So here we are, 5 days post-Halloween. I don’t know about you, but I have had an absolute candy binge. We rarely keep candy in the house, not because of some pseudo-moral sense of goodness or privation, but just because it’s unseemly how quickly Jarod and I can tear through a mixed bag of trick or treat candy. It’s a self-preservation technique: when it comes to candy, we have no chill. And to make matters worse, Central Ohio does trick or treating before Halloween itself — yes, this confuses Stephen Colbert, too — so by the time November rolled around, I’d had more than a week of
ravenously consuming gnoshing on all kinds of super-sweet bitesize candy bars. I felt like my tongue had a permanent coating of sugary blech, and I was worried that my teeth were going to fall out, all in a big cartoony denture clump. And yet I couldn’t stop eating Take 5’s, with their salty pretzels and their caramel and their chocolate. It was becoming a problem.
And then, unexpectedly, my body revolted, and all I wanted was kale. Believe me, I am aware of exactly how cliché this is, but in my defense: I’ve been riding this kale train for a good long while. It’s now such a part of my fall diet, in all sorts of preparations, that it was one of the first things I tried out on my husband when we started dating, just to make sure we’d be food-compatible. Over this past weekend, though, I didn’t want just any kale; I wanted a form of kale so terribly earnest that it doesn’t even understand that it’s a ‘thing’.
Fortunately, I had just the recipe floating around in my files. A few years back, I discovered the joys of ume vinegar from Faith Durand’s post about chickpea of the sea (veggie tuna salad) on the Kitchn. After I’d eaten bowls and bowls of astoundingly good mashed chickpeas, I wondered what else I could do with this tart, fruity, ruby-red brine; I went scoping the internet and came across a whole host of dressing recipes. Every last one seemed like it’d be perfectly at home in a local foods co-op, but that works for me. After some experimentation, I came up with a dressing that I loved: it’s just barely sweetened, with a tart underbelly from a trio of vinegars (including the deliciously salty ume), and a pungent backbone of shallot and garlic. I’d been on a tear of grain salads, so I combined it with brown rice and chopped kale, along with some golden raisins that looked lonely.
That earnest, hippie-dippie salad has been a favorite in our house for years now, enjoyed even by steak-and-potatoes folks who normally wouldn’t look twice at a pile of steamed kale. It’s a perfect blend of hearty grains and sweet-salty greens. Which, come to think of it, isn’t so far from those Take 5’s I couldn’t stop eating. Next year, I’ll lay in a stock of this salad before trick-or-treating season, and see if it doesn’t keep me in check. Now if I can also transmogrify Almond Joy into a salad, I might stand a chance.
Sweet-salty brown rice and kale salad
This hearty grain salad has been a favorite in my house for years, enjoyed by hippie vegetarians and meat-and-potatoes types alike. The brown rice gives it a hefty backbone, while the kale and raisins round out the flavor. The dressing is the star, though: a little salty, a little sweet, a little pungent, and entirely delicious.
Possibly inspired by an ume vinegar dressing from Eden Foods, though I honestly can’t recall exactly. You can find ume vinegar (aka umeboshi vinegar or umezu) at Asian markets, health food stores, and of course online.
2 c uncooked brown rice, or 6 cups cooked
1 bunch lacinato kale
1 c golden raisins
For the dressing:
1/3 c olive oil
3 Tbsp ume vinegar
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small shallot, peeled and chopped
Ground black pepper to taste (rather a lot)
If starting from uncooked rice: in a large pot of lightly salted water, boil rice till tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse to cool.
Meanwhile, cut out the center rib from each kale leaf and chop the kale into bitesize pieces; you should have 6-8 cups of chopped kale.
Blend all dressing ingredients until smooth and adjust to taste if necessary; the dressing should be just barely sweet.
In a large bowl, combine the rice, kale, and raisins with dressing and pepper. Can be served immediately, but this is better after a couple hours rest, during which the kale softens slightly. Serve cool, or at room temperature.
Lacinato kale, also sometimes called dinosaur kale, is really the best here. That said, you could probably sub in one of the other flat varieties, like Red Russian kale. Don’t put in raw curly kale, though: I’ll tell you from experience that it’s a scratchy texture nightmare. Blanching it would probably help, though I haven’t tried it — report back if you do!
Ume vinegar is a wonderful thing that I encourage you to seek out, but if you can’t find it you can increase the other vinegars to 2 1/2 Tbsp each (or sub in some other vinegar combo). You’ll need to add a fair amount of salt to replace the ume; start with a half-teaspoon of kosher salt, and adjust until the dressing tastes just a bit on the salty side, but not in a way that overpowers the sweetness.