Our kale salad with honey mustard dressing is a refreshing, vibrant, and nutritious recipe you can serve as a side dish for a special meal or as a main for a light and tasty lunch.
You’ll love how easy it is to put together with simple, wholesome ingredients.
The earthy, slightly bitter, and somewhat peppery flavor of kale is softened by a creamy, tangy, and slightly sweet dressing made with olive oil, mustard, and maple syrup or honey.
Table of Contents
Dietary Note: this recipe is suitable for a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diet.
Kale is a versatile autumn and winter leafy green vegetable with an earthy, bitter-sweet flavor, cabbage notes, and many health benefits.
But it is this colorful and flavorful winter kale salad that stole our hearts.
Thanks to its freshness and crunch (given by the lemon juice, green apple, and mustard dressing), kale salad is excellent as a side dish to rich and warm mains like our lentil loaf, mushroom wellington, or stuffed butternut squash.
That’s why it’s an excellent side dish for a memorable holiday dinner like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
It’s also perfect as an easy and healthy lunch if you feel like having something light but packed with flavor and nutrition.
And the best part? You can customize this salad with your favorite add-ins. We made a list of the best ones for you to choose from.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
We use Tuscan kale, also known as cavolo nero, dinosaur kale, or lacinato kale.
Substitute curly kale for Tuscan kale. They are both delicious in this kale salad.
Our advice is only to use the tender part of the kale leaves and remove the woodier stems, as they are hard to chew when raw.
Since we are using raw kale, we must massage it with fresh lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar) and a pinch of salt.
We like to use tangy green apples such as Granny Smith apples. Their color, crunch, and acidic flavor work wonderfully with the kale.
For a sweeter flavor, substitute Fuji apples or Pink Ladies for Granny Smith.
Cabbage is another excellent winter vegetable to add to salads. For this one, we use thinly sliced red cabbage.
Substitute green cabbage for the red one. You can also use pickled red cabbage if you are into tangy flavors.
The sweetness of shredded carrots balances out the slight bitterness of the kale. Plus, orange and dark green together are a fantastic color combination.
Substitute diced and roasted butternut squash, roasted sweet potatoes, or kabocha squash for carrots. In principle, most orange vegetables are an excellent flavor match with kale.
Avocado adds creaminess and healthy fats. If you are more into crunchy textures, you can substitute toasted almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans, or pinenuts for avocado.
Pepitas, sunflower seeds, or mixed seeds are also good options.
Juicy, sweet, and a little sour add a beautiful color and flavor to this dish.
Substitute dried cranberries or diced red bell pepper for pomegranate seeds.
Crumbled feta cheese or non-dairy feta cheese adds a salty and savory taste that fits beautifully with the sweetness and bitterness of the other ingredients.
Substitute shaved parmesan cheese or goat cheese.
Honey mustard dressing
Our honey mustard dressing is spot on for this raw kale salad. You can make it with the following:
- Extra virgin olive oil: substitute olive oil.
- Fresh lemon juice: substitute orange juice for a sweeter and less tangy dressing.
- Honey: substitute maple syrup or agave syrup.
- Mustard: Dijon mustard or yellow American mustard.
- Salt and black pepper: we like to use sea salt or kosher salt.
- Garlic powder: optional.
How to make a kale salad
US cups + grams measurements in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
1. Massage the kale
Since kale has a robust, chewy, and hearty texture, firmer than lettuce or spinach, we want to soften its leaves when eating it raw. We do this by massaging the leaves with salt and lemon juice.
First, rinse and shake off the water from the kale leaves. Separate the leaves from the woody stems. You can do so with a knife or tear them off with your hands.
Chop the kale leaves into bite-size pieces and add them to a large bowl or serving platter. Discard the stems.
Tip: if you want to dry the kale with a salad spinner, you might need to remove the stems first.
Add two pinches of salt and the juice of half a lemon juice (about two tablespoons), then pinch or massage the kale with your fingertips until you can feel it get softer (about 30 seconds).
Set it aside for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
Note: massaging the kale with lemon and salt softens its texture, making it less tough, easier to eat, tastier, and less bitter. We think this step is essential to make the best kale salad.
You should feel some of the fiber break off. Don’t over-massage. We don’t want flimsy kale. The lemon and salt help us break down the tougher kale fiber.
2. Add the other ingredients
Top the kale with bite-size apple pieces, thinly sliced red cabbage, grated carrot, pomegranate seeds, and diced avocado.
Optionally, add crumbled feta or non-dairy feta.
Tip: only add the avocado if you are serving the salad within the next 30 minutes, as it might turn brown once it’s out of its shell.
3. Drizzle with the dressing
To a small jar, add olive oil, lemon juice, honey or maple syrup, mustard, salt, and black pepper. Close the jar and shake well.
Tip: you can also whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl.
Drizzle half the dressing on the salad, bring to the table, and toss before serving.
Serve the other half of the dressing on the table for people to help themselves and drizzle on their portion.
Kale salad with roasted winter squash
Peel and cut your chosen vegetable into 3/4 inch cubes, toss with olive oil, salt, and black pepper, and arrange on a baking sheet on a single layer.
Bake in a preheated oven at 430°F or 220°C for 20 minutes or until fork tender.
Kale quinoa salad
This kale and quinoa salad is a tasty, nutritious, and colorful recipe excellent as a healthy make-ahead lunch or dinner and for meal prepping as it keeps well for several days.
We make it with bell pepper, almonds, corn, spring onion, and, of course, kale and quinoa.
Check out our kale quinoa salad recipe.
Kale salad is best served from late September to late April when kale is in season.
It’s excellent when you have guests for dinner because it’s colorful and incredibly flavorful.
For a more casual meal, try it with:
- Roasted chickpeas or crispy air-fryer chickpeas.
- Fried tofu or air fryer tofu: cut into cubes and lightly seasoned.
- Farro, quinoa, rice, or couscous: mix them into the salad to make it a wholesome lunch.
Yes, you can eat raw kale as a salad.
The best way to do this is to massage the kale with salt and lemon juice and let it sit for 10 minutes so that the kale leaves soften and are easier and more pleasant to eat.
Also, when eating kale as a salad, we recommend discarding the woodier stems and cutting the leaves into small-sized pieces.
Yes, you can make kale salad ahead of time. For best results, we recommend making it up to 24 hours before serving it.
However, if you plan to add avocado, cheese, and fresh fruit, do so right before serving the salad because they might change color after a few hours (for instance, avocados and apples will look less fresh after a couple of hours).
Kale does not need to be cooked for salads. Instead, we recommend massaging the kale with lemon juice and salt to soften its tough fibers and make it tastier and more palatable.
Also, we recommend discarding the woodier stems of the kale when making a kale salad.
We massage kale salad for four main reasons:
1) It makes the kale easier to chew and more pleasant to eat.
2) It reduces the kale bitterness. This happens because the fiber is broken down, and the juices from the kale soften its bitter flavor.
3) It makes it easier to digest, as the salt and lemon juice, combined with the mechanical action of massaging, partially cook the kale.
4) It tastes better. The lemon juice and salt improve the flavor of the kale significantly.
We recommend massaging kale every time you have it raw.
Storage & Make Ahead
Make ahead: kale salad is a great recipe to make ahead because the kale gets softer and more flavorful, marinating with the dressing and with the other ingredients in the refrigerator.
We recommend making it up to 24 hours before serving it. However, it can safely be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
If you plan to add apples, avocado, or feta cheese, do so last minute, a few moments before serving it.
Refrigerator: store kale salad leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. The salad will improve in taste and texture up to 24 hours after making it. Then it’ll slightly degrade, but it will still be excellent for up to 3 days.
Toss again: toss the salad in some freshly made dressing before serving it, as it might dry in the fridge.
More Kale Recipes
Got leftover kale in your fridge? Make one of these wholesome and easy kale recipes; they’re delicious and great as family meals:
- Kale pesto ready in 5 minutes with almonds, kale, and parmesan.
- Easy kale pesto pasta: a green and creamy pasta dish perfect as a weeknight dinner.
- Lentil soup with leafy greens and Italian herbs is an earthy, rustic recipe.
- Crispy kale chips: a great snack idea for game night and a lighter alternative to crisps.
- Creamy kale pasta: with ricotta and parmesan.
- Tuscan white bean soup: a rich, earthy, creamy, and chunky soup from the Italian countryside.
- Sautéed kale: the simplest way to enjoy this delicious leafy green.
More winter salads
- Butternut squash salad (chickpeas, green apple, dried cranberries, arugula, etc.)
- Pear salad (arugula, orange wedges, pomegranate seeds, pears, orange juice, etc)
- Fennel salad (black olives, fennel, pomegranate seeds, mustard, maple syrup, etc.)
- Sweet potato salad (roasted sweet potato, avocado, dried cranberries, lemon, etc.)
For many more salad ideas, check out our salads category page.
- 6 packed cups kale stems removed and cut into bite-size pieces + ½ lemon and ¼ teaspoon salt to massage
- ½ cup red cabbage thinly sliced
- ½ green apple cut into bite-size pieces
- ½ cup carrot grated
- 1 avocado diced
- 5 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- ½ cup feta cheese crumbled
Kale Salad Dressing
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon honey swap maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
MASSAGE THE KALE
- Rinse, dry, and separate kale leaves from the stems.Cut leaves into bite-size pieces and measure 6 packed cups kale. Add to a large bowl.
- Add 2 pinches of salt and the juice of ½ lemon. Massage (pinch) leaves with fingertips for 30 seconds, then set aside while you prep the other ingredients.
- Add ½ cup red cabbage (thinly sliced), ½ green apple (cut into bite-size pieces), ½ cup carrot (shredded), 1 avocado (diced), 5 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, and ½ cup feta cheese (crumbled).
- To a small jar add, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper. Close and shake to combine. Alternatively, whisk ingredients in a small bowl.
- Drizzle dressing on kale salad, bring to the table, and toss before serving.