Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

After a week eating my way through Italy, then an indulgent Thanksgiving holiday with family in New England, I was ready to be return to my own kitchen in Brooklyn on Sunday.

It’s funny that the same reason I crave vacation, namely to bust out of my well-worn routines, is the same reason I can’t wait to get home.

Because I cook for a living, being fed by others for a sustained period is heaven. No menu planning. No grocery shopping. No cooking. No dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but we all need a break.

Before I leave, I obsessively peruse the internet, reach out to friends and read through favorite travel guides to discover the best of what’s to eat wherever I go. Then, with every delicious bite at every carefully selected restaurant, it’s like I’m consuming a little bit of that chef’s culinary point of view.

But there comes a time when I am ready to eat my food again. To return to the meal routines that work for me. Namely, meals that revolve around vegetables.

The very first thing I made when I got home was this massaged lacinato kale, roasted wild mushroom and avocado salad. It touches on all of the elements of a crave-worthy vegetable dish: ingredients that are seasonal, both raw and cooked, and vibrantly colorful, and that provide contrasting textures, a little indulgence and a few surprises.

Both kale and mushrooms are at their peak during fall and winter. In fact, kale gets better as the weather gets colder. For this salad, I roast the mushrooms to concentrate flavor, essentially transforming them into little crunchy umami bombs. I top the salad with deep red, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes for color. (I added them after taking the salad shots this time because they were still hot from the oven and I was too hungry to wait…typical.) The additions of avocado, toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan lend both contrasting texture and enough indulgence to keep me coming back for more. And finally, I finish the dish with lemon zest, thinly sliced scallions and a tiny bit of fresh mint and basil for a touch of freshness to balance the earthy mushrooms.

I’ve made this kale salad about a gazillion times since I first threw it together on a whim and realized I was onto something. While I see the kale, mushrooms and avocado as mandatory, all other ingredients are flex. Don’t have time to slow-roast tomatoes? Leave them out! Prefer shallots to scallions? Swap’em! #Putaneggonit and/or serve it over a cooked grain like farro to make it more of a complete meal. You get the picture.

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 lbs mixed mushrooms (oyster, king oyster, hen of the woods and maitake are great wild varietals but the more widely available shitake is equally delicious – this will seem like a lot but they shrink up when roasted)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Few shakes of granulated garlic (1/2-1 tsp)
  • 2 bunches lacinato kale, washed, de-stemmed and torn into bite size pieces
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup slow-roasted tomatoes (optional)
  • ½-1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts (hazelnuts are equally delicious)
  • ½-1 cup shaved parmesan (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Small handful of fresh torn basil
  • Small handful of fresh torn mint
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Method

Roast the mushrooms:

  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Prep mushrooms and break them into bite-size pieces. For shitake, this means removing their stems and tearing them into halves or fourths. For king oyster, this means slicing off a tiny bit of the root end and thinly slicing them lengthwise. Prep varies by varietal so purchase shrooms you’re comfortable with or Google proper prep technique.
  • Place shrooms on a sheet pan (lined with parchment for easy clean-up) and drizzle generously with olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper, a few shakes of granulated garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  • Roast in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes, turning the mushrooms halfway through, until they shrink down by nearly half and are very crisp around their edges. Cool on sheet tray.

Make the vinaigrette:

  • Zest lemon and reserve for salad. Juice zested lemon into small bowl, add in a large pinch of salt, then drizzle in an equal amount of olive oil by volume or a little more. Add in the two crushed garlic cloves and allow to steep while finishing the rest of the salad.

Assemble the salad

  • Combine the prepped kale (watch Char’s video tutorial!), cooled mushrooms, sliced avo, slow-roasted tomatoes (if using), toasted walnuts, shaved parm, sliced scallions, torn basil and mint and lemon zest in a large salad bowl. Remove garlic cloves from vinaigrette and drizzle over vegetables. Using clean hands or salad tongs, gently toss salad until every nook and cranny of every vegetable is dressed.
  • Enjoy!

Serves 4 hungry peeps.

Finding Inspiration for the Kitchen

A meal from LA’s Gjusta

Every week we come up with unique menus for our entire client roster. With two art studios and over ten families, each of which enjoy anywhere from two to five meals prepared by us weekly, that’s a lot of unique dishes to dream up.

So, we’re constantly on the lookout for inspiration. I thought I’d share a few favorite places to find it:

  • Travel
    • Like the rest of the What We Eat gals, I plan entire vacations around food. I’ve traveled to Copenhagen for Noma, Napa for French Laundry and (multiple times) to LA for Gjusta and Gjelina. I’m just as excited by less formal places where I get to see how locals more routinely dine. Finally, I drag my husband to every farmer’s market I can find to taste and learn about new ingredients. I take copious notes on my iphone “Notes” app about all of it.
A farmers market in Turin, Italy
Outside Copenhagen’s Noma
  • Eating out
    • Every opportunity to dine out is an opportunity for inspiration. I order as much as I and my dining partners can stomach, take notes on flavor combinations that excite me and take pictures for plating ideas. While I probably go a little overboard in this department, I suggest ordering something a little outside of your comfort zone. Try to discern the ingredients used and how they might have gone about making it. Obviously this is hard for something like pâté, but I’ve recreated many a restaurant salad, etc. with great success. And because you can tweak things to your preferences at home, you might just like your version even more. I’m also a big collector of restaurant menus. Even though they usually just have a few ingredients listed, if I take notes on them they’re like shorthand recipes.
Documenting a creative dish at Noma

Next time you feel like you’re in a rut, eat out, peruse the internet, or hey, take a vacation! Keep a little notebook handy to jot down dishes, ingredients and recipes that excite you so you have a standing list to refer back to later on.

Happy cooking!

With love, Laura

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Celebrating Summer Produce This 4th of July

Nothing says great 4th of July party like a busy grill, packed to maximum capacity with juicy burgers, hot dogs and their ever-so-slightly burnt accompanying buns.

It’s festive, it’s fun and it’s worth it. It’s red meat, gluten, dairy and beer. It’s a whole bunch of condiments made who knows when, containing who knows what. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s important to make room for moments like these.

But just because there’s red meat and gluten on your plate doesn’t mean there’s not room for veggies, too. A healthy lifestyle is just that; a lifestyle. It’s sustainable, balanced living.

Besides, it’s summer! The beginning of the season marks an exciting turning point in our food lives, and it’s not only because of cold beers and burgers.

Suddenly, we’re going to the local green market and filling our totes to the brim with corn, arugula and strawberries, munching as we go. Packing picnics consisting of nothing but heirloom tomatoes, butter and bread, and loving every bite. Enjoying perfectly ripe and juicy stone fruit at pretty much every moment possible.

In other words, we’re beginning to enjoy a whole lot of healthy, raw fruits and vegetables. Our gravitational pull towards the stovetop is less strong; we crave chilled soups, made in the Vitamix and served straight out the refrigerator. We become reacquainted with big salads full of shaved veggies and herbs.

When we do cook, we try to do it outdoors, at night and with a cold glass of rose in hand. And the shopping list is often minimal. A good selection of vegetables and a few cuts of meat is all we need to entertain our palettes, as well as those of our friends.

So, this 4th of July, let’s not forget how lucky we are to be enjoying this new crop of ingredients. There’s so much to work with, and the list of possibilities extends far beyond holiday classics like corn on the cob, potato salads and slaws.

If you’re going to a party or throwing one of your own, why not try to add some umph to the selection of vegetable sides and salads? It doesn’t need to overshadow the other fun stuff, but we think it deserves some love, too!

Not sure what to make? We’ve left you with some loose inspiration below.

Happy cooking!

xo, Emily

Corn and Nectarine Salad

Toss grilled corn with fresh nectarines, some torn basil and a bit of goat or Cojita cheese. I think this would be delicious tossed with lime juice and olive oil, but Bon Appetit makes it with a toasted spiced vinaigrette. I have to admit, it looks absolutely delicious!

Grilled Asparagus

Take grilled asparagus one step further by tossing it with some olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic. And we doubt anyone would complain if you topped it with some shaved parmesan, too.

Tomato and Peach Salad

Toss heirloom and cherry tomatoes with peaches. Add a bit of torn basil and thinly sliced red onion into the mix, and dress well with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Optionally, top with crumbled feta, torn mozzarella or goat cheese.

Cold Pasta Salad with Edible Flowers, Veggies and Herbs

Make summer produce the star of your pasta salad by adding lots of fresh, raw veggies, herbs and edible flowers into the mix. Almost anything goes here! My mom used to make this with tortellini, bell peppers of every color, whatever herbs she was growing (usually tons of basil, parsley and chives) and nasturtiums. It was totally simple, but always a big hit! The key here is a heavy hand with the produce. And don’t forget to dress well with a good glug of olive oil and some red wine vinegar.

And don’t miss our Grilled Corn, Quinoa and Halloumi Salad (Pictured Above)