Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Spa Day" Kale Salad with Fresh Figs & Seared Salmon

My obsession with figs became obvious this week when I zealously forced a Whole Foods cashier to squeeze one of my Brown Turkey figs. The innocent employee was just trying to do her job, but had to endure the uncontrollable excitement of a stranger telling her to "feel how it's squishy but not rotten...the firm ones are never sweet."

I asked her to "feel it" at least 3 times before I realized my intention of demonstrating a perfectly ripe fig may be crossing the line. Charges were dropped, but I'm not gonna talk about anything that was discussed in mediation with Whole Foods.

Disclaimer: This recipe does require a bit of food play.

With just a bit of massaging, this kale salad is guaranteed to satisfy. And trust me, it's so much more than a summer fling.

This luscious salad is the complete package. It's quick and easy to make (30 minutes or less), highlights seasonal ingredients (fresh figs), and is a quintessential part of a heart healthy, Mediterranean style diet rich in fruits, veggies, nuts, and fish.

But most importantly, the combination of flavors are brilliant and delicious...

*Fresh figs*
Summer time means there's an abundance of gorgeous, sweet and juicy figs at your market. Take advantage of it.

The fish forms a beautiful crust as it's seared on the stove top and then cooked to rare/medium-rare perfection in the oven.

*Raw almonds*
This simple pantry staple adds an essential crunch and nuttiness to the salad. I actually forgot to add the almonds the first time I tested the recipe, so I really appreciate how greatly they enhance the dish.

*Goat cheese*
I watch enough Top Chef and Chopped to know that fish and cheese together are taboo. However, I think a mild flavored goat cheese adds a subtle element of fat and richness that doesn't compete with the fish. A bit of cheese turns the salad into a satisfying meal rather than the well known, I'm-on-a-diet-but-will-binge-eat-an-entire-pizza-tomorrow salad. Oh kale to da no!

"Sooo 2014," you say? Think again. The secret...pampering your kale. Yes, massaging your kale is a MUST. Treat this fiber rich superfood to the spa day it deserves and you'll be rewarded with silky, tender greens that are essential to any worthwhile summer salad in 2017.

With a few minutes of loving, you'll see your kale relax (wilt and soften) and develop a vibrant green hue. Supposedly, this is due to the cellulose in the leaves breaking down, but there may also be some magical unicorns involved.

"Spa Day" kale is more than just a massaged kale recipe, though. The dish was created as part of my own larger self care goals. With demanding 80 hour work weeks, physical and mental health issues are far too common during residency.

So, as I enter my third and final year of Internal Medicine residency, I have made more of an effort to make self care and work-life balance a priority. This means cooking meals at home and eating well, regularly going to the gym or a yoga class, and even indulging in personal "Spa Days" with mani/pedis, massages, and facials.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Kale Salad

  • The sweetest figs should be a little mushy, but the skin should be dry and intact. I personally hand select each fig one by one using that criteria.
  • Be sure to use high quality ingredients. It makes all the difference in simple recipes such as this one.
  • I use green, curly kale, but you can experiment with other kale varieties. (And let me know what you think)!
  • I prefer to massage my kale before adding any dressing. I try to massage enough for several meals and it stores better pre-dressed.
  • Have fun and add other seasonal ingredients like beets, berries, onion, avocado, etc!
  • Ask your fishmonger for center cut pieces of salmon, which are thicker and more uniform in size.
  • Fish spatulas work really well and have helped me keep my salmon skin intact when flipping.
  • For the vinaigrette, I enjoy the slightly fruity and tangy flavor from the raspberry vinegar. However, you can substitute for any type of vinegar. I also love to use a good aged balsamic vinegar.

Kale Salad with Fresh Figs & Seared Salmon Ingredients

(Makes 2 large salads)
For the salad
  • 1 large bunch of curly kale
  • 1/2 cup whole raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 6 fresh figs, halved
  • 4 ounces plain goat cheese (mild and softer varieties)
For the salmon
  • 2 salmon filets with skin on, 8 ounces each
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Heavy bottomed stainless steel or cast iron fry pan, such as a Le Creuset
For the raspberry vinaigrette
  • 1 (generous) teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 (generous) teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons good raspberry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil

Kale Salad with Fresh Figs & Seared Salmon Recipe

Making the raspberry vinaigrette
In a medium bowl, combine the mustard, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Preparing the kale
Wash kale thoroughly and dry well. De-stem the kale by placing your index and middle finger at the bottom of the stem and run your gripped hand up the center of the leaf while simultaneously pulling away with your other hand. Discard the stems. In a few batches, roughly chop up the kale leaves and place into a large bowl. Massage the kale for 2-3 minutes by taking handfuls of the leaves and applying moderate pressure repeatedly, similar to kneading dough. The kale should become a deeper green and shrink down.

Pre-massage Post-massage

Pan searing the salmon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With paper towels, thoroughly pat dry the salmon. Coat salmon liberally with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with kosher salt and pepper.

Heat fry pan over high heat. Once pan is very hot, add the salmon filets, skin side down. Reduce heat to medium-high and sear undisturbed for precisely 3 minutes. Flip salmon, taking care to keep skin intact. Sear for exactly 2 minutes.

Transfer pan into the preheated oven. Cook for 2 minute and 30 seconds for a perfect rare/medium-rare (recommended), 3 minutes for medium-rare, and about 4 minutes for medium. Immediately, transfer filets from the hot pan onto a plate to avoid any further cooking.

Assembling the salad
Toss the kale with dressing to desired taste. Add dressing gradually to avoid overdressing the salad. To serve, fill each salad plate or bowl with a generous amount of kale. Next, add the chopped almonds, 4-6 fig halves, and a a few chunks of goat cheese. Last, add the salmon and serve immediately.

...Then do something good for yourself. Go to the gym, get a mani/pedi, or indulge in your own personal "Spa Day."