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It's love at first (or second) bite with some food

Summer Quinoa and Kale Salad is a delicious way to ease into the sweet and bitter taste of kale. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
You can wrap Summer Quinoa and Kale Salad in lettuce leaves or tortillas to create a convenient hand-held meal. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

Sometimes it takes baby steps, or baby tastes, before we realize we actually like a certain type of food.

For some, it might have been a first bite of a Reuben sandwich that led to a love of sauerkraut. For others, a bit of tapenade dabbed on a goat cheese-topped cracker that led to an appreciation of olives.

For me, it was my first taste of crispy baked pieces of torn kale that led to an affinity for the firm green leaves with thick hardy stems.

I'm a newcomer to the versatile world of kale. Last summer when I was at a pizza party in Duluth at the home of food writer and business owner Arlene Coco, baskets of crisp and salty kale chips came out of her kitchen just before homemade pizzas were carefully positioned into the large wood-fired oven on her patio high above Lake Superior.

The dark chips had crunch similar to a thin potato chip with a distinct hint of flavor of a cruciferous vegetable such as broccoli or cabbage or cauliflower. I couldn't eat just one. After my enticing introduction to kale, I began adding the leaves to stir-fry dishes and pots of soup. Before I knew it, I was eating salads of fresh, raw kale. It took baby steps that began with uncertainty, progressed to like and blossomed to big love for kale.

The versatility of kale as well as the abundance of nutrients it offers has made the green leafy vegetable a new star in the produce department. A one-cup serving of kale delivers staggering amounts of vitamins K, A and C as well as dietary fiber, B vitamins, calcium and iron, all for only 36 calories.

Summer Quinoa and Kale Salad is a scrumptious way to ease into the sweet and bitter taste of kale. Green, curly kale or flat-leaf, bluish-green Lacinato kale, after a little massaging to turn the tough, fibrous leaves tender and silky, can be tossed into this salad of hearty quinoa, crunchy cucumbers and sweet ripe tomatoes and plums. Parsley adds cool, bitter flavor that balances beautifully with an apricot-flavored dressing. Add some sunflower seeds at the last minute and you've got a bowl of bright attractive colors, satisfying texture and astonishing flavors.

If you're already a fan of kale, you can add this salad to your repertoire. If you are ready to add a new green vegetable to your table, Summer Quinoa and Kale Salad is a dish that can turn baby tastes into big love.

Summer Quinoa and Kale Salad

1/4 cup apricot preserves

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

Black pepper to taste

1 cup uncooked quinoa

2 cups packed chopped kale leaves

1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 cup chopped fresh plums

1/2 cup chopped English cucumber

3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

4 cups mixed greens

1/2 cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds

In a small bowl, prepare the dressing by mixing apricot preserves with vinegar and lemon juice. When the ingredients are well blended, whisk in the olive oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Set aside.

Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve under cool running water. Place in a medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat, cover pot and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and you can see the little quinoa curlicues. If there is any water left in the pot, drain the quinoa. Set aside to cool.

Place chopped kale leaves in a large mixing bowl. Pour some of the dressing over the kale, and using your hands, massage the kale for 1-2 minutes until the kale is tender. Add tomatoes, plums, cucumber, parsley and cooked quinoa. Toss all the ingredients together, adding more dressing if necessary. To serve, place greens on individual plates. Top with Quinoa and Kale Salad. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Quinoa can be cooked a day or two before preparing the salad. Store in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator.

--Try using any of your favorite summer fruits in this salad.