Sometimes the salad gods look down upon you and give you cool, crisp inspiration. Recently I had an exceptionally good kale salad at a restaurant in Boston which made me fall in love with kale all over again. Crispy, dried edamame topped the dish while tender bits of poached chicken breast added heft. The sweet miso dressing lightly tossed with crunchy kale was welcome on a hot day spent walking through the city. Everyday after I queued up outside that restaurant with downtown workers, young mom’s with their babies in strollers, millennial women in tank tops and yoga pants their colorful mats rolled up tightly under their arms waiting patiently to place their order for salads. Apparently this place was the best. Some days, shoot most days, that line snaked down Boylston Street but it moved quickly, all the salads were phenomenal and the bowls were huge. Well, now we’re back in Fort Lauderdale and I still crave my salads. I set about finding a recipe for miso dressing. Unfortunately every recipe I found featured strong flavors such as sesame or peanut that completely overshadowed the sweet, sweet flavor of white miso. And all the recipes which promised snappy, crumbly roasted edamame were recipes for mushy, mealy pellets…all had to be thrown out. I took a deep breath and accepted I could only tackle one portion of the dish at a time. I focused on the dressing. I broke down the components of what makes a great creamy dressing. I’m fully aware that there is no such thing as yoghurt in Japan but that’s how I make many dressings smooth and velvety and I’m not about to change that right now. Greek yoghurt is like a blank slate in that it adds a touch of tartness but no other flavor and enhances texture. I always go with 0% fat-free and I’m sticking with it. I hadn’t really ever worked with miso except to sometimes throw it on top of baked potatoes with some added sprouts so I didn’t know…I didn’t know. My little brother, Tommy, loves to cook Asian so I gave him a call as I stood in front of the refrigerated case at Whole Foods completely mystified. He hadn’t had his coffee yet, in fact it was so early I woke him up. In a gravelly voice he repeatedly asked me to read off the selection. “Okay. There’s yellow miso, red miso, brown rice miso..” He interrupted, “That’s it. That’s what you want. The brown rice. It’s what I use for all my stir fries. That’s what you want.” “You sure?” I asked, “I don’t want to drive back here.” “Yeah, yeah!”, he replied “That’s what you want. I’m tellin’ ya.” Well, I’m here to tell YOU it DIDN’T work. The brown rice miso was way too salty. I wanted it to “bloom” in my mouth; I wanted sweet and creamy. That wasn’t it. So back to Whole Foods. I just guessed and decided on sweet white. For all I knew it could be too sweet; for desserts and sweets. But no…it was perfect. I was thrilled! I added a little rice vinegar for some bite and a tiny bit of low-sodium soy sauce just to give it another layer of flavor. A quick drizzle of honey softened the dressing and some chopped ginger was added because it marries so well with miso. I nixed fresh garlic completely as it was altogether too strong for the dressing and overpowered it. My final step was to thin it out a bit. Miso dressing is traditionally smooth and creamy but surprisingly runny. I looked about my kitchen to see what I could use; water would be my last resort. The dressing still needed something to round it out. I had some tamarind pulp in the freezer leftover from a marathon frozen drink binge in the pool. That made it too sharp, too tart. I take almond milk in my coffee in the morning. Let’s try that. Bleah. Too dull. Jeez. There’s got to be something around here. I spied two navel oranges on the counter I needed for a cream cheese icing I was playing around with. Quickly juicing one I added 1/4 cup to the dressing. Wow. It was good. Another quarter cup made it even better. The juice played beautifully with the dressing and I’m thinking carrot juice could easily be another way to go. With the dressing finished I moved on to the actual salad. All my attempt with roasting edamame were disappointments. I still haven’t figured that out but in the meantime I had some store-bought, dried edamame and some roasted pepitas, the seeds of the Spanish pumpkin, calabaza. You get them at the grocery store. Anyway, the edamame were fine but the salad then became a little too earthy and had a musty taste. The pepitas, on the other hand, were perfection! Crunchy and salty, I was happy. Next on my list of demands was the cool-sweet-wet factor. I love mixing savory with sweet. Back to the grocery store for a quick chat with Anthony, my produce man. We talked pears and I’ll admit I bought one but I knew I wasn’t going to use it. All because of peaches. I thought, “Could it work? Will peaches give me the sweetness I want and the pop of juicy?” I think you know the answer. And I grabbed a handful of corn on the cob on my way out. You never know. Corn’s sweet. Maybe it’ll work. And it did. Heaven on earth. Even Jimmy liked the combination and he is NOT a salad man. Anyway, this salad is wonderful for lunch or dinner with a glass of wine or even a cold lemonade. Summer’s here. Hope you like it!
In working towards the end result of this salad I discovered a few tips that help make it even better. Lacinato kale, that’s the flat leaf kale, is a slightly more tender than curly kale. If all you have is curly then by all means use it with good faith. But if you have a choice I suggest Lacinato. I strongly suggest “working” the kale before dressing and serving it. Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil and a quick grind of salt over the washed, drained and cut greens then, with both hands, toss and squeeze the greens using a large bowl. I do this for two or three minutes and I time myself because I really to skip this and move on. You’ll see almost immediately a huge difference in the texture. The kale doesn’t wilt but is tenderized and kale can sometimes be a little tough. Trust me. The two-minute investment is well worth it. Obviously you want to use the ripest peaches you can get your hands on. I use one small peach or 1/2 large one per person. I might take an extra one, chopped up, and scatter it on top just to gild the lily. On those nights you’re having corn on the cob for dinner throw a couple of extra ears on the grill or in the pot. Wrap the extras individually in plastic wrap and use them through the week for salads, cornbread, soup or even a snack. Just slice the kernels off the cobs as needed. This salad can be served with or without chicken so what I do is once a week poach three or four boneless, skinless, halved chicken breasts and have them on hand for salads, sandwiches, chicken parm…whatever. I slice or chop them as called for. And don’t throw out that poaching liquid! Strain it and freeze it for soups or any other later use.
Sweet Miso Dressing
- 1/2 cup sweet white miso paste
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or carrot juice
- 1/4 cup plain greek yoghurt, I use 0% fat
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, I use low sodium
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, on the international aisle at the grocery store
- 2 rounded teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
- Drop all ingredients in mini food processor or blender.
- Blend until smooth.
- Chill until serving.