Green Kitchen: Kale and Balsamic Tofu Salad

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

I’d like to thank the internet for some recipe kismet.

Last Monday, there was a fire in my apartment building. I, and my apartment, are fine. I am grateful. I am signing up for renters insurance. But even though the fire was half a block from my actual flat, the repercussions have been felt throughout the building – no electricity for an evening, no hot water for a day or two. And no gas, still.

So there I was, two days after a greenmarket haul, with a fridge full of vegetables, and just a microwave and toaster oven to cook them in.

I didn’t know how long this would last, so I made due. I splurged on some frozen creamed spinach, which is one of my favorite things in the world. I baked tofu in the toaster oven. I poached eggs in my microwave, which worked well for the first try, but then inexplicably gave me nothing but exploded eggs and a microwave to wash. I steamed broccoli in the microwave, and remembered why lots of people don’t like vegetables.

By midweek I was growing weary, and starting to worry about my produce. I had a beautiful bunch of lacinato kale, a new vegetable for me, waiting – I hoped patiently – in the crisper drawer. I know kale can last a week or two, but I was also getting really sick of steamed broccoli. I seasoned the heck out of it, added butter and oil, but still.

So when, four days into this adventure, Heidi Swanson posted a recipe for a raw kale salad, I knew I was in luck. It even called for exactly the kind of kale I had! Tuscan, aka lacinato, aka dinosaur, kale. With a few tweaks I could turn it into a healthy, fresh, satisfying full meal, requiring no cooking implements larger than a wee toaster oven, powered blissfully on electricity. (Wind-generated, natch, and its tiny size means it spends less energy just heating air than a full-sized oven.)

[Of course, when after days of calls to the super and building manager I finally got through to my super, he was like, Where’ve you been? (Um, here?) You didn’t answer my calls! (What calls?) I have a hot plate for you! (Ooh, yay!) So now I have two burners and the smell of vaporizing plastic chemicals mingling with aromas of sautéed kale and broccoli.]

I love how healthy this salad is – kale is a powerhouse veggie, full of vitamin A and high in protein for a plant. There are no empty carbohydrates here, and no gluten if you use wheat-free tamari. The fat content looks high, but it's all healthy and good-for-you, helps your body absorb the nutrients in the kale, and makes a pile of raw greens taste almost decadently rich.

But what I really love about this salad is that it's so dang good. The strong, sweet, savory tofu plays perfectly off the bright, lemony dressing (which I kept licking off my mixing spoons). A few simple ingredients, no cooking implements bigger than a toaster oven, and you get a surprisingly sophisticated, addictive salad. That's right – an addictively delicious raw kale salad. You're welcome. (And Heidi Swanson, the farmer who grew my kale, New York City firefighters – thank you.)


If you like this, these will also set your taste buds (but not your apartment) on fire:

Kale and Balsamic Tofu Salad
serves 3
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks and The Vegan Foodie.

1 lb extra firm tofu
3 T balsamic vinegar
3 T soy sauce (wheat-free tamari for a gluten-free meal)
2 T olive oil
2 t honey
2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 bunch Tuscan kale (aka lacinato, aka dinosaur) about 4-5 cups cut up

½ garlic clove
¼ t salt, plus a pinch
¼ c grated pecorino cheese
3 T olive oil
juice of one lemon (a scant half-cup)
1/8 t red pepper flakes
ground black pepper, to taste

1) Press the tofu for at least 30 minutes.

2) Whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, 2 T oil, and honey (or combine in a sealable container and shake. Add smashed garlic cloves.

3) Cube tofu. Add to marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

4) Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 375. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange tofu cubes in a single layer.

5) Bake tofu 30-40 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes, until browned and cooked down. (Tofu can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a few days, until you're ready to make salad.)

6) De-vein kale and cut into ribbons. (Kitchen shears are good for this.) Put in a big bowl.

7) Smush garlic and ¼ t salt together (in a mortar and pestle or in a small bowl with the butt of a knife or something). In a small bowl combine garlic/salt paste, cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Whisk together.

8) Add dressing to kale and toss. (Swanson warns, “The dressing will be thick and needs lots of tossing to coat the leaves.”) Add tofu, and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

9) Garnish with a splash of oil or a sprinkle more of cheese if you like.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Protein per Serving
391 calories, 28.6g fat, 4g fiber, 18.4g protein, $1.71

(A note on calculations: This amount of tofu marinade is required to get good coverage so the tofu soaks in in, but it's much more than gets absorbed. So I'm including the full price for those ingredients, but only ½ the nutritional impact, because it doesn't all get eaten.)

1 lb extra firm tofu: 365 calories, 22g fat, 5.8g fiber, 39.8g protein, $1.79
3 T balsamic vinegar: 21 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.12
3 T soy sauce: 11 calories, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 1.9g protein, $0.12
5 T olive oil: 504 calories, 56g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.20
2 t honey: 23 calories, 0g fat, 5.7g fiber, 0g protein, $0.55
2 cloves garlic, smashed: n/a, since you don't eat them, $0.06
1 bunch Tuscan kale: 134 calories, 1.9g fat, 5.4g fiber, 8.8g protein, $1.00
½ garlic clove: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.03
¼ t salt, plus a pinch: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
¼ c grated pecorino cheese: 80 calories, 6g fat, 0g fiber, 4g protein, $0.75
juice of one lemon: 30 calories, 0g fat, 0.5g fiber, 0.5g protein, $0.50
1/8 t red pepper flakes: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
ground black pepper: 1 calorie, 0g fat, 0.1g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
TOTALS: 1172 calories, 85.9g fat, 12g fiber, 55.2 g protein, $5.15
PER SERVING (TOTALS/3): 391 calories, 28.6g fat, 4g fiber, 18.4g protein, $1.71