I was at The Porter in Atlanta recently meeting some friends and sharing some craft beers, when a salad on their menu caught my eye…it mentioned candied ginger. Candied ginger! What a fabulous addition to a salad with fruit in it…why didn’t I think of that? I didn’t order it because it wasn’t what I wanted to have with beer that night, but the friend sitting next to me did, and kindly offered me a bite. I had just that one bite…and I knew I had to make my own version the moment the leaves touched my lips! It was a baby kale salad with fruits, nuts and ginger, and I told my friend I was absolutely going to try and recreate this fall salad. And I think my version tastes even better than the bite I remember…full of festive flavors.
Baby kale, which is a bit bitter in its raw state, becomes something quite different when tossed with a cooked hard apple cider and shallot vinaigrette. Then add in some sweet toasted local pecans and crisp local Fuji apples, a Bartlett pear, a bit of candied ginger and this salad really comes alive. I’m not usually one to toss my salads because I don’t like for my greens to wilt under the dressing or to be overly dressed. But I have to say that this fall salad must be tossed to really enjoy the full flavor and to achieve a perfect bond between the ingredients. As the slightly warm and tart vinaigrette coats the sturdy kale leaves it begins to permeate them, creating a wonderful balance to the bitterness, turning it into bittersweet. The candied ginger is a perfect foil for the kale and is a spice match with the apple vinaigrette, fresh apple, pear and pecans.
And yes, if you don’t like kale, you can absolutely use your favorite greens in this salad. In fact, I think you’ll find that my hard cider vinaigrette is a wonderful dressing for any green salad that utilizes fresh or dried fruits, root veggies or nuts. We’ve really, well…fallen for for this salad, and I hope you will, too!
For the Hard Cider Vinaigrette:
2 large shallots, peeled and minced, about 1/2 cup
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup hard apple cider (such as Crispin)
1 teaspoon honey
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the salad:
8 cups fresh raw baby kale leaves, washed and dried, trim off long stems
20 pecan halves, lightly toasted and broken into pieces
1 Tablespoon finely chopped candied (crystallized) ginger
1 fresh Bartlett or other favorite pear, cored and cut into thin slices
1 fresh Fuji or other favorite apple, cored and cut into thin slices
Heat the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring until they begin to soften and are just about to start turning brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add the hard apple cider and the honey, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring, until the mixture has reduced by about a quarter. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, kosher salt and black pepper. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified.
In a large bowl, combine the kale leaves, pecans, ginger, pear and apple. Pour over about 1/3 cup of the warm dressing and toss to coat well. Add a bit more dressing if needed to ensure that everything has a light coating of the dressing. Serve alongside your favorite dish or some roasted vegetable soup! The remaining dressing will keep for several days stored in an airtight jar in the fridge.