An impromptu dinner party broke out when Holly Smith visited a friend in Bend a few years back. She made a salad she’d been experimenting with at home. The Cafe Juanita executive chef and owner was acquainting herself with nutritional yeast—trying it out in various recipes “just to have something in my pocket for vegans.”
The crowd that night was decidedly omnivorous. But “I watched everyone go loopy for this salad,” she remembers. Working big chunks of avocado—and a dash of vinegar—into the massaged kale and salsa creates a sort of sleight-of-hand salad dressing. But the real magic is in the universal appeal. Her 18-year-old son, Oliver, is a fan; Smith has watched kale salad skeptics wolf this down by the plateful. She even serves it at Cafe Juanita on occasion, for plant-enthusiast or dairy-averse diners. “I tell people, ‘it’s a salad that just happens to be vegan,’” says Smith.
Curly Kale Salad with Charred Green Onion, Peppers, and Avocado
(Serves four as a generous side salad)
- Curly kale, 1 head
- Mama Lil’s pickled peppers, 3–4 tbsp (or more), with a little oil from jar
- Green onion, 3 bunches
- Avocados, 2–3
- Nutritional yeast
- Champagne or rice vinegar, the best quality you can afford
- Kosher salt to taste
- Clean curly kale. Remove all the rough stems and internal ribs on the leaves. Be rigorous—you’ll get a better texture, and salad shouldn’t feel like work to eat. Tear kale into pieces and dry. Set aside in a bowl with cloth over top.
- Reserve four stalks of green onion. Over a low grill or in a cast-iron pan, char the rest of them until the surface is about 50 percent black, and the whole thing is well cooked.
- Let the onions cool. Chop them finely along with the Mama Lil’s peppers to create a relish-like salsa. Season lightly with kosher salt. Set aside.
- Chop the remaining four green onions into pieces slightly less than a quarter-inch long. You want them to display some presence against the kale. Set aside.
- Dice the avocados into large pieces. The exact amount and size of your avocados can vary but Smith errs on the side of more—it’s the fat in the dish, and avocados are delicious.
- Add six generous tablespoons of your Mama Lil’s salsa to the kale. Massage the leaves while combining. Massaging makes the kale more tender; you can see and feel the leaves darken and become softer.
- Quickly add avocado and a tablespoon of vinegar. The avocado will melt down into the salad a bit to create a creamy dressing. Continue to mix all ingredients until the salsa and avocado are evenly distributed. Smith likes to retain some chunks of avocado.
- Taste and adjust with additional vinegar or salsa as desired. Smith usually adds more vinegar. This should be an explosion of flavors and should bring a little spice and acid to every bite.
- Add the raw green onions, toss, and plate the salad. Generously top each salad with the nutritional yeast just before serving.
The salsa can also top bruschetta or crostini, alone or with some gooey sheep’s cheese.