Raw Fruit and Nut Kale Salad

raw fruit and nut kale saladI am going to make this post short and sweet, as I am not feeling so well and have a long day ahead tomorrow. But I wanted to share this amazing kale salad that is a new favorite in our house. It was inspired by the kale salad I frequently get for lunch from a macrobiotic place near my office called Om Cafe. Their genius combination of dried apricots and walnuts in their raw kale salad sort of rocked my world the first time I tried it. Now I’m in love with the combo and Gennaro is, too.

My take on this salad includes grapes in addition to the dried apricots to round out the fruit component. Other fruits would also be great here. Instead of dried apricots, try fruit sweetened dried cranberries or golden raisins. I’ve also added pomegranate for an antioxidant boost and extra crunch.

raw kale salad with fruit and nuts

This salad would be a great addition to Thanksgiving dinner. It’s pretty and colorful and delicious. As far as serving size goes, it’s hard for me to tell how many it serves, as Gennaro and I can polish off this salad between the two of us. But I’m thinking 4 servings is probably appropriate for those eating this in addition to other parts of a meal. This recipe can be multiplied as needed for crowds.

Raw Fruit and Nut Kale Salad:

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale (any variety), washed and chopped

pinch of sea salt (about 1/8 teaspoon or less, can add in more salt later to taste)

1/4 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup red grapes, halved lengthwise

1/3 cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped

6 dried apricots (I use unsulfured), cut into strips

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

Dressing:

2 tablespoons tahini

2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar

Directions:

1. Add kale to a large salad bowl with a pinch of sea salt and olive oil. Massage gently with hands (I like to put bunches of kale between my palms and rub together). Do this until kale is softened just a bit and dark green in color.

2. Using a spoon or small whisk, mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and set aside.

3. Add remaining salad ingredients to salad bowl with kale and top with dressing. Toss everything together until well coated and serve.

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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale

butternut squash macand cheeseI love mac and cheese. Or should I say, I love gluten-free mini shells with healthy butternut squash sauce made from plant-based whole foods and a healthy addition of leafy greens? Mac and cheese is just easier to say.

The last time I posted a vegan mac and cheese recipe on this blog, I was still in the throes of my vegan transition and was utilizing loads of processed cheese and dairy replacements in my cooking. Not that it wasn’t a superb mac and cheese. It was. But to argue that it was much healthier than its dairy counterpart would be misleading. Such recipes are the perfect example of how vegan foods are not inherently healthier alternatives in every case.

I think my experience is common. I’ve spoken with other vegans who’ve undergone similar transitions — especially for those who go vegan for environmental or ethical reasons over health concerns. Meat and dairy meals are slowly replaced with meat and dairy replacements — processed alternatives made with high-fat oils, wheat gluten and other unnatural products. I will say, I do credit some of these alternatives (minus the wheat gluten, of course) for really helping me kick my cheese habit back in the day (sound familiar, anyone?). And I still occasionally purchase vegan cheese shreds or a cream cheese alternative to use in moderation, and mostly only for special occasions.  But by and large, I’ve come to realize that such products, while instrumental in helping me transition into a vegan lifestyle, are by no stretch of the imagination healthy foods just because they’re vegan.

butternut squash mac and cheese side

With this in mind, I sought to create a mac and cheese recipe that would satisfy all comfort food cravings without having to resort to processed cheese alternatives or oils to get the job done. While there is added fat to this dish from the cashews, they add a monounsaturated fat, which lowers bad cholesterol and does not contribute to heart disease as saturated fat and unhealthy processed oils do. Compare with the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products — along with plant-based products such as palm oils, which are prevalent in dairy-free cheese and cream cheese alternatives — that contribute to an increase in bad cholesterol, raising the risk of heart disease. I’ll take the unsaturated option, please!

But I couldn’t just stop at cashews. To make this dish ultra healthy, I used creamy, delicious butternut squash as a base for the sauce. Not only does it add a beautiful orange color, but it adds additional creaminess to the dish with no added fats, while contributing tons of nutrients and antioxidants, including carotenoids, which are said to protect against heart disease.

And then, just for fun, I added kale. Because why not? I love finding new ways to add leafy greens into my meals, and kale adds a pretty burst of color and textural contrast to the creaminess of the rest of the dish.

butternut squash mac

So, whether you’re transitioning into a vegan diet or going all-in for health reasons, this mac and cheese is sure to satisfy the strongest comfort food cravings without the addition of processed oils and fats that contribute to many health problems. Not to mention that simply removing processed oils and products containing oil is an easy way to keep off the extra pounds without sacrificing flavor.

Just a note: I think this is best when served immediately, but if reheating a pre-made batch, you may want to add a little bit of extra almond milk while reheating and heat over low heat until creamy consistency is reached and the pasta is warmed through.

Possible adjustments, additions & other notes:

  • I used Tinkyada brown rice mini shells instead of elbow macaroni in this dish. I prefer mini shells in mac and cheese recipes because I find that they really trap in a lot of the sauce, making each bite extra creamy and delicious.
  • If not using a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix, soak cashews for 1/2 hour to an hour and then drain before using. This was a trick I used many times with my old, crappy blender and it worked pretty well.
  • This sauce is on the thicker side, almost like a very creamy Alfredo sauce. For a thinner consistency, I would recommend increasing the almond milk to about 1 cup.
  • Instead of kale, use steamed broccoli as an added veggie.
  • This sauce is versatile: pour over steamed veggies or baked potato (or both!). Try adding salsa for a Mexican twist, then pour over baked potatoes stuffed with black beans and fajita vegetables.
  • This dish is great with hot sauce!

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale:

Serves: 3-4 (serves 4 if served alongside a large salad and maybe another veggie side for a complete meal)

Ingredients:

3 cups (about 8 oz.) dry gluten-free macaroni or mini shells

1 cup raw cashews

3/4 cup unsweetened plain almond milk

1 cup cooked butternut squash, tightly packed (see note*)

1/3 cup nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (plus more for sprinkling)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

dash cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)

2 heaping cups chopped kale

To cook butternut squash: halve squash lengthwise using a sharp knife. Scoop out seeds and stringy stuff in the middle. Lay squash flat, skin-up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until squash is soft and skin is browned. Remove skin before using in this recipe. 

Directions:

1. Boil pasta according to package directions until just al dente (do not overcook). Drain and set aside.

2. While pasta cooks, combine all remaining ingredients except kale in a high-powered blender such as Vitamix and blend on medium intensity until completely smooth (I blended for almost a minute). You may need to stir a few times to properly distribute ingredients.

3. After pasta has been drained, return to pot and add butternut squash sauce and chopped kale. Heat over low-medium heat for another minute or so, until kale is wilted and pasta is warmed through. Sprinkle with a little bit of smoked paprika (optional) and serve immediately.

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Oil-Free Protein-Packed Kale Salad

oil free protein kale salad

As you are all probably aware from my previous post, I had a blast at the Vegetarian Summerfest this year. And I learned SO MUCH about health and nutrition, even though I was already eating what I considered to be a very health vegan diet. One thing that really struck me on my trip was how many of the speakers we heard advised against using oil. Not only does oil have no nutritional value — making it completely empty in calories — but many presenters discussed its artery-clogging effects, links to cancer when cooked due to oxidation, and associations with vascular insufficiency and blood-clotting. But the thing that really made sense to me is that, when you think about it, oil is a pretty unnecessary food. It really provides no health benefits that can’t be obtained through whole, plant-based sources. This is why it’s best to get fats from nuts, seeds and avocados rather than from oil, which is a processed, stripped down version of real food.

When I came home, I wanted to start incorporating more oil-free meals into my life and in this blog (I am always a student and learning new and amazing things about nutrition — this blog is certainly a reflection of that). Unfortunately, I realized that many of my dishes in the past have contained oil — probably even in cases where it may not be entirely necessary. I will certainly try to limit its use in dishes where it is not needed from now on. I did create a tag for my oil free recipes, and I hope those will increase in volume as time goes on.

It’s pretty clear by now that I am quite the fan of kale. That certainly did not change on my trip. This dish was created to provide a nutritionally-dense, high-protein salad. Gratuitous oil use is perhaps most common in salad dishes — especially in those that soak up a lot of liquids like quinoa. I tried to find other ways to add intrigue to the salad and dressing — and flavor throughout. This salad makes a great, intriguing side dish, or can be eaten in larger portions for a one-bowl lunch or dinner. I find that the flavors work best when warm, but it can certainly be served as a cold salad as well.

The following are a few of my favorite books providing additional information as to why processed oils should be avoided or eliminated from one’s diet:

oil-free protein-packed kale salad

Oil-Free Protein-Packed Kale Salad:

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

4 cups finely chopped curly kale (about 1/2 bunch)

1 cup uncooked quinoa, well rinsed (I used 1/2 red and 1/2 white)

2 cups sweet potato, peeled, diced and steamed or boiled until soft (about 10 minutes)

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), roughly chopped (more may be added to taste)

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup water

1 can organic chickpeas, drained and well rinsed

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

sea salt to taste

Directions:

1. Add quinoa to a small pot with 1 cup of the vegetable broth and 1 cup water. Cook according to package directions, or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.

2. Meanwhile, cook or steam sweet potatoes if you haven’t already.

3. Whisk together dressing ingredients: remaining vegetable broth, cider vinegar, cumin and coriander.

4. Add kale, sun-dried tomato, sweet potato and chickpeas to a large salad bowl. Once quinoa is cooked, add warm quinoa and dressing to bowl and toss. Add salt to taste. Serve warm, room-temperature or chilled.

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Caribbean Kale Salad

carribean kale saladI mentioned a few posts back that I recently had the opportunity to go to Chicago for a long weekend for a wedding. While I was unable to hit up every single spot on my list due to time constraints and wedding activities, I did manage to eat at my top 3 “must-try” places: Karyn’s, The Chicago Diner and Native Foods Cafe. While Chicago Diner may have been my overall favorite — the Soul Bowl was out of this world (right, Liz? Unlike the stir-fry which was “not coming out well”) — I think Native Foods cafe was a close second and more closely represents how I eat on a regular basis (fresh, whole plant foods). Karyn’s was also very good, but we went for brunch so had somewhat more limited menu options. Though I have to say, I had a tofu scramble with roasted potatoes and polished off my entire plate.

Because Native Foods had the most menu items that were friendly to my diet (i.e. also gluten-free and many whole plant foods), I really, really wanted  to get the chance to go back a second time while I was there. Unfortunately, I never made it back, which was a true shame because I had already picked out the next item I was going to order — the Caribbean Jerk Kale Salad.

The Native Foods original version of this salad is topped with blackened jerk tempeh, and appears from the menu description to have some sort of a creamy dressing. I desperately wanted to try it, so I decided to try to make something similar at home. In an effort to simplify this dish, I made this recipe without the tempeh, though tempeh or tofu with jerk seasoning and some baked sweet potato fries would certainly complete the dish and make an excellent meal (I should know because I made it with these additions recently and posted it to my Instagram feed, @bversical).

Carribean kale salad top view

This salad is a little sweet with just a hint of spice from the cumin. It’s definitely a nice change from my usual kale salad, though I am not sure I will ever tire of that one.

So, native Chicago folk, did I miss any go-to vegan spots? Let me know what your favorite Chicago vegan restaurants are, so I can be sure to try them out then next time I’m in town (if I can pry myself away from Chicago Diner, that is).

Caribbean Kale Salad: 

1 large bunch curly kale, washed and chopped

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch for massaging kale

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted until golden brown*

2/3 cup diced fresh mango

1/2 large avocado, diced

1/4 cup red onion, minced

1/3 cup diced red pepper (optional – I omitted it from mine because I didn’t have any)

Directions:

1. Place kale in a bowl. Add teaspoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and massage kale between hands until it begins to break down.

2. In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients: remaining olive oil, salt, lime juice, cider vinegar and cumin.

3. Top massaged kale with remaining ingredients and add dressing slowly until reaching desired amount (may vary depending on amount of kale). Toss and serve.

I toast mine in a non-stick skillet. Add dry coconut and heat over medium-high for about 4-5 minutes or until coconut just begins to turn golden brown. Remove from heat. 

 

 

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Lentil-Sweet Potato-Kale Enchiladas

As I write this, I am nurturing severe jet-lag and sleep-deprivation after a four-day wedding weekend in Chicago, for one of Gennaro’s best friend’s weddings. Not only was the weekend jam-packed with activities, but we spent all day yesterday in the car and lost an hour coming back to EST. Not to mention the fact that, although I ate very well all weekend — visiting such famous vegan joints such as Chicago Diner, Karyn’s and Native Foods —  I still did not have the benefit of my usual green smoothies, kale salads or probiotic-filled raw sauerkraut to keep my immunity high.

Needless to say, I am TIRED. And in times like these, the last thing I want to do is cook a complicated meal when I come home from work, or do many dishes. Yet I am equally not into the idea of ordering out yet again after a weekend of eating out. I want home-cooked, healthy and easy. Yet these things don’t always go hand-in-hand.

I developed this recipe several weeks back when trying to address what I find to be one of the most difficult things about working full-time and trying to eat well at home – time! This recipe is also very cheap to make – especially if you’re buying and cooking your lentils in bulk and shopping local for your kale (or any other greens you may want to use here). You could easily top with a vegan cheese of choice, but since Gennaro does not like vegan cheese, I just sprinkled a bit of nutritional yeast over the top and it was not lacking in flavor. I hope you enjoy not only this dish, but whatever you’ll be doing during the free time you save from not having to be in the kitchen all night!

Ingredients:

Please note: this recipe does not require an exact science, so feel free to play around with the ingredients and amounts to your liking.

1 large sweet potato, unpeeled, diced

1/2 cup water, or more as needed

2 cups cooked lentils (either canned or cooked at home)

2 large handfuls curly kale, chopped (about 1/2 a bunch of kale)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt to taste

1 jar salsa of choice (I used Trader Joe’s organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa), divided

1 package corn tortillas (I used organic sprouted corn tortillas)

vegan cheese or nutritional yeast for sprinking (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, add sweet potato and water. Cover and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sweet potato is soft (about 10-15 minutes). Add additional water (about 1/4 cup) if water is absorbed before sweet potato is fully cooked.

2. Once sweet potato is soft, add lentils, kale, 3 tablespoons salsa and cumin. Stir together, cooking over medium heat until kale is just wilted and everything warmed through, about 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste (I just added a pinch because I used salt to cook my lentils).

3. If desired to soften, heat tortillas over separate skillet, wrapped in foil in the oven, or in the microwave until soft and pliable. Add about 1/4 cup filling to each warm tortilla and roll, placing in a 9×13″ baking dish seam-down across dish. You may have additional filling left over. Cover tortillas with remaining salsa, using a spoon to spread evenly over enchiladas. Sprinkle with desired amount of vegan cheese or nutritional yeast (optional).

4. Bake enchiladas covered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until salsa is bubbling and enchiladas are heated through. Serve topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado or onion and alongside your favorite Mexican sides.

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My Favorite Kale Salad

new kale saladLet me tell you, nothing quite awakens your health and consciousness like going through a year of Lyme disease treatment. At least, that’s what it did to me. I could now scoff at what I once considered (and what many would still consider) a “healthy” breakfast of soy yogurt and granola. These days, going two days without a green smoothie for breakfast (a lapse I endured while traveling over the weekend) is a long time for me. And a dinner without kale salad to start is almost unheard of.

I won’t rehash the details of my last post (nearly a year ago!), which went into the health issues I’d been having leading up to my Lyme diagnosis. Nor will I go into quite as much detail about how my treatment has been since. But suffice it to say that a year-long course of antibiotics and Malaria fighting drugs for Lyme’s common co-infections can wreak havoc on one’s system — while also proving essential in the overall treatment of the disease.

As a result of this, I have taken a profound interest in how food can play a key role in healing and health. After all, at the time I was diagnosed, I strongly attributed my already gluten-free, vegan and refined sugar-free diet to my relatively high level of functioning given the number of tick-borne infections I had been carrying for several years. If these changes could have had an effect on my immunity, as my doctor also surmised, wouldn’t additional dietary changes prove even more beneficial?

In the last year, I’ve shifted a lot of my diet toward a cleaner way of eating. I have always considered my diet to be on the healthy end of the spectrum, but my research suggested that there was much more room for improvement. While I am not one to ever be extreme — I still enjoy gluten-free pasta, organic tofu and tortilla chips and salsa — I have moved away from processed foods significantly and begun adding more raw, green meals into my diet than ever before. I studied the principles of Kimberly Snyder’s The Beauty Detox Solution and adopted many into my own practices. I now eat raw fermented sauerkraut with many meals and kale salad before nearly every dinner, as I alluded to before. I also make it a practice to drink a detoxing green smoothie similar to this one almost every morning, sometimes adding lemon juice, parsley or romaine or substituting pears or strawberries.

While there is probably no way of measuring the exact impact my diet has had during the last year of treatment, I do know that what I eat makes a difference in how I feel overall. There is also a lot of research indicating that anti-inflammatory foods and detoxing is very important in overall healing, and I have made sure to incorporate these types of foods into my daily intake. Of course, I do have to supplement more than the average person, vegan or otherwise. Lyme tends to deplete vital nutrients and minerals, so even with a balanced and healthy vegan diet, I do supplement with high doses of magnesium, B12 and folate daily, among other vitamins and medications in my regimen (including lots of chlorella and lemon juice for detox).

Now that kale salad has become a staple of my diet, I certainly have discovered a few favorites, and this is on the top of that list. I rarely make this recipe the same way twice. In fact, the first time I actually measured any ingredients was when I was making the version for this post. I encourage you to play around with amounts and different ingredients, and to come up with your own favorite version of this salad.

Raw Kale Salad:

Yield: 2-4 servings

Note: this salad can keep in the refrigerator for about a day. It is best served fresh, but kale is quite sturdy and will stand up to dressing and refrigeration, even if the texture of the salad may change somewhat as it sits.

1 bunch lacinato or curly kale, thick stems removed and torn into small pieces

1/8 teaspoon sea salt (1 small pinch)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 head raddichio, shredded (or 1/2 cup of shredded red cabbage)

1 scallion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon raw cider vinegar (or other raw vinegar of choice)

3 tablespoons raw sauerkraut juice*

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

dash of cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

Directions:

1. Make sure kale pieces are washed/rinsed and fairly dry. Add to salad bowl. Add sea salt and olive oil and massage well. I like to rub handfuls of kale between both palms to really break it down and soften it.

2. Once kale has been massaged, add raddichio and scallions. Add lemon juice, vinegar and sauerkraut juice and toss. Add nutritional yeast and cayenne pepper and toss until kale is well-coated. You may wish to add additional lemon juice/vinegar/sauerkraut juice/nutritional yeast or even salt to taste depending on saltiness of your sauerkraut. Once seasoning is adjusted, serve.

*This is my secret ingredient for this salad. It makes the flavors pop. You can buy raw sauerkraut usually in the refrigerated section of your health food store and in some supermarkets. I like to use a local brand from Michigan, but Bubbies raw sauerkraut is a good choice as well.

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Green Lemonade

Not to be all “I’m so busy and important this summer,” but….I am pretty darn busy these days. So if the frequency of my posts seems spotty at best, I assure you that it’s only temporary. Come September I’ll be an unemployed recent law grad with not a care in the world (other than finding a job…which may provide me with just a tad bit of anxiety). But now — a week away from the wedding — I’m a little busy. I would say no one tells you how much work planning a wedding is, but I have to admit, I’d been warned. Somewhere along the way, at least someone suggested I elope (words of experience). And when I visited my future sister-in-law and her husband before their wedding last May, I could help but think, as they frantically — and sleeplessly — worked to finish up the final details, that I should try to do things differently. Somehow, I thought I would be an exception to the rule. I was completely and utterly wrong. No matter how hard you try, wanting to have all of your family and friends there to celebrate one of the pivotal moments of your life is just one of those things that takes work. There is no avoiding it. Though I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end.

In all honesty, this whole process would have been a lot more Hellish had my mom not been so helpful early on (and now). From booking the venue, the band, the church to going to my tasting when I was stuck out in New York to designing, folding and sending out all my invitations, she has been a saint. But the last minute stress of working out seating arrangements, writing the program, figuring out the final head count and many other details along the way has taken a toll — one that rivals studying for the bar exam — on my ability to do much else.

I’m determined to stay healthy, however, in spite of all my stress (which really isn’t all that bad, really. There are much worse things I could be doing/worrying about). In fact, I’m determined to reverse my pre-bar trend of a pot of coffee a day and frozen (albeit vegan, gluten free and organic) dinners as late night snacks. I know there are millions of versions of green lemonade out there. Truthfully, mine probably isn’t all that different from others I’ve seen. But I thought it was worth sharing as a reminder of the refreshing, super-healthy variations and possibilities for all the beautiful summer vegetables available right now — a juice that will keep you going during those busy times. Or, as I like to say, a juice to give you some juice (ok, that was corny…it’s late and I’m tired). Plus, I couldn’t wait to share my first creation from the juicer that I’d rescued from my parents’ basement, where it had been collecting dust for way too long.

Green Lemonade:

Press through a juicer: 3 stalks kale, 1/2 of a lemon (washed; I left the peel on), 1/2 of a sweet, crisp apple (I used pink lady), 1/2 of a crisp cucumber, 1-2 stalks celery

You can add more of any of the above ingredients to your taste. I also like to add parsley or ginger as a variation. A green apple is also nice, but I would omit the lemon so your final product is not too sour.

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Kale Salad with Quinoa and Cranberries

There are few things I love more than a new food discovery. Whether it be a new restaurant, a new product (I almost died and went to heaven when I discovered Purely Decadent ice cream in Whole Foods one hot summer day), or a new ingredient, it’s always exciting bringing some variety into your food world. So imagine my excitement when I found coconut amino at my local health food store when I went to re-up on my bottle of wheat-free tamari. There, in the section where it seemed only fermented soy products were destined to reside, was this soy-free, dairy-free, vegan product. I turned around the label. I must have been missing something. Would there be some disclaimer on the back — some small print concession that this product contains a trace amount of soy? Nope. Just more to make me want to buy the stuff. It was high in healthy amino acids. Lower in sodium than soy sauce or liquid amino and very low on the glycemic index. Plus, it was relatively inexpensive. Here is my inaugural recipe using coconut aminos: a simple, satisfying kale salad with quinoa for protein (an homage to the cafe at the Detroit Zen Center, a Delectably Free fave), and dried cranberries for a tart, sweet addition.

Kale Salad:

1 bunch kale, washed, chopped and tough ribs removed

1 cup cooked quinoa, kept warm

1/2 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries

Dressing:

3 tablespoons coconut aminos

3 tablespoons sesame tahini

3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons water

Directions:

1. Prepare dressing in a blender or, alternately, combine ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.

2. Toss salad ingredients with dressing in a large bowl until kale is covered. Some dressing may be left over.

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