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Supercharged Kale Panzanella + Giveaway!

by Kristina Gill

A recent bout with the flu gave me a bit of a wake-up call about my ongoing winter diet — which should have ended long before I got sick. At the crossroads of deciding whether to use the three-day fast as a stepping stone to better eating or just go back to my bad habits, Hetty McKinnon’s newest cookbook, Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day, helped me make a healthier choice. Easing into the transition with her Supercharged Kale Panzanella with Polenta Croutons that we are featuring today was a fail-proof step. I love the mix of using fresh and pre-prepared items (polenta) as well as the addition of the kale and basil pesto (another batch item to keep on hand to use in other dishes). Of course I won’t be giving up all of my treats, nor will I convert to a vegetarian diet, but Hetty has inspired me to revisit my eating habits leftover from winter and explore new meal options better suited for spring and summer! For more salad ideas, you can see Hetty’s very popular Lovely Kinda-Nicoise Salad in our archives. —Kristina

Hetty McKinnon is a cook and food writer with a passion for vegetables. In 2011, she established Arthur Street Kitchen, a local salad-delivery business run from her inner-city terrace in Surry Hills, Sydney. In 2015, Hetty, with her family and Arthur Street Kitchen in tow, relocated to Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about food and runs pop-up food events and workshops out of her co-owned creative space, Neighborhood Studio. She is the author of two bestselling cookbooks: Community: Salad Recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen (2014) and Neighborhood: Salad, Sweets, and Stories from Home and Abroad (2016). In 2017, she launched her independent multicultural food journal, Peddler. Find Hetty on Instagram at @arthurstreetkitchen.

For a chance to win a copy of Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day, respond in the comments section below by May 1, 5PM EST to the following question: Have you ever made a wholesale change to your eating habits? What inspired the change? A documentary? A book? A course? Let us know the details, we may need to make the same changes! We will announce the winner in the comments section, so be sure to check back!

Image above: Family; Photography by Luisa Brimble

Image above: Hetty McKinnon

Image above: Some of the vegetables featured in Family

Image above: Supercharged Kale Panzanella with Polenta Croutons

Supercharged Kale Panzanella with Polenta Croutons

Panzanella is a fantastic peasant-style dish thrown together with ripe tomatoes and croutons made from stale bread. This version is supercharged, with the addition of nutrient-rich kale and sunflower seeds. If you are short on time, simply dress in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but if you have a spare 5 minutes, whiz up this healthy kale pesto. The polenta croutons — thanks to my friend Jill Fergus for the idea! — are a great alternative to traditional croutons, but if you prefer, use regular croutons, either homemade or store-bought.


  • 1/2 bunch kale, stems removed
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100g) tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 9 ounces (250g) fresh mozzarella or bocconcini, roughly torn
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • Kale and Basil Pesto
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, stems removed
  • 1/4 cup (6g) basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup (50g) grated Parmesan
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • sea salt
  • Polenta Croutons
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound (450g) store-bought pre-cooked polenta, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes
  • sea salt
  • Substitute polenta with bread croutons, if preferred



For the polenta croutons, heat a large frying pan over a high heat. When hot, drizzle with a big glug of oil and add the polenta cubes. Fry for 5-6 minutes, until golden and crispy on all sides. Season with sea salt and set aside to cool completely.

For the salad, tear up the kale leaves and place them in a large bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and massage them into the leaves. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the leaves to soften.

To make the pesto, place the kale and basil in a food processor or blender. Pulse to break up the leaves. Add the sunflower seeds and pulse again, then add the oil and blend together until you get a thick yet slightly chunky paste. Pour into a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan and vinegar. Season well with sea salt.

Combine the softened kale leaves with the tomato, mozzarella or bocconcini, sunflower seeds, and Parmesan. Add a few spoonfuls of the pesto and toss well to coat the leaves. To serve, season with sea salt and black pepper and scatter over the polenta croutons.


You won’t need all the pesto. Place the remaining pesto in an airtight container or resealable freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.

Suggested For You


  • I adopted a vegetarian diet after reading The China Study. While I would love to eventually convert to vegan, I am not ready to give up cheese. :-)

  • I changed the way I eat after reading Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type. It made sense to me that not everyone needs the same food. I felt so much better after cutting out the foods recommended to avoid. Particularly grains.

  • So, not to be a bummer in the comments, but yes I made a wholesale change to my eating when I started recovering from an eating disorder. It wasn’t over a short period, I’d say just in the last three years or so did I finally get to a place where I consider the change really made, but basically I stopped counting calories, labeling foods good/bad, restricting myself from foods I was craving, etc. All the things I’d been internalizing as how I *had* to respond to and interact with food.

    Turns out, I eat better now because I’m also not fighting my body and can actually let it want and need what it wants and needs. I gained weight (which was a healthy response for my body), and I also gained energy, my skin is happier, and in general I find more time in my day and life because I don’t stress myself out over what I’m eating. And because I eat what I want I’ve noticed I actually crave really interesting things (beets with goat cheese, turnip greens with soy sauce and garlic, savory ice cream, literally every stone fruit and berry ever, apple cider vinegar in sparkling water…). Probably one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

  • I went vegetarian at age 13 because meat never really appealed to me and it was a lasting decision (I added fish in my 20s, but at 40 I’ve never gone back to eating other meat and I never missed it). That decision was probably one of the first I made in establishing my autonomy and listening to MY body. It’s been a lifelong reminder that doing that (listening to your body) is the best thing you can do. Viva la vegetables!

  • Sure have – I was inspired by Michael Pollan. For the first time it clicked for me eating wasn’t about looks, it was about my health and the health of the planet. Haven’t looked at freezer aisle the same since!

  • I am becoming more and more interested in a vegetarian diet since I suffer from an autoimmune disease my doctor is still trying to identify. Some days the joint pain is unbearable.
    I have moved from meatless Monday’s to plant based meals 3 to 4 days a week My biggest problem is feeling like I have enough protein and figuring out what to make. !

  • I stopped eating French fries when:
    I read about the acrylate (or something like that) cancer causing agent in them as well as the amount of saturated fat;
    I realized how much weight I was gaining by eating out with my boyfriend of the time, and eating French fries all the time.
    Dumped both the French fries and the boyfriend, however for quite different reasons.

  • When I met my fiance (a life-time vegetarian), I knew I needed to make a change. It took me an entire year, but I was able cut out meat entirely from my previously meat-dominated diet. Sounds so gross thinking of it now! I’ve been a vegetarian for three years and it was the best choice I’ve ever made. Changing your diet so dramatically really forces you to think about what you’re eating and putting into your body. I’ve learned so much about food and drink since I’ve become a vegetarian, its been amazing.

    And we are soon to be Mrs. & Mrs. Vegetarian Queens!

  • I have slowly been decreasing the amount of animal products and meats in my life for two reasons; The first was I started noticing how my body was negatively responding to the amount of dairy I consumed…and I LOVED dairy. After cutting out most everything but the occasional cheese, I’ve noticed my skin and digestion has improved. The second reason for some changes came from watching Forks over Knives. I always take biased movies and books with a grain of salt (pun intended), but their research was very thorough and definitely changed my personal thoughts on animal products and farming. I naturally began to crave more vegetables over meats. I still have a long road to correct and balance my gut so my next adventure will be an elimination diet.

  • My husband & I transitioned to a plant based diet soon after seeing the Netflix documentary “Forks Over Knives”.
    Coincidentally this was followed up over conversation with an acquaintance who had been eating this way
    for a year or so & looking better than ever. My husband is retired and does most, okay lets just say all,
    of the cooking, he jumped right in and started trying recipes off FOK’s website, tailoring them to fit our tastes and his sense of creativity. Groceries and restaurants are offering more options to vegetarians and vegans than ever.
    We shop weekly at our local farmers market which brings added quality to what we eat & a good time in shopping for what we put into our bodies.

  • Michael Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, inspired me to care more about how my food is produced and what affect it has on the planet.

  • I went vegan after accidentally signing up for a workplace weight loss challenge. I didn’t want to feel deprived skipping treats in the lounge so I told myself I couldn’t eat them because they weren’t vegan. I also skip breakfast now and don’t worry about eating protein all the time since I’m over 50 and saw a show on pbs about fasting diets being healthy as we age and not needing as much protein.

  • My diet changed when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 35. I was always a generally healthy eater but I had to really pay attention to how to put carbs and fat together to sustain blood sugar levels. The biggest takeaway diet related was how I have to take notice to how food affects my body and mind. I read all types of cook books to incorporate to my everyday wellness!

  • I drastically changed my eating after a skin problem was diagnosed as an autoimmune condition. When I started reading all about it, I decided to see what foods I was reacting to. I did a strict elimination diet for months – the AutoImmune Protocol, then slowly reintroduced one thing at a time to see how my body responded. (and my skin problem went away.)
    I was really surprised how after a few weeks, it wasn’t that hard to be disinterested in food I thought I had to have. I have leaned on Paleo eating for the last 2 years, but now I want to be more vegetable oriented in my meals.

  • I went dairy free for almost a year because I thought it would make me feel better. It had the opposite effect, and now I can’t digest dairy like I could before.

  • I stopped drinking anything with sugar and moved to only still and sparkling water wholesale. I immediately felt more in control of my mood (fewer caffeine and sugar related spikes)! This was 10 years ago and I’ve never looked back.

  • After reading Woman Code, I introduced nutrient cycling into my lifestyle. The premise is that we can heal our bodies with food, and that as women, our hormonal cycle taxes differing levels of vitamins and minerals. A good example of this would be that I try to eat beet root in my menstrual phase, as my body has been depleted of iron…for obvious reasons ;) It has changed my life, regulated my cycles, helped with my chronic migraines, etc.

  • I’m a life-time vegetarian and love vegetables. After my sister became vegan I also often buy plant milk and only use eggs for special occasions. What I definitely still could change would be to eat less sugar.

  • In all honestly, my budget needs changed my eating style for the better. I stopped eating out and stopped buying processed foods – the cheaper foods were the kale, the uncut fruit, the whole carrots (with the greens) and not the chips, granola bars or 100 calorie snack packs I grew up with.

  • In the past year I have cut the sugar in my diet wayyyyy back. Not so much for my benefit, but my 90 year old father was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic and since I am his primary caregiver I knew I had to get his levels under control. It was/is not an easy task, the man was used to eating a Klondike bar for lunch everyday! (I also feel I can’t take all the ‘fun’ foods away from him, he made it to 90 being a sugar addict so maybe he’s on to something!)

  • All very interesting moments which have led to dietary change in your lives. Thank you for sharing your stories. Judith, you have the winning entry!