A few years ago I became obsessed with eating kale salads, lacinato kale salads to be precise. Nothing fancy, just kale, sliced thin, doused in meyer lemon juice and sprinkled with parmesan, maybe salt and pepper; later incarnations included fried almonds and sunflower seeds. I would pile it all in a big bowl, offer D a serving, which he would politely decline, and proceed to eat the entire bowl. Night and night, bite after bite, finishing always with an extra sweet and crunchy forkful, feeling completely satisfied and happy. All that lemon juice does a wonderful thing to your palate- it cleanses it.
In the ups and downs that have followed since that first whirlwind courtship, kale salads and I have gone in fits and spurts, but I admit I’m happier, and healthier, when we’re on good terms. Since returning to Atlanta after our month-long Ohio visit, I’ve been trying my best to feel settled, to sort out a routine, to figure out the secrets of actually getting things done. This mainly means during the week Oliver and I busy ourselves with the business of maintaining the house, with breaks for exercise and trips to the zoo. It’s a two steps forward one step back sort of thing. I can manage to do a load of laundry over the course of the day, but a week later I haven’t quite found the motivation to fold it and put it away.
Its the same for my beloved salads, two steps forward, one step back. While my appetite for kale salads has been in full force ever since those beautiful golden meyer lemons starting popping up at the grocery store, I’m routinely running into road blocks. For whatever reason, kale has been on short supply. Its presence on the produce shelves is fleeting at best, I practically have to luck into shopping when they are restocking the greens to score a bunch. And if I go back the next day, (because yes, I go to the grocery store three times a week) they’ll most likely be sold out, and my craving, which at this point has grown into a dire need, goes unsatisfied.
I know it sounds like a silly problem to have, but remember, I’m a healthier and happier person with my kale salad habit, and no, spinach or arugula just wont cut it. They lack the heft of the kale. But I do recognize the silliness of the whole situation, and to be honest, I’ve just grown tired of trips to the grocery store starting out with disappointment; I need a back-up plan.
Enter swiss chard. Beautiful chard, with autumn colors in its veins, turns out to be an excellent salad green. In my error I’d relegated chard to soups and stir-fries, where it becomes soft and sweet. I never thought it would shine through in a raw salad, but to my surprise, it does. I slice it the same way I do kale, in the thinnest ribbons my attention can manage, but I’ve traded the lemon juice for a cider vinaigrette because a trip to the apple orchard yielded a gallon of cider begging to be put to good use. Said vinaigrette turns out to be a perfect thing in its own right. Its balanced -sweet, but not too, with clear flavors and not bogged down with too much oil. And its proven to be a bit of a kitchen workhorse; I’ve been adding a bit of it to bowls of rice, to broiled vegetables, sliced apples. It’s lovely in a salad with a bit of blue cheese. I’m relieved to have so much cider on hand, because its become my go-to dressing for the fall. And as for the swiss chard, the cider goes right to the thing that makes the chard sweet and pleasing and turns it up.
A simple salad of well-dressed chard is an easy way to add some greens to a dinner plate, but I’ve been making a meal out of my chard salads, naturally. I’ve been adding roasted squash and handfuls of rice and various toasted seeds, playing with sweet and salty flavors, soft and crunchy textures. It’s as satisfying as the best of my kale salads and it comes with important lessons about trying new things and turning disappointments on their head. I know I just spent this whole post going on and on about kale, leading you to believe chard to be a sort of second fiddle, a compromise, but in fact, I’m excited about this autumn salad. And that’s what I’m taking away from this dish, sometimes you find things worth celebrating in unlikely places.
Autumn Chard Salad
- 1 bunch of swiss chard
- 2 cups roasted squash (I used a red kuri squash)
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Cider Vinaigrette from Barefoot Contessa via The Sprouted Kitchen
- ¾ cup apple cider
- 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. chopped shallots
- 2 tsp. dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
To roast the squash, preheat your oven to 425. Cut squash in half, scoop seeds out, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place squash halves face down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast squash until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, remove peel and cut into cubes. Toss to coat with 1 tbsp of vinaigrette and set aside.
To make vinaigrette, in a small sauce pan under high heat combine cider, vinegar and shallots and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 8-10 minutes, until reduced roughly by half. In the bowl of a food processor combine dijon, olive oil and cider reduction. Puree until smooth, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of chili flakes if your feeling bold. Set aside to cool.
Cut out the tough center stalk of the chard. Lay leaves on top of each other and roll them up lengthwise. Slice very thin, creating long thin ribbons of greens. (At this point I usually rinse them, but you could also clean the leaves before you slice them). Sprinkle lightly with salt to soften.
To build the salad, toss greens with 1 tbsp of the vinaigrette, divide among two plates. Mix another tbsp of vinaigrette with the cup of cooked rice and sprinkle evenly over eat plate of greens. Add 1 cup of squash to each plate and finish with a scattering of pomegranate and sunflower seeds. (If this sounds too tedious you can also through all the ingredients in one big bowl, dress the salad and then divide, I just find it easier to distribute everything evenly going step by step.)
Enjoy! For a speedier meal you can roast your squash ahead of time. Vinaigrette keeps well in the fridge for up to two weeks.