At the top of the list was the salad, unassuming on arrival — a giant pile of shredded, dark, glossy greens in a shallow bowl — but transcendent on first bite. The kale was sliced so thin the pile was wonderfully fluffy, grounded by the crunch of breadcrumbs, and lemony, chile-spiked dressing punched through the slight bitterness of the greens. I couldn’t eat it quickly enough.
Ten years later, we’ve had so many kale salads that some eaters have cried uncle. Kale’s ubiquity didn’t always seem so well deserved, it’s true, and we should have long ago left room for appreciating many other greens. But I resist most attempts to cancel kale, because it’s not the poor vegetable’s fault that it was the main ingredient in too many badly made salads.
Jake Cohen writes about a kale-salad epiphany similar to mine in his new book, “Jew-ish.” His was made by Chicago chef Zach Engel, and after he tried it, “I was shook,” Cohen writes. “I thought I knew kale salad, but as is the case with most things, I knew nothing. … It was balanced and delicate and hearty and I think about it often … more often than anyone should be thinking about salad.”
Cohen’s streamlined version maintains the appeal: Besides the kale, It’s got slightly charred butternut squash, apple chunks, bulgur, parsley and pumpkin seeds, all of it slicked with a garlicky, lemony dressing. The bulgur and parsley make it reminiscent of the Lebanese classic tabbouleh salad, but it strays so far from the traditional that any resemblance is faint. And that’s perfectly okay, because it has enough outstanding qualities without needing the reference.
Most of all, it’s the kind of kale salad that, if you thought we should all get over kale salads, might make you reconsider.
Note: This recipe comes together quickest if you get the bulgur soaking before you begin any other prep work. To make this a meal, serve with bread and/or a protein of your choice.
Make Ahead: The bulgur can be soaked and the butternut squash roasted up to 5 days in advance. Toss with the remaining ingredients right before eating.
Storage: The salad can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, although the pumpkin seeds and apples will lose a little crunch. Freezing is not recommended.
- 3/4 cup (about 4 ounces/120 grams) cracked bulgur wheat
- 1 1/2 cups hot water
- 1 1/4 pounds butternut squash (1 medium), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or pressed
- 1 pound Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped
- 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
- 1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
Position one rack in the middle of the oven and one rack closest to the broiler, and preheat to 450 degrees.
In a bowl, combine the bulgur and water. Let stand for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender but slightly chewy, then drain off any excess water.
While the bulgur is soaking, on a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Roast, tossing once halfway through, for 16 to 18 minutes, until tender. Turn the oven to broil, transfer the baking sheet to the upper rack, and broil until the squash is lightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.
In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Add the kale and parsley and toss with the dressing, massaging the greens gently with your hands for a minute or two until the kale softens slightly.
Add the drained bulgur, roasted squash, pumpkin seeds and apple to the bowl with the greens and toss to combine. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed, and serve.
Calories: 499; Total Fat: 26 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 419 mg; Carbohydrates: 60 g; Dietary Fiber: 15 g; Sugar: 11 g; Protein: 14 g.
Adapted from “Jew-ish” by Jake Cohen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021).