Kale, Parmesan, Chilli & Walnut Salad



One of the greatest perks of living at The Mother-in-Law’s House is that you never know when The Sufi may drop round with a batch of homemade profiteroles, or a boozy rum baba, or some sunshine-coloured, saffron-infused currant buns.

A chemist by profession – and somewhat a local celebrity given his uncanny resemblance to the imagined love child of Omar Sharif and Albert Einstein, and his uniform of flowing white robes, which he dons whilst jogging like Nureyev around the city centre – The Sufi applies the same finesse, dexterity and adroitness to his baking as he does to whatever it is that chemists do in labs. (Blow things up?)

Last week’s delivery of coffee-cream-filled choux pastry buns with a chocolate ganache icing, graciously left on the doorstep without a note, were swiftly wolfed down by The Mother-in-Law, The Husband and I in all of, say, fifteen seconds.  They were delicious.  So it’s a good thing that we try to eat all of our vegetables in The Mother-in-Law’s House, as you never know when a plate of princely pudding will land in your lap.

One nice little dish that I’ve been making recently is this massaged kale salad.  Yup, that’s right – MASSAGED kale.  When I first made this, The Husband remarked that I’d paid more attention to a bowl of salad than I had to him since our children were born.  Hey ho.

Yet there is an actual, useful reason – other than the pleasure of giving your greens a good rolfing – for caressing your kale.  Left untouched, the fibrous leaves can remain tough, bitter and somewhat inedible, especially for little people with little teeth.  But rubbed in a slug of olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt (basically the dressing), and left to marinate for a little while, and the kale softens, darkens and sweetens.  At the microscopic level, the deep tissue massage, oil and acidic lemon break down the leaves’ cellulose structure; you will see this happen as the kale wilts to almost half its size.

On a health tip, eating raw kale has huge benefits.  It’s a rich source of vitamins K and C, beta carotene and calcium, and contains glucoraphanin, which transforms into sulforaphane when broken down by chopping (as we do here), mincing or chewing.  Sulforaphane has shown to be a powerful anticancer molecule in clinical trials, for example, inhibiting the growth of breast cancer and prostate cancer stem cells.  Early studies also indicate that it may protect the heart from vascular disease and the skin from cancer when applied topically.  Pretty powerful stuff, hey.

Although quietened by the massage, kale still retains a strong flavour that holds up to equally robust ingredients like the toasted walnuts, parmesan and chilli that I use here.  The result is a completely moreish, super-salad to eat on its own or as an accompaniment to wintry stuff like braised lentils or gamey meats.

Serves 2 as main or 4 as a side dish


Large bunch of kale, around 250g (you can use any variety of kale like ‘curly’ or ‘Tuscan’/’cavolo nero’, for example
70ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
40g fresh or panko breadcrumbs
50g grated parmesan
10 fresh walnuts (or 20 divided walnut pieces)
Sea salt and black pepper



Wash kale.  Remove the thick central stalk from each leaf and chop finely.


Put in a bowl and pour on the olive oil, lemon juice and a good pinch of salt.  Now, using your both your hands, vigorously massage the chopped leaves for a few minutes, as if you were kneading bread dough.  Set aside to tenderise for around 15 minutes whilst you prepare the rest of the dish.


Crack the walnuts and toast in a medium-hot pan for a couple of minutes.  Remove and set aside to cool.


Using the same pan, toast the breadcrumbs over a medium-hot heat until they turn a light golden colour.


Grate the cheese finely.


Slice the chilli in half, remove and discard the seeds, and chop finely.

Now assemble, season with black pepper, and serve.


Useful tip: I’ve found this dish keeps well in the fridge for a day or two, as kale is hugely robust and resistant to wilting, unlike other salad leaves.  Just so you know.