Best piece of gardening advice ever: Plant the damn thing. (Best advice for anything: Go for it!) A plant won't learn to live on its own without room to spread its roots.
That it survived this past year is miracle enough. The plant needs shade, and I planted it in only mostly shade against a wall. In California, in the Valley, in the summer, in the sun, it fried. And I expected it to continue its drying out and cease by August.
But like everything else around here, it continues to surprise me by its insistence on living and thriving, despite its circumstances.
Or, the Lenten Rose keeps reminding me that these are all just cycles. We barely hold on. We cling for our lives! And one day the effort sends up a flush of nutrients, and it goes straight to our heads. We start sending out tender new leaves an a cacophony of flowers as if there were no hard past to ponder.
February is a difficult month for some people I know. I'm not quite sure what this time has been for me. Since the coconut cake I've added a baker's-dozen of poems to my revise stack and a double muffin-batch of single-spaced pages for the manuscript. I've done my work. But, God, the hell hounds have been on my heel. It does seem I've barely held on, and when talking about my mental and emotional capacity - you could say I've been fried.
Fried, but at the same time, totally supported. Can I take a moment's space and give you a kiss on the cheek? You! Readers! I address not the general "you" but the specific: you there. You here. Your interest and encouragement, your comments and emails, your resoundingly positive response this past month has bolstered me up and showed me what it means to have a community in this odd, faceless internet. It has been a pleasure and a blessing interacting, responding, and answering questions with you. It takes an effort to give feedback. A spilling over perhaps. And no one is obligated to such things. So thank you for your uprising.
I would bake you a cake, but I promised dinner last time, and a reader/friend of mine asked for a healthy salad. So here. A fulfillment: a healthy dinner salad. I too need a little less feast and a little more feria these days. I have on the docks a few less grand consumables to add to our repertoire. I've been sitting on them for a while now, and I'm eager to get them out from under me.
This lentil-kale salad is one of them. I've been making it for years, sometimes without the lentils, sometimes with all the additions, sometimes with no fruit all. It is my standby kale salad. I've even added whatever other cooked green things I have: spring asparagus (not too far!), broccoli, wakame. It travels well, it feeds fully, and I've eaten it in turn cold, warm, and slipped into a broth and called soup. Versatility. Comfort. Nourishment! That's why I keep making it.
Enjoy deeply. And do give in to some full body breathing through the last few days of this pre-spring month. We need it.
Lentil-Kale Salad with Tamari-Maple Dressing
Was it clear: This is the most versatile salad in the world. Add stuff. Take stuff away. Play with what you have. And a note on the dressing: I should probably present it as a whole separate entity, because it happens to be very good on raw, leafy salad greens as well. Especially with avocado and nuts. But maybe that is another post.
And now that I'm looking at this recipe it looks ridiculously long. Really, we're just cooking a couple bits and then whisking some dressing and throwing it into a bowl together. But the technique for salting actually makes a difference. So follow directions, but don't get scared away. Again, and as always: This is salad!
1 cup lentils, preferably green Puy or black Beluga, but brown works too
big pinch sea salt
1 big bunch kale (whatever variety you have on hand. I usually use Lacinato)
1 medium-sized yellow onion
long pour olive oil
big pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup, grade B if you can find it
5-6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/4-1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
about 8 ounces sliced kumquats, or 1-2 oranges, sections chopped and rind zested (optional)
4-8 ounces broken toasted nuts (pecans or walnuts are my favorite)
Rinse the lentils. In a medium pot cover the lentils with a couple inches of water and add a big four-finger pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cook for 20-45 minutes (depending on variety). I slightly under cook my lentils for salads like this. You want them to be soft but not mushy, and if they'll be sitting in their cooking liquid a while, a little resistance (not crunch!) will cook out post simmer.
While the lentils cook, prepare your kale and onions. Peel and slice onions into fairly thin half-moons. Place a large pot over a medium flame and add a thin, even layer of olive oil to the pot. Let it warm up, then add your onions, sprinkle with a four-finger pinch of salt (or two!) secure the lid on the pot, and turn down the heat to medium-low.
While the onions soften, wash and stem the kale. Lay the leaves on the cutting board and roll them up like a fat cigar, and make thin slices, aka ribbons, then cut down the length of the sliced cigar to make short ribbons, usually about an inch or two long.
When the onions have softened, taste. They should be almost too salty. Good. This ads a nice contrast in the salad. Add the wee ribbons of kale to the pot, stir thoroughly, add a ladleful of water and return the lid. Stir every 5-10 minutes, tasting each time. The kale should still be a nice green but will be tender, not too chewy. This should take from 10-20 minutes, depending on the state of your kale. (Do I have to say this? The fresher the better. Tender is the best word for fresh-picked produce. As if it toughens up for life off the stalk.) The kale should also taste pretty good. Add a little more salt if needed. You want each component to taste its best before they all come together.
At this point, you may dig your fork into the kale and decide against the salad. Who needs dressing? The kale is simple and good. This is how I eat most my kale. Predictable and marmy, but comforting and delicious as well.
If you do decide to proceed, make up the dressing:
Whisk together the dressing ingredients and make sure it tastes right. Salinity, sweetness and pucker is all a matter of taste. This should be obvious, but for the sake of clarity: add maple for sweet, vinegar for depth, lemon juice for pucker, and tamari for a saltier savoriness. But don't spend too much time on this. Taste and adjust after the last step for true perfection.
In a large bowl, add all the kale, the (well-drained) lentils, the parsley, and the citrus. Pour over half the dressing and mix well. Taste and add more dressing accordingly. I usually use all of it. Taste again and adjust seasoning. (See previous paragraph.) Serve warm, room temperature, even cold, but add the nuts at the last possible minute. Enjoy!