I do two kinds of cooking.
One is cooking for the sheer fun of it. Sweet snacks! Brunch for friends! Ohmygod, I want chocolate!
But I realize that not everyone is as into that first kind of cooking as I am. I hear that.
The second kind of cooking, however, is the kind that needs to happen, week in and week out, to keep me fed, in a healthy-ish way, on relatively little money, often in a somewhat short amount of time. This is the type of cooking that everyone—young or old, in school or employed, with kids or without—needs to do. I don’t think there’s a way to eat healthy, relatively interesting food three times a day on a small budget without cooking for yourself.
For that second kind of cooking, I cannot go without recipes like this one. It has no meat, so it is inexpensive. The kale is healthy and hearty. The grains and cheese keep you full. The dried fruit is sweet. The whole thing can be made in quantity at the beginning of the week, so cooking once can yield up to six meals. And all of the ingredients are available at Trader Joe’s, which is great for when I only have time to go to one grocery store. I make this recipe many times every winter for all of these reasons–and because the salad is downright delicious and I genuinely look forward to having it for lunch or dinner.
Still skeptical? Even my mom, who typically enjoys a bit of meat or fish with dinner, dug into this hard, a couple of nights in a row, when I was visiting my parents recently.
If you want to start cooking for yourself a little more, and you want to see how easy and rewarding it can be, I can think of no better place to start than this recipe.
Kale salad with farro, parmesan, pine nuts, and dried fruit (serves 6 generously)
Adapted slightly from my absolutely reliable standby, Jeanne Kelley’s Salad for Dinner
15-20 ounces kale, ribs removed, roughly chopped (I prefer lacinato kale, also known as tuscan kale, because it is smooth and not at all scratchy when eaten raw)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup currants or dried cranberries (I prefer the latter)
1 1/3 cup farro or semi-pearled wheat berries (I usually do the former, since it’s available in quick-cooking form from Trader Joe’s)
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (a bit less acidic than regular balsamic–highly recommend buying a bottle if you don’t have any!)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cook the farro in a medium pot of rapidly boiling water until just tender, about 30 minutes (or according to package instructions). Drain the farro and let cool completely. (Farro can be cooked up to a day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
In a large jar, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, and salt, and whisk to blend.
Mix kale, farro, cheese, pine nuts, and currants in a large bowl.
In a smaller bowl, toss however much salad you plan to eat right then with enough dressing to moisten. Ideally, the salad will sit in the dressing at least an hour before serving; this helps soften up the kale leaves.
Toss half of the leftover dressing with all of the leftover salad–enough to lightly moisten, but not saturate. This allows the lemon juice to start doing its work of softening the salad as it sits in the fridge for the next few days.
Store the other half of the leftover dressing and salad separately. If you are eating at home, just toss salad with a little extra dressing to refresh before serving. If you are taking your lunch to work, you can toss the salad with the extra dressing in the morning. The kale and farro are sturdy enough that they won’t wilt before lunchtime.