kale salad peanut dressing

Kale salad with honey-mustard peanut dressing

22 November 2016

This shredded kale and cabbage salad, coated in a sweet honey-mustard dressing and generously showered with crushed peanuts, has a cult following at Hillstone restaurants across the country, from Houston’s to Bandera to various Grill outposts, such as Cherry Creek, Bal Harbour, Palm Beach and Rutherford. You see it on almost every table, as starter, side dish, or tossed with rotisserie chicken as a main dish. And you think, all those people can’t be wrong.

They are not wrong. Next to sticky ribs, a loaded omelette or a fat cheeseburger, it’s a scene-stealing side that will leave you wanting more.

A salad fanatic, I got seriously obsessed with making this salad at home. How hard could it be?

I picked the brain of a really nice server at my local restaurant. Kale, cabbage and peanuts, clearly. She gave me a few hints: roasted peanut oil, both green and savoy cabbage, some reggiano cheese (presumably Parmigiano-Reggiano). I kept some salad to bring home. And she gave me a little container of dressing to go.

I tasted it at home and immediately identified honey mustard. Only the tiniest amount of vinegar. A lot of sweetness, which really works to offset the bitter edge of kale. Flecks of red – a dash of hot sauce. Flecks of green too – maybe parsley flakes. Finely minced something – I’m guessing shallot. All in all, subtler and more delicate that I would have come up with on my own.

For those who want some relief from heavier Thanksgiving dishes, this salad provides a great fresh contrast on your plate, and kale and cabbage both have a happy affinity with mashed potatoes. It’s also easy to make ahead – you can prep all the greens a day or two ahead, whisk together the dressing, crush the peanuts and store them all separately until you are ready to toss and serve.

If you can find unrefined expeller-pressed peanut oil, which is this dark amber color on the left, it really brings fantastic peanut flavor to the salad. Refined peanut oil (the lighter one here) is good for frying but useless for salad – since it has virtually no peanut taste, you’re better off just using a good olive oil.

unrefined vs refined peanut oil

The Hillstone salad has green cabbage and savoy cabbage in addition to kale. But for home cooking, one or other cabbage is just fine. Savoy is similar in color to green cabbage, but the leaves are a bit thinner and ruffly.

savoy cabbage tuscan kale

I’m not sure a sauce container has ever been examined this closely.

reverse engineering salad dressing

Honey, mustard, sugar, garlic salt (Lawry’s has little flecks of parsley), ground pepper, and a few drops of hot sauce. Only a tiny bit of vinegar, plus water to dilute the vinegar and loosen the dressing. (It’s possible that in the restaurant they use agave in place of my water and sugar – theirs is still even sweeter than mine.)

honey mustard peanut dressing

Unrefined peanut oil has a great peanut taste, but olive oil is just fine too.

unrefined peanut oil

There’s a bit of stuff in the dressing too – minced shallots, grated Parmesan cheese, crushed peanuts. Minced scallions or onions are also fine instead of shallots.

grated cheese shallots crushed peanuts

I iterated a handful of batches before I got a match on both taste and looks.

dressing comparison

It’s an extra step to cut out the rib of the kale, but it does make for easier eating without the tough center.

removing kale rib

Gently roll the kale leaves together and slice thinly.

shredding kale

Stack a few cabbage leaves, and split them in half down the center rib.

cabbage leaves halved

Then stack the halves and slice thinly.

shredding savoy cabbage

The mix of cabbage and kale is flexible. Herbs are great too – some versions of this have scallions, cilantro and mint; the one I had recently had scallions and parsley.

kale cabbage greens

My low-tech method for crushing peanuts: a ziploc bag and rolling pin. Just be sure not to zip the bag completely, or you’ll pop the bag before you crush the peanuts.

crushing roasted peanuts

To make this a day of two ahead, just prep and store the three elements separately: shredded kale/cabbage, salad dressing and crushed peanuts. Mix together before serving.

tossing salad

People say that massaging kale is the key to reducing bitterness, but I find that once the kale is mixed well with dressing, all it needs is a little time to sit and mellow out on its own.

kale cabbage salad

Unlike most salads, this one is still good the next day. The greens will have softened and mellowed, and you can always mix in fresh crushed peanuts.

Add some shredded leftover turkey, and it’s a post-Thanksgiving meal you can feel good about. Followed by leftover pie.

kale salad peanut dressing

Kale Salad with Honey-Mustard Peanut Dressing
This shredded kale and cabbage salad, tossed with a sweet honey-mustard dressing and a generous shower of crushed peanuts, has a cult following at Hillstone restaurants across the country, from Houston’s to Bandera to various Grill outposts, such as Cherry Creek, Bal Harbour, Palm Beach and Rutherford. I obsessively reverse-engineered this dressing from a sample I got from a nice server at my local restaurant, and it’s subtler and more delicate that I would have come up with on my own.

Salad ingredients

  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale (aka lacinato or dinosaur), thinly sliced (about 4-6 cups)
  • 2-4 cups green cabbage or savoy cabbage, thinly sliced (add enough to kale to make 8 cups combined)
  • 1/4 cup scallions and parsley (optional), OR
  • 1/4 cup scallions, cilantro and mint (optional)
  • 1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts

Dressing ingredients (for 8 cups greens)

  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt (or just salt)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots (or scallions or onions)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed roasted peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
  • Dash hot sauce
  • 6 tablespoons unrefined expeller-pressed peanut oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)

Preparation

  1. Rinse and dry kale. Fold each leaf inward in half and use a sharp knife to cut out the tough center rib. Slice the kale thinly (I like to roughly stack leaves and roll them into a fat log on the cutting board so I can cut a bunch at once) and put into a large salad bowl.
  2. Rinse cabbage leaves and slice thinly too. Add to salad bowl. Chop and add herbs, if using.
  3. In a small bowl, add all the dressing ingredients except the oil. Whisk together with a fork. Whisk in oil last.
  4. Add dressing to salad greens, mixing very well to coat. Add crushed peanuts and mix to distribute. The salad will relax and the kale will lose some of its bitterness as it absorbs the dressing, so I recommend tossing it together 15 minutes to an hour before serving.

Makes 4 generous servings.

Notes

  • To crush peanuts, I use a rolling pin and gently roll over peanuts in a small ziploc bag (don’t seal it completely, or the bag will pop).
  • To make this salad ahead of time, just prep and store the three elements separately, a day or two ahead: 1) shredded kale/cabbage, 2) salad dressing and 3) crushed peanuts. Mix together before serving.
  • Like a slaw, leftovers will keep for next-day eating. The peanuts will soften along with the greens, but you can always add some fresh crushed peanuts.
  • To get a true Hillstone copycat dressing, you need unrefined, expeller-pressed peanut oil, which is a dark amber color and has a strong peanut taste. Refined peanut oil, pale in color, has virtually no peanut taste. Spectrum makes a good one (about $8 for 16 ounces) that I’ve found at Whole Foods and some specialty markets.
  • Makes a great main dish for two, topped with with rotisserie chicken or sliced steak.
  • You can use curly kale if you can’t find Tuscan; chop finely as the leaves are a bit tougher.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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