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Darlington chef James Close offers a recipe which makes superfoods truly super

The popular chef from the Raby Hunt in Summerhouse, Darlington shares his love of superfoods with a recipe for Kale and Fennel salad

Kale and Fennel salad
Kale and Fennel salad

Chances are you’ve heard of superfoods over the years and even incorporated them into your diet to boost your health and help lower your risk of disease.

These nutrient-rich foods have been lauded as going above and beyond the nutritional value of average fruits, vegetables and whole grains, earning them a glowing health halo.

Superfoods are nothing new. Popeye put the spotlight on spinach decades ago. We’ve been racing to the health-food store, supermarkets and smoothie shops for others like acai and goji berries, kale and pomegranate ever since — all in the name of extraordinary health.

In the food world, the biggest celebrity of all might be kale - the Lady Gaga of leafy greens, if you will. It’s universally recognised that kale anything - chips (crisps), pesto, face cream - instantly gets filed under ‘healthy+benefits’

Even the local sandwich shop is making over its image by offering kale smoothies and juices. It’s true, kale has plenty of benefits, including high levels of folic acid and more calcium, gram for gram, than a glass of milk.

It is a versatile green that serves as a fine inspiration for a soup or a stew, a pasta or a gratin. Because the leaves of this brassica family vegetable are so sturdy, kale stands up to longer cooking than the likes of chard and beet greens.

And while greens like spinach and chard readily suffer from overcooking, stewed kale has a sweet flavor.

Kale is in the same family of vegetables as cabbage (Italians call black kale cavolo nero, or black cabbage.)

Like its cousins, kale is packed with health-promoting sulfur compounds, and it has been found to have the greatest antioxidant capacity of all fruits and vegetables. It’s an excellent source of vitamins K,A and C as well as manganese, and a very good source of dietary fiber, calcium, iron and potassium.

James Close, Michelin-starred chef at the Raby Hunt restaurant in Darlington shares his recipe for Kale and Fennel salad
James Close, Michelin-starred chef at the Raby Hunt restaurant in Darlington shares his recipe for Kale and Fennel salad

And all of this nutritional value comes in a low-calorie package. Someone needs to give this veggie a cape!

Supermarkets generally stock curly kale, the variety with the sturdy, silvery green, ruffled leaves. At farmers’ markets you’ll find several other varieties, including the dark green Cavolo Nero, plum-red Redbor kale and Red Russian kale, which has purplish leaves and red veins. They can be used interchangeably unless otherwise specified.

So, after doing all that research, I’ve succumbed to peer pressure, and am now a paid up member of the superfood faithful.

I have a version of a salad once every week for lunch and it’s often a dish I’m requested to quickly make at home.

It usually includes some sort of protein (rotisserie chicken, tuna, leftover salmon or chickpeas), fresh veggies (roasted tomatoes or beetroots, avocados, maybe peas) and just a sprinkling of firm cheese (feta or blue are my faves.)

Recently I veered from my trusty spring mix or crunchy hearts of romaine to jump into the land of kale as my main salad base. I’ve added it to several of my favourite dishes like my kale and cabbage coleslaw and white bean and squash pork chilli, but for some reason it didn’t make it into my usual lunch crunch rotation... until I roasted the kale leaves when I was cooking outside on a BBQ.

I love crispy roasted kale chips. Toss a little salt on shredded leaves and put into a hot oven for a few minutes and you have a great alternative to the nations favourite ready salted crisps.

So why not soften the flavour and bitterness of kale by giving it a quick roast and make a salad out of it?

James Close, Michelin-starred chef at the Raby Hunt restaurant in Darlington shares his recipe for Kale and Fennel salad
James Close, Michelin-starred chef at the Raby Hunt restaurant in Darlington shares his recipe for Kale and Fennel salad

RECIPE

For the Roasted Kale Salad:

  • 1 bunch kale leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, leafy greens reserved
  • 1 small seedless cucumber
  • 50g roasted almond slices
  • 50g crumbled feta cheese
  • Lemon zest
  • Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 roasted chicken breast (optional)

For the Avocado Caesar Dressing:

  • 1½ large avocados
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled
  • 25g mayonnaise
  • 20g olive oil
  • 4 anchovies packed in olive oil
  • The juice of one lemon
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

Stem washed and dried kale leaves and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle with Maldon salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Place in a preheated oven at 220°C and cook for 3-5 minutes or until leaves become crispy on the edges. Remove from oven and set aside.

Slice white part of fennel bulb into very thin layers and remove some of the leafy sprigs from the stems and set aside for garnish.

Thinly slice the cucumber.

Layer the kale leaves on a plate or serving dish and layer the fennel bulb slices and cucumber, sprinkle with roasted almonds and crumbled feta cheese. Garnish with lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper and Maldon salt. Serve with avocado caesar dressing.

For the dressing: Blend all the ingredients for 90 seconds in a food processor

A few recipe notes:

1. Originally I tried this recipe without stemming the kale leaves, thinking the roasting might soften them enough to make them tender to the bite. While some of the smaller, thinner stalks did soften up and had a nice chew, the larger leaves turned into a tug of war between my fork and my teeth. My mouth did not win. Removing the stalks from the leaves, but keeping the whole leaf, gives the salad a whole new presentation than the small, chopped leaves I usually make it with.

2. While I made this salad as a first option for a strictly veggie meal, I did happen to have a bit of leftover baked chicken breasts, so tossed a few pieces on for good measure. The licorice taste of the fennel adds a nice sweetness to the leafy kale and a few bites of smokey, toasted almonds added to my tastebuds’ delight. And yes, there’s a smattering of feta too.

3. Because the kale leaves are so sturdy, it’s a natural recipe to add a heavier dressing to. This caesar dressing with the addition of avocado for even more creaminess and a little anchovy for salty flavour is perfect. (And if you’re afraid of anchovies, you can always leave them out and substitute with little Maldon salt flakes.

Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington 01325 374 237

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