This vibrant and delicious kale salad is a mix of fresh veggies, a tangy mustard dressing, and plenty of add-ins you can choose from.
It's a perfect wholesome side dish, colorful appetizer, or a healthy lunch and dinner idea. It's even better as a make-ahead meal since it stores great in the fridge for a couple of days.
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Kale is a versatile autumn and winter leafy green vegetable with a bitter-sweet flavor, cabbage notes, and many health benefits.
There are different ways of eating kale; kale chips and sauteed kale are some of the most popular, but it is this colorful, tasty, and wonderful kale salad that stole our hearts.
Honestly, this is one of our favorite winter salads ever. It's excellent as a starter or side dish for a memorable holiday meal during the winter holidays, and it's also perfect as an easy and healthy lunch or dinner.
Its many colors, the deep dark shades of green of the kale and apple, the bright orange pumpkin, and the shiny red pomegranate, make it a gorgeous centerpiece meal.
The sweet, tangy, and creamy mustard lemon dressing perfectly balances the kale's slight bitterness.
The different textures - from crunchy nuts to buttery soft pumpkin make it impossible to resist.
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.
We use dinosaur kale, also called Tuscan kale or lacinato kale, or curly kale, depending on what we find available at our local supermarket.
In either case, please remove the woodier stems of the kale, as they are not so pleasant to chew on raw.
Our advice for this recipe is only to use the tender part of the kale leaves.
We like to use bright green granny smith apples. Their color, crunch, and tangy flavor work wonderfully with kale.
If you can't find granny smith, pick any other apple instead.
Crunchy walnuts are a perfect flavor match with kale. You can substitute pecans, pinenuts, or almonds for walnuts.
Pepitas, sunflower seeds, or mixed seeds are also good options.
Dried cranberries add a sweet and sour touch to the salad and are incredible with kale. You can substitute raisins for cranberries.
Add-Ins (add one, more, or all)
- Pumpkin: add in roasted or air-fried pumpkin cubes. Substitute butternut squash, kabocha squash, sweet potato, or carrots for pumpkin. The bright orange and soft buttery texture of these roasted veggies are perfect with kale.
- Red cabbage: thinly sliced or shaved red cabbage adds an irresistible crunch and beautiful purple color. You can substitute shaved Brussels sprouts or fennel for red cabbage.
- Pomegranate seeds: juicy, sweet, and a little sour; add a beautiful color and flavor to this dish. Substitute diced red bell pepper for pomegranate seeds.
- Feta cheese: another optional add-in, crumbled feta cheese adds a cheesy, creamy, salty flavor that some people can't live without. You can sub feta with avocado cubes, goat cheese, or shaved parmesan cheese. Keep the feta out to make a vegan kale salad.
Kale Salad Dressing
We dress this kale salad with our loved maple syrup-mustard dressing. You can make it with the following:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Maple syrup: sub with agave syrup or honey.
- Mustard: Dijon mustard or yellow American mustard.
- Garlic: powder or finely grated garlic.
- Salt and black pepper: we like to use sea salt or kosher salt.
Massage the kale
First, separate the kale 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. Discard the stems.
Add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice (about one tablespoon), 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 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 some tougher kale fiber.
Add in small apple pieces, chopped walnuts, and cranberries (you can chop the cranberries if yours are large).
Note: these ingredients, plus the mustard dressing, are enough to make a delicious kale salad. However, pick from the add-ins below if you want to make the best kale salad for a special occasion.
Add-Ins (add one, more, or all)
Most often than not, we make this recipe with all add-ins (except the feta cheese), and it turns out gorgeous and delicious.
You can pick one, two, or all add-ins on our list based on your taste.
PUMPKIN (sub butternut squash, kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, or carrots): peel and cut it into ¾ 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.
POMEGRANATE SEEDS (sub red bell pepper chopped into small dice).
RED CABBAGE (substitute Brussels sprouts or fennel): thinly slice the cabbage with a knife or mandoline slicer.
FETA CHEESE (substitute diced avocado): only add crumbled feta or avocado before serving the salad after you have already tossed it with the dressing.
To a small jar, add olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, mustard, garlic powder, 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 in the salad and toss well.
Serve the other half on the table for people to help themselves and drizzle on their portion.
Serve kale salad as an appetizer with focaccia bread or simple crusty bread.
Make it a complete meal by adding protein and grains, such as:
- Roasted crispy chickpeas or crispy air-fryer chickpeas.
- Fried tofu or air fryer tofu: cut into cubes and lightly seasoned.
- Farro, quinoa, rice, or couscous: you can mix them into the salad to make it a wholesome lunch.
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.
Yes, you can make kale salad ahead of time. For best results, we recommend making it 24 hours before serving it.
However, if you are planning 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).
Make Ahead & Storage
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 are planning 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 out sitting 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 soup recipe.
- Crispy kale chips: a great snack idea for game night and a lighter alternative to crisps!
For many more salad ideas, check out our salads category page.
- 5 - 6 packed cups kale curly or dinosaur kale
- 1 green apple cut into small pieces
- ½ cup walnuts chopped. Sub pinenuts, pecans, or almonds.
- ¼ cup cranberries Sub raisins.
Add-Ins (you can use one, more, or all)
- ½ cup red cabbage thinly sliced. Sub shaved Brussels sprouts or fennel.
- 4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds Sub diced red bell pepper.
- 2 cups pumpkin cut into ¾-Inch dice. Sub butternut squash, kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, or carrots.
- ½ cup feta cheese crumbled. Sub diced avocado, goat cheese, or shaved parmesan.
Kale Salad Dressing
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice + 1 tablespoon for massaging the kale.
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons mustard
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon salt + ¼ teaspoon for massaging the kale.
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
MASSAGE THE KALE
- Separate kale leaves from the woody stems. Use a knife or tear them off with your hands.Chop kale leaves into bite-size pieces and add them to a large bowl. Discard the stems.
- Add a pinch of salt and about a tablespoon of lemon juice, then pinch/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.
- Add in small apple pieces, chopped walnuts, and cranberries.
ADD-INS (ADD ONE, MORE, OR ALL)
- You can pick one, two, or all add-ins based on your preferences.PUMPKIN (sub butternut squash, kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, or carrots): peel and cut it into ¾ 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.POMEGRANATE SEEDS (sub red bell pepper chopped into small dice).RED CABBAGE (substitute shaved Brussels sprouts or fennel): thinly slice the cabbage with a knife or mandoline slicer.FETA CHEESE (substitute diced avocado): only add crumbled feta or avocado before serving the salad after you have already tossed it with the dressing.
- To a small jar, add olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, mustard, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Close the jar and shake well.You can also whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Drizzle half the dressing in the salad and toss well.Serve the other half on the table for people to help themselves and drizzle on their portion.
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