Monday, February 27, 2012

A Kitchen Adventure - Kale Salad with Walnuts, Tomato, Cucumber, and Smoked Salmon

After a jaunt through Astoria's beautiful Socrates Sculpture Park with my friends Rick and Victoria one afternoon,  I'd worked up quite an appetite. Victoria was kind enough to volunteer her kitchen so I could go and get my grub on. She gave me a little tour of the pantry and fridge to let me see what I had to work with. There was a bunch of cleaned, fresh kale, some walnuts, half of an seedless cucumber, and some cherry tomatoes, which all looked great. Then, she brought out some beautiful herbed smoked salmon. Now, it was about to get real. Victoria threw an apron on me, and then joined Rick to watch me put on a show.

Creating dishes off the top of my head helps me develop my flavor palate and helps me with my recipe development skills. I was eager to make something that would be accessible, tasty, and let's not lie: impressive. I started by toasting the walnuts on the stove in a dry skillet, over medium heat until I could just smell, well, nuts. I took them right off the heat so they wouldn't burn to a crisp, and tipped them onto a cutting board where I gave them a rough chop. I put the chopped walnuts in a bowl to cool, and then sliced the cucumbers rather thin, and halved the tomatoes. I set those aside too.

Next, I finely chopped 3 cloves of garlic. I wiped out the skillet that I used to toast the walnuts, poured in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and set it over medium heat. When I saw the oil starting to ripple, I threw in the garlic and listened to that sexy sizzle. I took the pan over to an unlit burner and just let the garlic pop and blister in the oil. I kind of wanted it to steep in the oil and not burn, just really infuse the oil with the garlic flavor. After a a minute or two, I started putting the kale into the hot skillet, a handful at a time. Kale wilts just like spinach or collard greens, so even though you think you're crowding the pan, you're really not. I placed the burner back onto the fire, and tossed the greens around in the oil until the leaves were wilted, but not soggy. I turned off the burner and added a last hit of flavor to the garlicky greens: balsamic vinegar. Just a couple of shakes. Then, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I popped a kale leaf into my mouth; oh yes. The balsamic caramelized a tiny bit, and the zing of it went really well with the garlic and intense greens.

Time to plate this baby.

I took a particularly adorable "The Little Mermaid" plate and piled on a mound of kale. Then, I added some tomatoes and a couple of slices of cukes. Nestled on the side of all this goodness, a few slices of the tender smoked salmon. And for the finish, a hearty sprinkle of the chopped walnuts.

First bite: yowza. It all just worked. The kale had just enough garlic and wasn't overcooked, the raw veggies added a fresh taste and crunch,  and the toasted walnuts added warmth to the whole damn thing. The smoked salmon, well, you can add smoked salmon to almost anything and it'll taste delicious. If I had some soft crumbled chevre (goat cheese), that would have been nice too, but I wasn't sweating it, and I knew Rick and Victoria weren't either. Their plates were just as clean as mine when they finished eating.

Mission? I'd say it was accomplished...and how.