Summer officially starts tomorrow, but my annual raw kick has been up and running for a while now. For the next couple of months my meals will revolve around the water-packed, cooling foods growing in abundance this season.
Leafy greens, crunchy vegetables like bell peppers, cucumbers, and fennel, and juicy summer fruits...they're soothing to the body and soul this time of year, plus they are also rich sources of the nutrients we need to stay energized in this season of movement and expansion. These summertime treats also provide ample amounts of water to rehydrate our bodies after a day spent outdoors in the heat -- or indoors under air conditioning, which also can have a drying effect on the body.
My go-to salad this year features heaps of raw, leafy greens paired with seasonal fruits for satisfying sweetness and nuts for texture and protein. A new favorite rendition incorporates nutrient-packed kale, antioxidant-rich blueberries, cooling fennel, and crispy toasted almonds, all tied together with a light and bright lemon-ginger-honey vinaigrette that complements the salad’s main stars rather than covering them up.Kale is a good source of bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin K, immune-boosting vitamin C, blood-building iron, and a variety of phytonutrients that may reduce the risk of certain cancers. This dark leafy green is also rich in flavonoids, compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, and is one of the best plant sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that help protect against macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss.
A couple of tips for salads based on raw kale. First, it's important to start with good greens. At the market, select kale with smaller-sized leaves, which will be milder, sweeter, and more tender than older, larger leaves. Massaging kale with dressing is a great no-cook method that tenderizes the leaves and brings out their sweetness, while also aiding digestibility and preserving heat-sensitive nutrients, such as vitamin C.
An added benefit of adding a raw kale salad to your meal is that, unlike delicate salad greens, already-dressed kale keeps beautifully overnight in the fridge. I like to eat the leftovers alongside scrambled eggs for breakfast (add some ripe avocado and I'm in heaven!) or stirred into a bowl of steamed rice or quinoa for a quick and light lunch or dinner.
One thing I especially love about this salad is that it's so versatile throughout the year. Mix it up through the seasons by including seasonal fresh or dried fruits in place of the blueberries: stone fruits such as peaches or plums, melon, apples or pears, dried currants, cherries, or apricots. Top with crumbled feta or goat cheese (or another protein of your choice) for a heartier salad that can be served as a main course.
Kale Salad with Blueberries, Almonds & Lemon-Ginger Vinaigrette
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
1 bunch kale (curly kale or Lacinato/Tuscan kale are my favorites)juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon honey (preferably raw; use maple syrup if you prefer)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ fennel bulb, stalks and tough outer layer removed
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped (I used Marcona almonds)
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1. Wash kale thoroughly. Remove stems and chop leaves into bite-sized pieces.
2. Whisk together lemon juice, honey, ginger, and olive oil in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
3. Add kale to bowl with vinaigrette. Massage kale with clean hands until the leaves begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside for 15 minutes.
4. Grate fennel using the rough side of a cheese grater. Add to bowl with kale and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.
5. Garnish with blueberries and almonds before serving.