It was, Sunday, early evening, and we were settling into our seats in the bright 18 Reasons classroom in the Mission. The post-Dolores Park crowd flooded the sidewalks, ice cream or Tecate or fine leather dog leash in hand, peering into the space with curious if not slightly faded eyes. This was my first visit to 18 Reasons, and I was excited to break in my new membership. This wonderful Mission-based non-profit hosts cooking classes, dinners, and community events, funneling the profits into Cooking Matters, a program that teaches culinary skills in low-income communities around the Bay Area.
We sat on wooden benches at equally wooden tables, surrounded by fresh flowers, stacks of cook books, and whimsical paintings of produce hanging on the walls. I’ll spare you the details of what I learned about heritage grains (maybe another time), but the intro of the class went something like this: “First we’ll hear from our first speaker. Blah blah blah blah blah. And then we’ll take a quick salad break before hearing from our next speaker.” A quick salad break?!? Was I dreaming? Alas, I was lucid, and after a most enlightening hour learning about gluten allergies and other lies, we broke for greens.
I soon discovered that this wasn’t just any salad. It was Caesar salad. But not just any Caesar salad. It was Bar Tartine’s recipe for Kale Caesar tossed with Pain Bakery bread-turned-croutons. We guzzled the stuff, which needed no instruction.
Now, I like a good Caesar salad like any good American. I grew up begging my Grandma to make her famous dressing, slathered generously and tossed effusively with crunchy romaine and topped with crumbled garlic croutons. This was the real deal, but I also didn’t discriminate against the creamier bastardized Caesars of the world, which graced my plate many a dining hall repast.
Despite my grandma’s words of encouragement, I never had the gumption to give making the dressing a shot myself. And yet, one bite in to my bowl of salad-break salad and I was hooked. I needed this again, and I needed it soon. I hopped online and found the Bar Tartine recipe, got my butt to the grocery store, and gathered supplies. I was high on a feeling and I didn’t wanna come down.
I made this salad, night after night, until every last anchovy was called for and all the purple kale had been stripped, massaged, and consumed. I made croutons with homemade bread, and brought home a loaf of Pain Bakery’s walnut bread when I ran out of my own stuff. All in all, there were 5 meals of this salad in a row. If that’s not a rave enough review, I don’t know what is.
They say “everything in moderation,” but if this salad is good enough to get me to eat raw, purple kale (and love it) that often, I say screw moderation, “everything with salad breaks!”
Though romaine is traditional, I really love the hearty texture and bold flavor of purple kale. It holds its own against the spicy, creamy dressing, which could easily steal the show if you let it. Don’t skimp on the croutons either – you want to toss these into the bowl right out of the skillet, when they’re still sizzling and crunchy with a little give on the inside. Together, these three simple ingredients make killer meal, a hearty side, or even just a reason to take a quick break.
Ingredients (serves 2)
6-8 anchovies in olive oil
2 large cloves or 3-4 small cloves garlic
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 egg yolk
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 thick slices day-old bread (country loaf, sour dough, ciabatta, whatever)
More olive oil and salt
1 bunch purple kale
In a small food processor, puree the anchovies, garlic, and lemon zest until they form a thick paste.
Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a few drops of lemon juice, and blend completely. Dressing should begin to liquefy and emulsify.
In tiny batches, add the olive oil, blending to combine completely before adding more.
Add the rest of the lemon juice and more olive oil in small (but less tiny) batches until you’ve reached the desired thickness. Add extra salt and lemon juice to taste.
Cut bread into 1-inch cubes.
Heat a few generous glugs of olive oil in a skillet until a little bubbly. Add the bread and a little salt. Toss to cover in olive oil and toast, tossing occasionally, until all sides are slightly browned and crispy.
De-stem the kale, tear into small-ish pieces, and rinse. Give the kale a good squeeze to break it down a bit. Add it to the salad bowl.
Add the croutons and dressing, tossing until the kale it nicely coated.
Use a microplane zester to grate some fresh Parmesan cheese on top and serve!