. I was very glad I did!
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 1/2 lbs curly kale leaves, center stem discarded
1 lb trimmed Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup whole, unblanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 pinch fleur de sel (or salt)
1 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper
At the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
With a sharp knife or mandolin, shred the Brussels sprouts. Slice the kale into slender ribbons.
In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toast the almonds, stirring frequently until golden. Season with a generous pinch of fleur de sel (or salt).
Whisk 1/2 cup of olive oil into the lemon juice and mustard mixture to create the vinaigrette. Add the shredded kale and brussels sprouts and cheese and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings. The salad tastes best when allowed to rest overnight. Serve garnished with almonds.