I’m not crazy about kale. This might be my most controversial unpopular opinion given the meteoric rise in popularity its seen over the years. When it comes to dark leafy greens, kale is hard to beat; it can be eaten raw or cooked, comes in a variety of colors and shapes, offers a potential array of vitamins and minerals, and is readily available at a reasonable price, even if you splurge on organic. That’s an incredible claim to fame for a vegetable previously used only as decoration in deli cases.
Despite all that, kale is never the first type of greenery I’ll reach for in the produce section, or the second, or even the third. I don’t outright dislike it, but I feel like so many other options just suit particular dishes better. Arugula gives me the peppery bitterness I crave in a salad. Collard greens melt into tender ribbons in stews and braises. Spinach is better for adding green color to baked goods since it has a fairly neutral flavor. Boston or Bibb lettuce are ideal on burgers or sandwiches for a juicy crunch. Given such a wealth of choices, kale tends to fall towards the bottom of my list.
Obviously, I’m not an arbiter of taste. Kale remains king on menus across the US, from fast food to five-star, low brow to high end. I can’t fully understand it but don’t begrudge kale’s success one bit. If anything, that repeated exposure has proven its value in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Case in point: The Fire Kale Salad from Daily Juice.
It lingered in my memory long after my first visit to Austin despite being a rushed grab-and-go meal at the time. Prepacked in a plastic clam shell, it fit the bill for something fresh and healthy after days of indulging, as one does while traveling. While I quietly wished it was made with romaine or mesclun or just about anything else, I forgot about the kale entirely after one bite.
This kale was tender but still held up to the creamy cashew dressing, standing firm where other weaker greens would have wilted into a watery lump. The whole thing glows red from a final dusting of paprika on top so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. The warm heat from blended jalapeños is apparent up front, growing stronger and brighter over time. Crisp cucumbers provide a cooling foil, a refreshing relief right when it’s needed most. That added layer of crunchy texture harmonizes beautifully with the handful of toasted cashews tumbling between the frilly leaves. Such a simple combination simply works.
Normally, I’d rattle off a list of alternate greens to swap in, but kale is really the one for the job here. You could go with purple kale instead of plain green, but that’s about it. Everything that usually disqualifies it from my other recipes is exactly what makes it perfect in this one. Whether you love it or hate it, this kale salad is straight fire.