How to Make the Best Kale Salads
Start with our easy tips, then dive into 15 favorite kale salad recipes you’ll want to put on repeat
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Tahini-Maple Kale Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash; photograph by Olga Ivanova
I prefer to keep anyone who tells me that they “don’t like kale salad” at arm's length. To me, a big kale salad is a world of opportunity. First, with just a little know-how, it’s easy to transform the leaves from rough to remarkable. Then there’s the fun of making the most of what’s in season this time of year to go with your kale salad. You may not have access to the bounty of summer fruits and veggies, but that doesn't mean winter produce has nothing to offer.
To help you step up your salad game, I’m sharing my top tips for how to make kale salad. I’ve also whipped up an original Yummly recipe that checks all my kale salad boxes. Every well-rounded kale salad, in my humble opinion, should have a toasted nut, some type of cheese, a sweet component, and a creamy, acidic dressing to go with those hearty leaves. Plus, what’s a winter salad without a heavy helping of cinnamon-roasted squash, right?
Of course, kale salads come in many styles, and you may want multiple recipes in your repertoire, so I’m including some more favorite salads from the Yummly community. Let’s grab a large bowl and get started!
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How to prepare kale for salad
If your kale salads have lacked luster, you just might be missing out on a few secrets. Here are my five top tips for the best kale salads.
1. Buy bunches. I like to buy kale by the bunch, as opposed to pre-cut kale in a bag, because oftentimes with bagged kale, the tough stems have not been removed. Plus, I find that the bunches stay fresher for longer in the fridge.
2. Pick a kale. Curly kale, lacinato kale (aka dinosaur and Tuscan kale), or baby kale? For my own salads, I prefer bunches of kale as opposed to baby kale, as the little leaves are not as strong and hearty as their full-grown counterparts. When it comes to deciding between curly and lacinato, it’s personal preference. Their textures and flavors are slightly different, with lacinato being a bit softer; however, both need to be massaged.
3. De-stem and chiffonade bunches of kale. Grasp the leaves and pull them down and away from the stem in one quick motion. Use a sharp knife to chiffonade (which is a fancy way to say “finely slice”) the leaves crosswise into thin strips. It’s important to cut the kale into thin pieces because it will be much more manageable and pleasurable to eat.
4. Massage, massage, massage. Unlike greens such as arugula or spinach that are not as fibrous, raw kale is extremely hearty. Fortunately, you can massage the kale leaves so that they’re easier to eat and digest. When I massage kale, I like to lightly dress it with a squeeze of fresh citrus to jump-start the process of breaking down the tough fibers. I use my bare hands and grab tiny fistfuls, gradually massaging all of the leaves. You will see the leaves start to soften, though they will still maintain a nice texture.
5. Make a highly acidic dressing. Kale is considered roughage for a reason. To help further break down the tough leaves, a highly acidic dressing (say, with lemon juice or wine vinegar) is a great way to soften up the leaves. Not to mention, it adds a ton of bright, zippy flavor.
How to store kale salad
If you get carried away and toss a bigger salad than you can eat in one day — or if you love to plan ahead for meal prep — just store your extra kale salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
How long does kale salad last?
Those hearty leaves mean most kale salads will keep nicely in the refrigerator up to 2 days without getting too wilted.
Get the recipe: Tahini-Maple Kale Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash
Ready for a kale salad that’s going to make you fall in love with winter produce? My new Yummly recipe covers all the bases for a wholesome, flavor-packed meal. Roasted squash is an easy way to add sweet flavors to your salad. Pomegranate seeds are another seasonal item that add a sweet crunch. The kale is massaged in a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to help break down those tough fibers, and it’s dressed in a punchy, subtly sweet tahini dressing.
I love incorporating a creamy, slightly sweet vinaigrette to tie all of the flavors together. Tahini is a simple pantry ingredient that acts as a lovely dressing addition because it’s rich, luscious, and nutty. When it’s whisked into a salad dressing, it has a tendency to seize up, but don’t worry. Slowly add cold water and watch as it turns into a silky vinaigrette.
When it comes to making substitutions, this salad can be infinitely riffed on. Don’t have pecans? Swap in your favorite nut or seed such as pepitas, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or pistachios. If you can’t get your hands on a pomegranate, you can always sub chopped apples, persimmons, or your favorite dried fruit. Not a huge goat cheese fan? Use blue cheese, feta cheese, or shaved pecorino or Parmesan cheese. If butternut squash isn’t your thing, you could sub in cubed roasted sweet potatoes, delicata squash, acorn squash, or honeynut squash. Make the salad that you want to eat!
14 more kale salads to love
Looking for a roster of kale salads that you can call on for your next winter veg craving? This collection proves kale salads’ versatility.
Who needs croutons when you can shower your salad with cheesy, toasted breadcrumbs and toss it with a lemony, garlicky, extra-virgin olive oil-Parmesan vinaigrette? Enjoy this simple side dish as it is, or turn it into the star of the show by topping it with grilled chicken breasts, pan-seared salmon fillets, or oven-roasted tofu. Either way, don’t skimp on the Parm!
Looking for a winter vegetable that plays nicely with kale? Add some shredded brussels sprouts to your next kale salad for an additional crunch. The fresh citrus in the lemon dressing helps to break down the tough leaves and provide a ton of bright, poppy flavor.
Ever made a salad with endive? This bright, leafy vegetable is a great addition to any kale salad because it offers a nice visual contrast and additional crunch. The sweet, creamy dressing incorporates yogurt, honey, and poppy seeds for an all-around delightful salad-eating experience. Pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries give the salad extra depth of flavor and texture.
For a kale salad that packs an extra bit of protein, try out this cool-weather recipe that’s loaded with cooked chicken and quinoa. Honeycrisp apple slices, goat cheese, and sliced almonds make this a seriously exciting lunchtime salad. Rounded out with a simple balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is basically asking to be your go-to work-from-home lunch.
Yes, you can make your favorite Mexican-inspired salad with healthy kale for the greens! Black beans, corn, diced bell peppers and avocado, and an avocado dressing add up to a salad that can easily become dinner. And with only 15 minutes prep time.
Trying to get your meat-eating friends more excited about kale salads? Just add bacon! This fall-inspired number boasts crispy bits of bacon, goat cheese, pine nuts, pomegranates, and sweet potatoes for an all-around mouthwatering salad. Getting your greens has never been so tasty.
Kale salad for breakfast: why not? This hearty morning dish is easy to assemble, even before you’ve had your coffee. Quinoa, avocado, and almonds add a ton of flavor; plus they’ll help keep you full till lunch. If you’re feeling ravenous, throw a fried egg on top and get right on with your day.
Take your salad up a notch with this colorful, fully loaded kale salad. It’s got everything from tomatoes to avocado to quinoa to beets to sprouts. Plus, you definitely don’t want to miss out on the curry-tahini dressing.
Brassicas love kale, which is a good-enough reason to add a head of roasted cauliflower to your next kale salad. Brightened up with dried currants, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and hummus, this is a kale salad that’s going to pack a serious punch of flavor — and it will definitely fill you up. Don’t expect leftovers!
Ever tried cooking with zaatar? This Middle Eastern spice blend boasts warm flavors from cumin, coriander, oregano, and toasted sesame seeds for an earthy, umami component. To balance out the deeper, nuttier flavors, this salad is finished off with sweet and tangy apples, pears, and pomegranate seeds.
Looking for the ultimate holiday side for your next spread? This easy kale salad is a crowd-pleaser that everyone is sure to enjoy. Chock full of goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, toasted pecans, and a simple Dijon mustard vinaigrette, the salad is one you'll want to make again and again.
If you’re not putting cashews in your kale salads, you might be doing it all wrong. The rich, creamy nut is the perfect addition to any hearty kale salad. This salad also gets a heavy hand of sliced tomatoes, goat cheese, torn bread, and red onion, making it an impressive side salad for your next dinner party. The apple cider vinegar dressing is tart and sweet, tying the whole dish together.
Looking for a kale salad that features sweet, citrusy flavors? This orange juice and sun-dried tomato dressing is creamy and mellow, and tastes like a fresh, sunny garden. Pine nuts, avocado, and chopped apple take the flavors of this salad to the next level.
If you’re looking for a kale salad that puts a grain and a protein front and center, this salmon and quinoa number is your best bet. Roasting the salmon couldn’t be easier (you could also sub leftover or canned salmon), and the hearty quinoa salad is sure to complete the meal. Capers add a subtle hit of salinity for a well-balanced, highly repeatable kale salad.
So many ways to love your greens
Getting your veggies is a pleasure, not a duty, with these additional ideas.