Learn how to tenderize hardy greens for winter salads.
It’s the thick of winter. But it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy salads! Raw, hardy greens—like kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, beet greens, or radicchio—make for satisfying salads.
But aren’t they bitter and tough? Sadly, yes. These hardy greens just need a little love. Which is why we need to turn to Tender. 💕 No, not that Tinder. I’m talking about tenderizing.
So how do you tenderize raw greens for a salad? It’s quick and easy: (1) start by grabbing your meat tenderizer (2) then pound the sh*t out of your greens. 😉 Just kidding!
Here’s how you actually tenderize raw greens for salads.
Can’t imagine eating a raw Brussels sprout? I’m not recommending eating Brussels sprouts like an apple. But I do recommend shaving them. What about cabbage? There’s a reason you make coleslaw with strips of cabbage instead of chunky leaves.
The first way to make your greens more tender is to use your knife. 🔪 The way you cut thick and hardy greens makes an impact on their texture. When you cut greens, you break their cell walls. Fewer cell walls mean less chewing.
Here’s how to do it. Cut your Brussels sprouts in half or your cabbage in quarters so they lay flat. Using kale? Roll up the leaves into a cigar-like shape. Then grab your knife and cut them into thin strips. You can also use your mandoline or food processor! Here’s a quick video on how to shave a Brussels sprout if you need it (similar idea for cabbage but bigger scale).
Bonus: Broken cell walls make it easier for dressings to seep into the leaves instead of pooling around them.
Salt is a food alchemist’s favorite ingredient. 🧙 It transforms food on a molecular level—like when brining. The same is true for salting hardy leaves.
Salt draws out the water from the leaves via osmosis. This softens their structure and concentrates their flavors.
So how do you salt your leaves? Mix a good pinch of salt (about a teaspoon) with every 2 cups of leaves. Place those leaves in a colander. Then put the colander in your sink. Let the salted leaves sit for about 30 minutes to an hour. The more thinly cut they are, the less time it takes. Water (and a lot of the salt with it) will drain out of the leaves and into your sink.
Worried your leaves might end up too salty? Just taste them after you’ve drained them. You’ll lose a lot of the salt along with the water, but you can always rinse the leaves with water if they taste too salty.
While it works for other greens, I highly recommend salting cabbage and Brussels sprouts when using them for salads.
Bonus: Salt reduces our perception of bitterness. So a little extra salt can go a long way in reducing bitterness in those greens.
Oil makes leaves more tender? I wouldn’t have guessed it myself. But once we zoom in, it makes sense. 🔬
Kenji López-Alt over on Serious Eats paints us a picture: “Plant leaves naturally have a waxy cuticle on them in order to protect them from rain. Haven’t you seen rainwater falling on a leaf? It rolls straight off like water off a duck’s back.” Lucky for us, that cuticle is fat-soluble. So it dissolves in oil.
I bet you’ve heard of massaging kale for salads. Even if you do give a good back rub, it’s the oil that makes this technique work. It removes that outer layer, softening the kale. So drizzle your leafy greens with oil and rub away. I especially recommend doing it if you aren’t going to shave the leaves.
Just to be clear. I’m not sure how well this technique works for cabbages or Brussels. I know it works beautifully for more “traditional” leafy greens like kale. 🥬
Where I learned this: This on point video from America’s Test Kitchen Bootcamp series, reading recipes from the folks at Milk Street, and of course Kenji López-Alt over on Serious Eats.