The weekend before Thanksgiving I went on a babymoon with my husband to Portland. I had heard a lot of buzz related to the city’s blossoming food reputation (and chocolate Raleigh bars) so we booked a flight. Serendipitously for me, a week later the Oregon tourism board sponsored visits by some of the heavyweights in the internet food community. Their descriptions and pictures made it relatively simple to enact some envious, drooling, pre-trip, Oregon reconnaissance. (Here, here, here, and here are some lovely posts.)
In between a lot of Stumptown coffee, Voodoo doughnuts, Nuvrei pastries (their pretzel croissants revive the dead), Pearl Bakery, Powell’s bookshop (my brain imploded there, in a good way), the Saturday Farmer’s market, Lincoln Restaurant, and an obscene chocolate bar binge at Cacao, our favorite meal was hands down dinner at Grüner.
They describe themselves as a restaurant “devoted to the warm, hearty flavors of Middle Europe” with “[o]ld-world comfort meets new-world sophistication.” While the notion that the “New World” has attained some sort of pedigree seems a bit laughable to me, I concur that their food is both warm and sophisticated. Though they dabble in “hearty” specialties of Bavarian and Hungarian cuisines that are relatively well-known here in the U.S., nothing was heavy or greasy, but rather a surprising mix of belly sticking and simple elegance. In their originality and execution, perfectly roasted squab with house-made sausages, pickled cranberries, and stack of paper-thin creamy potatoes and the warm spiced hazelnut doughnuts with chocolate ganache dipping pot bested the (delicious, but traditional) Alsatian tart with onions, cheese, and bacon and the creamy buckwheat noodles with chanterelles.
The star of the exceptional meal, however, was their kale and farro salad.
I have grown lacinato kale in my garden for six years and despite a two-year hiatus of irresponsible neglect, volunteer arugula and kale (also called dinosaur kale or cavolo nero) continued to grow unattended and unheeded. With frozen swirls of frost it not only survives, but thrives, attaining a sweetness that trumps the flavor of cabbage. For me, kale is a quintessentially winter vegetable. Even before this last year’s garden revival, my son knew that we “San Francisco farmers” grew delicious kale that could be added to soups and sautéed into pasta as fast as you could pick it and wash away the aphids.
In my mind’s eye, my personal Grüner kale salad begins with a bed of farro and thinly ribboned kale, julienned carrots, radishes, and whatever other root vegetable one might have on hand. It is then tossed with a lemony-garlic vinaigrette (an anchovy-less Caesar dressing really), a handful of minced garden herbs like chives and thyme, grated salty cheese, and then showered with grated hardboiled egg.
While I will always sing high praises of perfectly crafted salads, I tend to crave them more in warm weather and, rather typically, cook up pots of soup, pot pies, and pastas in the winter time. Resisting the status quo, here is winter’s salad–a nourishing, balanced, healthy salad that takes no prisoners. In an arm wrestling match against a rack of ribs or winter beef stew, I am putting my money on this kale farro salad. Best of all, it is a recipe one can turn to after the upcoming sugar-laden days of baking holiday cookies where I, for one, will taste three or four of every batch and end the day craving something fresh and devoid of butter and sweetness.
The only downside of this salad is that you have to prep the farro and egg ahead of time. If you are home half an hour before you plan on making the salad, that is not a problem. However, since most salads at my house are conceived, prepared, and consumed in around fifteen minutes, I also strongly recommend Tea’s dynamo kale salad here, which fits that bill, and I eat for lunch often.
Finally, feel free to play around with the size of the vegetables you add. The easiest, quickest, and most uniform thing to do is to julienne the roots (radish, carrot, kohlrabi, etc.) with a mandoline or box grater, throw everything in and dress it. However, if you have tiny little early spring/late fall radishes and carrots, you could also add those whole, dress the salad without the pecorino cheese in the vinaigrette, and then shave large, thin flakes on top with the crumbled egg.
Ribboned Kale and Farro Salad with Garlic-Lemon Vinaigrette
(serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a salad)
4 cups thinly sliced kale
1 large or 2 medium carrots
3 large 5 medium radishes
1 small kohlrabi (optional)
1 cup cooked farro (cook to al dente and let cool)
handful of chives, snipped into bits
two springs of fresh thyme, minced
2 large lemons (about 5-6 tablespoons juice, plus some of the zest)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper (optional)
2-3 hard-boiled eggs
Stack the cleaned and dried kale leaves in a flat tower on the cutting board to cut into thin ribbons and set aside in salad bowl. Julienne the roots (carrots, radishes, etc.) with a box grater, a mandoline, or cut by hand and add to the kale. Add the farro and the minced chives and thyme.
Make the vinaigrette. Zest at least one of the lemons and then juice the rest until you have approximately 5-6 tablespoons of juice. Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, crushed garlic, and salt and let rest a minute to mellow the garlic. Whisk in the grated cheese and olive oil. Toss the vinaigrette with the farro, kale, and julienned roots. Finish by box grating (or pushing through a sieve) the hard-boiled eggs. Sprinkle over the salad and top with freshly grated pepper if you like.