Kale and Quinoa Salad with Creamy Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 small sweet potato, peeled (optional) and diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup quinoa
1/3 cup pecans
1 large head of kale (the lacinato variety is my fave)
6 to 8 dried black mission figs, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
1 madarin orange, peeled and separated into sections
olive oil
3 dried black mission figs, ends trimmed and soaked
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar*
1/4 tsp dried Italian seasonings
3 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 375° and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2. Toss the sweet potato with salt, pepper and enough olive oil to coat.  Spread out on sheet pan and place it in the oven.  Bake for around 25 minutes until the sweet potato can be pierced with a fork and it is starting to brown.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

3. As the sweet potato roasts cook the quinoa according to package directions.  Typically bring the quinoa and 1/2 cup or water to a boil, turn to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

4. Add the pecans to a small saute pan and heat over medium-low.  Stir frequently and watch closely.  Remove from heat once they are lightly brown and aromatic.

5. Clean and dry the kale leaves, remove the thick tough part of the stems, chop into 1/2 inch ribbons and if the leaves are wide, also do a couple lengthwise chops.  Place the kale in a large bowl and using your hands massage and press the leaves for one minute.

6. For the dressing:  drain the soaked figs and add them to a small blender (I use a nutribullet) with mustard, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasonings, olive oil, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of water.  Blend.  If it is too thick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water at a time until desired consistency is reached.  I like mine thin enough to easily toss but still with a nice creamy mouthfeel. 

7. Toss the kale with the quinoa and dressing.  Start with about 2/3rds of the dressing and see if you want to add more.

8. Plate the kale and quinoa mixture, top with sweet potato, pecans, figs and mandarins.

Notes: *I like to use a good quality balsamic that is thick and not watery for this dish.  It gives the dressing a better flavor and texture.

Makes two large salads  |  crystalvaughn.com