A bright, vibrantly flavored salad, this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad pairs deliciously with pizza, burgers, roasted or grilled entreés and it makes a healthy, hearty meal topped with grilled chicken. The easy brown-butter-roasted pepitas are the crunchy crowning glory!
Scott and I love to bike to a fun little brewpub called Hillman's, located in a small town, down the mountain from us. The trip there is an easy (and thrilling) ride as the greenway twists and turns back and forth, making the 1,000-plus foot drop in elevation a little less extreme. However, even with e-bikes, riding back up the steep slope is never a piece of cake. I love that this casual restaurant offers healthy options beyond the classic burgers and heavy sandwiches. I always tell Scott that "I'll have the usual". He knows that means to order me the delicious Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad with grilled chicken. Even though he's an ardent burger-lover, Scott also enjoys this fabulous fresh salad.
With kale, Pecorino cheese, pickled golden raisins, crunchy pepitas, and a light lemony dressing, this healthy, hearty, protein-rich entreé makes the ride back up the mountain a little easier, giving us both a boost of extra energy.
A sleuthing adventure
I've been using my culinary detective skills over the last 6 months to figure out how to make the delicious Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad at home. Each time we visited the popular brewpub, I quizzed our waitress about the salad. Finally, about 2 months ago, I asked if the chef would share the recipe for the dressing. She came back and said, "Olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper".
She didn't give any proportions as they probably make gallons of this dressing a day but that was enough for me. I've been playing with the ingredients ever since and I think it's now perfect! I've added a few of my own touches and, after enjoying the salad at the brewpub a few weeks ago, I think this version is even better!
I love serving this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad for lunch or dinner with grilled chicken, shrimp or steak for a healthy, super delicious meal.
It took a few renditions to get the dressing proportions right. My daughter and I were enjoying this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad for lunch one day at Hillman's and she gave me a hint. She said, "It's not a dressing that's heavy with oil". I studied my salad and saw that she was right. There was little or no oil at the bottom of the bowl.
That helped when I started playing with the ingredients. Classically, most salad dressings have a ratio of 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) to 3 parts oil. I decided to make my lemon dressing 1 part acid (I use lemon juice and apple cider vinegar) to an equal amount of olive oil, making this dressing lighter and less caloric than traditional options. It's also super easy to make; just throw everything in a jar and shake, shake, shake!
The menu at our favorite little restaurant/brewery describes the salad as having "pickled raisins". I'm not sure how Hillman's pickle their raisins but I came up with a super simple technique. I make the dressing, put the raisins in a small jar or bowl, add a tablespoon of the dressing and microwave the raisins for 30 seconds. The heat helps the raisins absorb the lemony dressing, making them more moist and much more flavorful. The raisins cool while I prepare the rest of the salad.
Brown Butter Roasted Pepitas
The menu description for this salad at Hillman's includes "pumpkin seeds". What they actually mean is pepitas. What's the difference? Good question! Pumpkin seeds and pepitas are terms that are often used interchangeably but there is a big difference. This is how The Kitchn, a popular recipe website, differentiates the two:
The main difference between pepitas and pumpkin seeds has to do with where they come from. While both pepitas and pumpkin seeds come from pumpkins, pepitas are dark green in appearance and come from a specific variety of hull-less pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds, like the ones you often scoop out when carving pumpkins for Halloween, are examples of pumpkin seeds, which are white and have hulls.
For this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad, you want the shelled, green pepitas. You can find pepitas in the produce section of many grocery stores along with the bulk nuts or in bags in the snacking nut section of the store.
Instead of simply using pepitas for my version of the salad, I decided to bump up the flavor a bit with a super easy technique that takes less than 5 minutes. This is how I make the brown butter roasted pepitas:
- Melt a teaspoon of butter in a small sauté pan. Swirl the pan a bit until the butter melts.
- Keep swirling the bubbling butter until you see it turn in color from yellow to gold and you notice a nutty aroma.
- Add the pepitas and stir for a few minutes until you notice the pepitas becoming golden and fragrant.
- Toss the seeds with a bit of salt and turn them out onto a paper towel-lined plate.
- Cool and enjoy!
If I take this salad to a potluck, party or get-together, I never plan on bringing any home as the bowl is always empty! It seems that many people enjoy finding something fresh healthy and delicious at events that are often laden with high-calorie, high-fat options.
Check out the recipe and Café Tips below, gather the ingredients and put this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad on your must-make-soon list. I'm pretty sure it will graduate to your frequent-flyer list. It's definitely on mine!
Cafe Tips for making this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad
- I like to use the kale that comes bagged in the produce section of most grocery stores. The tough stems have been removed and the kale, is triple-washed. If you use fresh whole kale from either the grocery store, farmer's market or your garden, be sure to wash it well before shopping.
- The kale for this salad needs to be sliced into small, thin ribbons for this Pepita Pecorino Kale Salad. To prepare the kale, I pour it out onto a work surface and discard any coarse stems. Then I gather a big handful and scrunch it together on a cutting board. I begin slicing the kale into thin ribbons, moving my hand back as I slice. Once the kale is thinly sliced, I run my knife through it a few times in the opposite direction.
- After slicing the kale, you'll need to "massage" it with a bit of the dressing for a minute or two before serving. Massaging kale helps to tenderize it and also serves to absorb some of the dressing into the bland kale, giving it more flavor.
- This recipe calls for pecorino cheese. Pecorino is a hard, salty Italian cheese made from sheep's milk. You will find Pecorino in larger grocery stores in the specialty cheese section. You will often find little cartons of it already grated. You could sub Parmesan for the Pecorino as they are similar.
- I often double the dressing, raisins and pepitas in this recipe. I store the extra dressing and raisins in the refrigerator and the butter-roasted pepitas in an airtight container or bag at room temperature. Sometimes, I will also slice a big bowlful of the kale and stash it in the fridge. Then when I get a craving for this delicious salad, it's super easy to throw together.e
- A word of warning! Kale can go bad! Look for fresh, dry leaves when shopping for kale. If you open the bag and there's an odor, the kale has started to decay and will NOT be good. Take it back to the store and exchange it. I learned this from experience!
- This recipe calls for pepitas. If you're not familiar with pepitas, check out the section above that explains the difference between pepitas and pumpkin seeds.
Thought for the day:
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
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- 1½-2 tablespoons honey
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup golden raisins
- ½ cup pepitas
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 10-12 ounces tripe washed kale
- ½ cup finely grated pecorino cheese
- golden raisins from above
- brown butter pepitas from above
Combine 1½ tablespoons of the honey and the remaining dressing ingredients in a jar and shake, shake, shake. Taste and add remaining honey if you’d like a little more sweetness. Set aside.
For the pickled raisins:
Place the raisins in a small microwave-safe jar, cup or bowl. Add one tablespoon of the lemon dressing and cover with plastic wrap or a small plate. Microwave on high powder for 30 seconds. Keep covered and set aside to cool.
Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl the pan and continue to cook, swirling occasionally until the butter turns from light yellow to a deep golden color.
Add the pepitas and stir frequently until the seeds start turning golden brown, 2-4 minutes. Add the salt and toss to combine. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and allow to cool.
Pour the kale out onto a work surface. Discard any tough stems or wilty looking leaves.
Working in batches on a cutting board, slice the kale into thin ribbons with a sharp knife. To do this,gather a large handful of leaves and bunch together tightly. Use the other hand to finely slice into ribbons. Run your knife through the kale slices a few times in the opposite direction. Transfer the kale to a salad bowl and repeat with the remaining kale.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the dressing over the kale and lightly massage it with both hands for 1-2 minutes. This will tenderize the kale and allow the salad dressing to be absorbed.
Add most of the raisins, most of the pepitas and most of the cheese. Toss lightly. Drizzle the salad with a little more dressing than top with remaining raisins, pepitas and cheese. Serve remaining dressing at the table. ENJOY!
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.
If you prefer to use Metric measurements there is a button in each of our recipes, right above the word “Instructions”. Just click that button to toggle to grams, milliliters, etc. If you ever come across one of our recipes that doesn’t have the Metric conversion (some of the older recipes may not), feel free to leave a comment and I will add it.