Seasonal holiday dishes tend to be heavy on sweetness and fat, which is why some of my favorite meals this time of year involve kale. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good Yorkshire pudding or a bowl of buttery potatoes or a sweet, baked ham. Rather, it’s that pigging out on decadent foods like these makes a fiber-rich dish like kale salad taste and feel all the better.
Polls consistently show that the most popular New Year’s resolutions relate to diet, exercise and weight loss. After weeks of binging, this makes sense. The problem is, by the time New Year’s Day rolls around, the damage has already been done, and losing weight is a lot harder than keeping it off in the first place.
Foods with a lot of sugar and carbohydrates are easy for the body to digest. Some starches will begin converting to sugar in your mouth as you chew, thanks to an enzyme in your saliva that doesn’t waste any time extracting calories from carbs. Insidiously, these foods can actually increase your appetite. Fats don’t give up their calories as easily as carbohydrates, because they require some finagling for your digestive system to crack, so at least fatty foods can fill you up and leave you satiated. But their calories will still thicken you up.
Fiber, meanwhile, is an anti-calorie. It takes work to digest and can sometimes force your body to burn almost as many calories in digesting it as you reap from it.
The concept of easy vs. hard calories is embodied in the glycemic index, a system that scores different foods based on how much and how quickly they elevate your blood sugar levels. Pure sugar has a glycemic index of 100, which is as high as it gets. Sweet, processed foods can score in the high-80s, bread in the high-70s and most vegetables in the 50s to 60s, whereas kale has a glycemic index of about 4, which is about the same score as your average Christmas sweater. But considerably tastier.
While fiber gives your digestive system a workout, it also takes up space, which leaves less room in your belly for cream puffs and eggnog. And those fibers will help move everything through your bowels. Altogether, the more greens you eat this time of year, the more creative you can be with your resolutions for next year.
If you are one of those people to whom kale tastes like a stinky form of steel wool, rest assured that it doesn’t have to be that way. Kale chips, for one, are as crunchy as potato chips and legendary in their appeal to children, carnivores, sweet tooths and others who are not on the usual short list of kale enthusiasts. Kale chip recipes abound on the internet. Today, we are going to focus on something different: a potato salad recipe, transplanted and adapted from a summertime graduation party where I first encountered it.
As a stand-alone dish, it will fill your belly and leave you satisfied. As a side dish, it mixes beautifully with the heavier dishes we are seeking to balance. Underneath a slab of prime rib or a heavy casserole, it’s a fibrous foundation that will absorb and expand the decadence. If that isn’t the true spirit of the holidays, I don’t know what is.
Kale potato salad
This isn’t your typical mayo-heavy potato salad. Instead, it’s dressed with a miso and mustard vinaigrette. Without the mayo, you can see the flecks of kale plastered upon the potatoes. If you want to add mayo and maybe some chopped hard-boiled eggs, that would run contrary to the austere theme of this column, but you won’t regret it. The same goes for bacon bits.
This recipe is best made a day ahead of time, but if time is of the essence, don’t let that stop you.
4 cups diced red potatoes (they hold together best), peeled or unpeeled
1 bunch of kale
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
Boil the potatoes. As the water heats, strip the kale foliage from the central rib of each leaf. Mince the ribs and add them to the potatoes when they are nearly tender. The chopped ribs have the taste of broccoli when boiled.
Chop the kale and add it to a bowl large enough to accommodate the salad. Add the salt and massage the kale by gripping and releasing it repeatedly. This will tenderize the kale.
To make the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar, mustard powder, miso, herbs and garlic. If using whole, dried herbs, powder them between your fingers as you add them. Shake vigorously in a closed jar or stir very well.
When the potatoes are nearly tender, strain and pour them into a bowl. Add the kale to the hot potatoes and stir it in with a gentle motion so as not to crush the potatoes.
Add the onion, celery, cheddar, pepper flakes (if using) and dressing and toss the salad. Add more salt and/or oil to taste.
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