Cranberries Lend A Wonderful Tartness To The Earthy Bite Of Kale Salad

Cranberries are a treasured fall and winter favorite known for adding a pop of color and a burst of sourness to brighten rich, savory dishes. Commonly incorporated into sauces we pour over gamey turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, or simple syrups to temper the harsh bite of alcohol in cocktails, cranberries are also the perfect ingredient to throw into salads, particularly those of the kale variety. 

While dried cranberries are popular additions to lettuce-based chop salads or Mediterranean couscous salad, their texture, flavor, and seasonality make them even better in kale salads. As a member of the brassica family, kale is a hearty, cruciferous leafy green with a thick, rough texture and a vegetal flavor with that bitter, peppery finish characteristic of its relatives.

Tasting Table recipe developer Miriam Hahn created a Tuscan kale salad recipe that uses frozen cranberries instead of dried cranberries, simmering them in simple syrup for a balance of sweet and sour. Cooked, whole cranberries have a texture similar to roasted cherry tomatoes, their inflated skins bursting with juices that will coat and complement the rough and chewy kale. The acid released by cooked cranberries will also help tenderize raw kale.

Their juicy consistency and balance of tartness and sweetness not only work well with the earthy kale but will brighten other robust ingredients and dressings you want to add. Whether it's a funky blue cheese dressing, rich and nutty tahini sauce, or spicy mustard vinaigrette, cranberries will remain a delicious ally to any type of kale salad.

Tips on kale and cranberry preparation

If you can't find the mild and earthy flat-leafed Tuscan kale, you can use the more conventional bitter curly kale or peppery yet sweet thick-leafed Russian red kale. A burst of sweet and sour cranberry would compliment either flavor.

If you want to mellow the flavors and modify the texture of any type of kale, toss it with an acidic liquid and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. For her Tuscan kale salad, Hahn asserts that "massaging [kale] with lemon juice and salt, is the key to a great kale salad." You can also incorporate them in the dressing along with any other vegetable you'd like to soften or flavor. Acid will macerate the leaves and infuse them with bright flavors, making them easier to chew.

If you're short on time, dried, sweetened cranberries will supply those complementary tart and sweet flavors along with a chewy, gummy consistency. However, if you simmer fresh or frozen cranberries in simple syrup, the type of sweetener you use will add depth to the cranberries' palate and open up more options for complementary salad ingredients. For example, maple-sweetened cranberries would pair well with bacon bits, bitter walnuts, and funky blue cheese. And floral honey-sweetened cranberries would taste delicious with salty feta, julienned carrots, and toasted pepitas.