Ode to the Season + RECIPE: Kale Peanut Salad

Slowly, it’s coming– this calm beautiful transition into fall.

I love Wisconsin summers. Despite the way they seem to race by every year, I treasure them. I hold them dearly. Every season, we work hard to try and find just a few more minutes away from the farm to really savor them without work because I truly believe that there is no better place to be in the months of June through August than the Upper Midwest. It’s a rush of lakes, beaches, blue skies, lush greenery, and tomatoes. It’s perfect.

And just when I begin to feel the slightest bit sad that summer is on its way out, I see the golden light glimmer through the trees and I know that this time of year is every bit as magical. We might not be able to swim, but nothing else really changes. The lakes quiet down and sunset paddles become an even more beautiful thing. Trail runs turn almost mystical with changing leaves and flowering prairie grasses. The football, the apple cider, the cool nights and even cooler mornings, the pumpkins. It’s all just so cozy and warming, so introspective and nurturing.

I’ve always loved fall and now that I’m a vegetable farmer, my appreciation for this season has only grown. It’s not only the season of magical golden light and the time when our pace begins to slow, it’s the season when indulgence blends with balance and preparation for the year ahead. There is still much to savor but not so much that it feels excessive.

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Summer can sometimes feel like too much to handle. There’s so much to do and so much to savor that we’re always left feeling unsatisfied, like we needed to fit in one more outing, one more hike, one more picnic. But fall doesn’t ask that of you. Fall asks you to enjoy it slowly and meaningfully without worry that you will miss out on anything.

Our crops and field work mimic this pattern. By August, I am often overwhelmed in my kitchen. The sheer volume of food that packs my fridge feels like a test. How can I use it all before it goes bad? How can I incorporate four more vegetables into that recipe? Every single vegetable we grow is at my fingertips and it’s just too much. I can’t figure out what I actually want to eat. I default to tomatoes. It’s not a bad situation, but it’s the only time of year that I haul buckets of compost out of my house by the week, unable to handle the volume.

Fall isn’t like that. Fall gives you just enough. Fall says, yes winter is on its way, but not for awhile so enjoy what I give you– the freshest things first so that you can savor the rest of my fruits through the darkest months. And so I abide. I don’t take anything for granted.

I begin to stock pile tomatoes and peppers in my freezer. I eat every last cucumber. I find myself excited to cook up zucchini. I stash onions and potatoes and winter squash and shallots into our pantry. Once that’s full, I stack up more crates in the basement. I use them sparingly, knowing they will make up the bulk of my diet soon enough. I harvest greens from the field and top them with anything fresh. I make some of my favorite salads on repeat because I know soon enough they won’t be available to me.

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This is one of those salads. I eat in all spring long just as soon as the kale is ready and then seem to forget about it by late June. There’s so much chard and lettuce and other goodies available, that kale quickly gets left behind. But as the season begins to wind down, and I realize I only have a few months left of fresh kale salads, I jump back in. I switch the toppings from time to time but always enjoying the perfect combination of rich earthy kale with a sweet, sticky, peanuty dressing. I hope you do too.

-Leek

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KALE PEANUT SALAD
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Depending on the season, I change up the veggies I use for this salad. The kale and the dressing are the powerhouse part of this meal and the rest is easily substituted so don’t worry if you don’t have any scallions or radishes on hand at the moment. I always use an onion of some kind– sometimes scallions as listed here, but at other times it’s thinly sliced yellow onion, leek or shallot. I usually use a root vegetable as well– sometimes radish, sometimes carrot, occasionally beets. Then I’ll add another veggie or two, again whatever I have on hand, cucumbers and bell peppers of any color are great. Really anything you like raw on a salad will work just fine.

1-1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, divided
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound kale, ribs removed and very thinly sliced
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced
4 scallions, trimmed
3 radishes, thinly sliced

  1. In a food processor, combine 3/4 cup peanuts, oil, vinegar, brown sugar, salt and red pepper flakes. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
  2. In a large bowl, combine kale with the dressing, using half at first, tasting and adding more as you like. I often use the full amount for a pound of kale but you may not want to.
  3. Top with cucumber, scallion, radish and remaining 1/2 cup nuts. Serve right away or store for 2-3 days in your fridge. The kale can stand up to being dressed in advance.

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