Hail to the Almighty Kale!

Charred Kale Salad with Honey Balsamic Dressing and Feta

Joy LOVES Kale!!

When it comes to kale, it seems there are two distinct camps: kale devotees and kale doubters. And, like anchovies or cilantro, there’s very little, if any, middle ground. You either love it or you hate it. Mike and I happen to be in the former camp, but we were formerly of the latter camp. When kale first had its moment in the sun, I struggled to embrace its inherent goodness (and it’s very possible that I might have referred to it as “rabbit food” once or twice).


But then we unexpectedly experienced kale in a way that was truly enlightening. Mike and I were dining at one of our favorite local haunts,  Union Pizzeria in Evanston, IL, when our server encouraged us to try their grilled kale salad, explaining that the leaves were charred in their 500 degree pizza oven to create a great smokey flavor. Being kale doubters, we were skeptical, but she was so convincing that we decided to give it a try (and she said that she would eat it herself, if we didn’t like it!). That night, we officially defected to the other camp, and that was the start of our kale revolution. Now, we make kale regularly in a variety of ways and even grow it in our garden. (Btw, if you go to Union, you MUST try their lamb sausage, eggplant, olive and rosemary pizza with the delicate, yet chewy, perfectly blistered crust. It’s out of this world!)

The Union Pizzeria kale salad with the charred leaves was a game-changer. It was so fantastic that we vowed to recreate it at home, and after much trial and error, I think we’re pretty close. Sadly, we don’t have a pizza oven, but we’ve found a way to capture a similar effect with the grill. When we were first developing this recipe, we used our outdoor gas grill to char the kale leaves, but as the weather started to change, we tried it on our stovetop indoor grill* and found it to be even more effective. Now, Mike always uses our stovetop grill for this purpose because he finds it easier to control the heat and ultimately the amount of char. (See photos below for step-by-step illustrations.)

One thing I’ve learned about kale is that, in order to really bring out its best flavor and texture, it needs to be manipulated in some way — massaged, grilled, sauteed, etc. — to tenderize its inherently tough fibers. This recipe calls for a mix of raw and grilled kale – the raw giving it the bulk and the grilled infusing it with a complex smoky flavor. Tossed with the sweetly acidic dressing, it’s sublime.

Grilled Kale Salad with Honey Balsamic Dressing and Feta

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This sweet and smoky kale salad with both raw and charred leaves will convince even the biggest skeptic to rethink the value of kale.


  • 1 large bunch of curly kale, washed well and spun dry
  • Cooking spray
  • Garlic salt
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 Tbl honey
  • 1 Tbl lemon juice
  • 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed and leaves chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried thyme)
  • Shake of red chile flakes
  • Large pinch of kosher salt/ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta (I prefer fresh feta found in the deli counter vs pre-packaged)
  • Optional: 1/4-inch slice of pancetta – diced, browned and patted dry


  1. Divide the bunch of kale in two, separating the larger, tougher leaves from the more tender leaves. Break the tender leaves up into bite-size pieces, removing the woody stems, and place in a salad bowl. Add about a tablespoon of the olive oil and massage it into the raw leaves with your hands, using moderate pressure, to make the leaves more supple. It will reduce in size quite a bit.
  2. On a sheet of wax paper, spray the remaining leaves on both sides with cooking spray and sprinkle with a bit of garlic salt. Place the prepared leaves on the oiled rack of a 500 degree grill (or stove-top indoor grill). Keeping the lid open and watching attentively, grill the leaves until moderately charred on both sides, approximately one minute per side. Let cool and then chop into bite-size pieces and add to the raw kale (Mike likes to use kitchen shears to snip the charred leaves right into the bowl).
  3. In a separate small bowl, mix the garlic, honey, lemon juice, thyme and balsamic vinegar together. Add the remaining olive oil in a slow stream while whisking constantly to emulsify the dressing. Season with the salt, pepper and chile flakes. The dressing should be more pungent and acidic than your typical dressing in order to stand up to the kale’s strong taste and texture.
  4. Add a few tablespoons of the dressing and toss to coat. Add the feta and toss again. Let the salad sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the dressing to soak into the kale. Taste and add more dressing or adjust the seasonings, as necessary. Top with the diced pancetta, if using.


This delicious recipe brought to you by 2peasinapod.online

*We use our stovetop indoor grill (above left) for everything from grilling chicken to making quesadillas. I first saw it demonstrated at The Chicago Flower & Garden Show a couple of years ago and bought it on the spot. They were roasting vegetables…I sampled a perfectly grilled asparagus spear, and I was sold. What makes it so great? Below the non-stick grill grate, there’s a reservoir for water which helps keep the grilled items moist, and you can control the temperature as easily as adjusting the flame on your stove. We use it almost daily in the cooler months and sometimes, like for this recipe, it’s actually preferable to the outdoor grill even in the summertime. But note that it is NOT smokeless as they advertise, especially if grilling chicken or something that drips, so make sure the fan above your stove is on to extract any smoke.

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