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Springtime's arrival announces the start of a wonderful time in farmers' markets, as some of the freshest, brightest, most tender and flavorful produce begins to fill growers' stands. I love strolling among the stalls with my sons, enjoying what can sometimes seem like a never-ending buffet of tender, crisp leaves in a variety of shades, baby peas, the first slender young shoots of asparagus, and other vegetables, not to mention the citrus fruits holding over from winter and, in places, the earliest of the berries that will make their biggest impression from late spring to summer.
It's no wonder that spring inspires cooks and food lovers everywhere. Every meal can feel like a fresh discovery.
Some of the easiest ways to translate springtime produce for the table are salads. Choose greens that look good to you, whether one variety or several; rinse them with cold running water and dry them thoroughly with a salad spinner or simply with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels; add a dressing that complements the greens' flavors and textures, as well as suiting your own preferences; throw in a few other ingredients for bright contrasting sparks; and you've got a dish that celebrates the season and satisfies the appetite.
One of the most popular salad greens in recent years, which seems in no danger of waning in its appeal, is kale, whose crinkly dark-green leaves pack as much healthful nutrients as they do robust flavor and texture. Many people think of kale as a largely a cold-weather green. But, in fact, not only does it thrive well into spring but also, thanks to its popularity, now seems to be widely available in markets year-round.
If you haven't enjoyed kale in a salad before, now is a perfect time to give it a try, especially in the recipe I share here for Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette, Golden Raisins, and Pine Nuts, from my new book, "Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy," published this very week.
I like to serve this healthful salad as a first course. But you can also offer it as a side with grilled, broiled, or roasted seafood, poultry, or meat, or make a double batch to serve as part of a buffet.
If you're counting calories, something many people do in springtime as they see summer swimsuit season approaching, you'll be pleased to learn that the recipe, a generous and filling plateful of greens, is only 230 calories per serving. Yes, about half are fat calories; but most of those come from the heart-healthy fat of the olive oil in the zesty dressing.
So, please give my recipe a try, and see how easy, pleasurable, and healthful it can be to eat your springtime greens.
KALE SALAD WITH PINE NUTS, RAISINS, AND LEMON VINAIGRETTE
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 bunch organic kale, about 1/2 pound, leaves rinsed with cold running water and thoroughly dried
6 tablespoons Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly shaved Parmesan, for serving (optional)
Put the raisins in a small mixing bowl. Add hot water to the bowl to cover the raisins completely. Set the raisins aside to soak and plump up for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the pine nuts in a small nonstick pan. Cook the nuts over low heat, stirring frequently, until they turn golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a bowl and set aside.
With a sharp knife, cut out the stems and tough ribs from the kale leaves. In batches, stack the leaves, roll them up lengthwise, and cut them crosswise into strips 1/2 inch wide. You should have about 8 cups packed of shredded kale.
Thoroughly drain the plumped raisins.
In a large bowl, combine the kale, raisins and toasted pine nuts. Drizzle with the Lemon Vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss lightly but thoroughly.
Transfer the salad to individual chilled serving bowls or plates, taking care to divide the ingredients evenly. Garnish with Parmesan, if you like.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
In a small nonreactive bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and sugar. Stir with a whisk until thoroughly blended. Whisking continuously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to form a smooth emulsion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.