FARGO — Our life lately has been a flurry of activity. Like many parents, between work and running around from one school event to the next, it’s easy to find ourselves depleted of energy by the time dinner rolls around.

At times like these, eating well is essential to maintaining the focus and stamina required to manage our busy lives. If you’ve found your energy flagging of late, today’s Autumn Superfood Salad may be just what you need.

Superfood is a term that is often used to distinguish foods, mostly plant-based, that are low in calories and nutritionally dense, like leafy, dark greens, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and most fruits.

To create a dish that will boost both energy and immunity, I chose ingredients that contain healthy fats and carbohydrates, and are rich with protein, fiber, folate, iron and vitamins. This salad features baby kale, quinoa, red apple, sweet potato and pecans as the main components.

Autumn Superfood Salad includes kale, quinoa, sweet potato, apple, pecans, bacon and blue cheese. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Autumn Superfood Salad includes kale, quinoa, sweet potato, apple, pecans, bacon and blue cheese. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Prior to this recipe, I’ve had little use for kale as my one experience with it nearly left my mouth in shreds. However, its exceptional nutritional content has always appealed to me, so I did some digging to learn how to make it more palatable. That’s when I discovered that kale needs to be chopped and given a massage with oil to help soften those tips and curb its peppery bite. Yeah… I don’t even have time to massage my feet, let alone some healthy greens.

Thank goodness for baby kale. You can find packaged baby kale greens in the refrigerated lettuce section at most grocery stores, typically in a plastic tub or bag, ready for use. All I had to do was remove some of the longer stems, stack the leaves on top of each other and cut them into half-inch strips, which did, indeed, mellow the peppery flavor.

Baby kale is cut into strips after the stems are removed for Autumn Superfood Salad. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Baby kale is cut into strips after the stems are removed for Autumn Superfood Salad. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Quinoa, while not technically a grain (it’s a member of the spinach family), brings a grainlike boost of texture, protein, fiber and folate to this salad. I use 1 cup of quinoa for this recipe, and to enrich its flavor I cook it with a small bay leaf and use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water.

When selecting the ingredients, I also considered the overall appearance of this salad. I chose a Pink Lady apple for its firm texture, tart flavor and lovely red peel. I cut the apple into matchstick slices to feature a touch of red at the end of each julienned slice.

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite autumnal foods, and this component brings color, nutrition and wonderful roasted flavor to the salad. Pecans bring protein, crunch and color, and an optional light sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese and bacon may be added for even more flavor. A sweet and sour Maple Cider Vinaigrette rounds out the salad and intensifies the fall flavors.

This Autumn Superfood Salad is easy to prepare and holds up well for several days in the refrigerator. You can make a batch on Sunday and enjoy it throughout the week whenever you need a quick dose of healthy, delicious, energy-boosting food.

Quinoa is fluffed before tossing in Autumn Superfood Salad. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Quinoa is fluffed before tossing in Autumn Superfood Salad. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Autumn Superfood Salad

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients

5 ounces baby kale (a typical plastic tub), stems removed and chopped into half-inch strips

3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1½ cups quinoa, cooked (for better flavor, cook with 1 small bay leaf and use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water)

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 red apple (look for tart, firm varieties like Pink Lady or Honeycrisp), cut into matchsticks

1 cup chopped pecans

½ cup blue cheese crumbles (optional)

4 strips bacon, cooked and roughly chopped (optional)

Maple Cider Vinaigrette (see recipe)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

Place the chopped kale strips in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the leaves and gently toss until evenly coated; set aside.

As the oven is heating up, cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package. Once the quinoa is fully cooked, transfer to a heatproof bowl and use 2 forks to gently fluff the quinoa until no clumps appear. Let quinoa sit at room temperature until cool.

Prepare the sweet potato as the quinoa simmers. In a medium bowl, toss the cubed sweet potato with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil until evenly coated. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper over the cubes and toss again to distribute. Once the oven has reached 375 degrees, transfer the sweet potatoes to the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until the sweet potatoes are lightly browned and fork-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and place baking sheet on a wire rack to cool.

Once the quinoa and sweet potatoes have cooled, the salad is ready to assemble. Lightly toss the kale strips and add the quinoa, sweet potatoes, matchstick apples, pecans, blue cheese and bacon bits. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of Maple Cider Vinaigrette over the ingredients and toss until combined. Drizzle with 2 to 3 more tablespoons of the dressing, toss again and serve.

Leftovers may be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

Maple Cider Vinaigrette

Ingredients

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons water

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the cider vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon mustard and water. Continue whisking and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Whisk vigorously until fully emulsified. Add the salt and pepper and whisk until combined.

Vinaigrette may be served immediately or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.