Some people mark the arrival of summer with Memorial Day weekend. Many feel it starts on the last day of school. Still, others hold out for the Solstice. For me, summer starts whenever I sink my teeth into the year’s first Bardenhagan strawberry. Whether your strawberries come from this Lake Leelanau family farm or another grower in Northern Michigan, locally harvested strawberries taste nothing like the off-season imports. Glossy, juicy, plump and naturally sweet, June strawberries need little more than a rinse just before serving; but those of us who like to put the summer fruit to work in the kitchen often turn to sweet treats—like strawberry shortcake or batches of jam. Don’t overlook the opportunity to also add the beloved perennial that is a member of the rose family to savory dishes. Pairing strawberries with a good, high-quality aged balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper is as classic as pairing them with whipped cream and biscuits.
Photo by Dave Weidner
For this recipe, we like to grab a bottle of 12- or 18-year balsamic from Traverse City’s Fustini’s and layer a serving platter with early-season baby kale, which is tender enough to eat raw but sturdy enough to stand up to a blanket of berries. Topped simply with halved June strawberries—no maceration required—a kiss of balsamic vinaigrette that is scant enough to let the seasonal produce shine, a few grindings of cracked black pepper and toasted pepitas, this is one of the easiest crowd-pleasers out there. Anytime I fill our wooden farm table with a collection of family-style dishes to pass, this is the platter everyone fights over. Now if only I could get them to fight over running into town to nab more strawberries.
Strawberry Kale Salad Recipe
Serves 8–10 as a side salad, 4–6 as a lunch entrée
- 1⁄4 cup raw pepitas
- 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon high-quality aged balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon plus
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 5 ounces baby kale, rinsed
- 2 large fistfuls of strawberries, about 10 ounces, hulled and halved
- freshly ground black pepper
1. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pepitas—shaking the pan a few times—until the seeds crackle and are gently browned, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2. Pour the vinegar into a large bowl. In a slow, steady stream—pausing as needed until each new addition is incorporated—whisk in olive oil until the mixture is emulsified. Add the kale to the bowl and toss with your hands to coat the greens evenly with the dressing, gently massaging the kale as you work.
3. Place the kale onto a serving platter. Layer the strawberries on top of the kale and top with the toasted pepitas. Finish with a few grindings of black pepper and serve.
Stacey Brugeman is a Leelanau County-based food and beverage writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, Eater and Denver’s 5280, where she served as Restaurant Critic. Follow her on Instagram @staceybrugeman.