Raw Kale Salad with Balsamic, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan

Some things take convincing, even when they are terribly trendy. When my friend Peg first told me about a fabulous raw kale salad, I smiled politely all the while thinking, “yeah, right, have fun with that.” I mean it’s hard enough to get people to eat their greens, let alone to try something raw that they would normally only eat cooked. But when my friend Katie brought this kale salad to a dinner party, it was the one dish, among a multitude of fabulous dishes, that I kept going back to. (Oh, I’ll have seconds. Uhm, thirds. Okay I’ve stopped counting, this is good.)

Here’s the deal. Normally if you dress a lettuce salad with a vinaigrette, the dressing breaks down the cellular walls of the lettuce, and within minutes it will become limpy, which is why we typically dress a salad right before serving. In the case of the kale, kale is tougher than lettuce (tougher than spinach too). When you cook kale, which is what we do usually, the heat from the cooking breaks down the cellular walls, making the kale more tender to eat. In the absence of cooking, you can achieve much the same tenderizing result with a vinaigrette. By the way, according to Shirley Corriher in CookWise (a brilliant book for anyone interested in the science of cooking), although vinegar will cause wilting, it’s the oil and the salt that do the most work to wilt a salad.

So in the case of this salad made with raw kale leaves, instead of dressing and serving immediately, we dress the salad and then let it sit for a while, so the dressing can work its magic on the sturdy kale leaves, softening them up so we can more easily eat them.

The following recipe is one that I adapted from the recipe that my friend Katie gave me, which she adapted from a Dan Barber recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit. The salad includes fresh raw lacinato kale leaves, cut into thin strips, dried sweetened cranberries, toasted pine nuts, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a vinegar-rich balsamic vinaigrette, sweetened with a little honey. All together it is a deliciously festive salad, and would make a lovely accompaniment for a holiday meal.

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Raw Kale Salad with Balsamic, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan Recipe

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Slightly adapted from a Dan Barber recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit in 2009.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries, chopped (or whole golden raisins or currants)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (can substitute slivered almonds)
  • 1 pound fresh Lacinato kale (also called Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale), about 2-3 bunches, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, packed

Method

1 Heat a small skilled on medium high heat. Spread the pine nuts in an even layer on the bottom of the pan, cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Then remove to a bowl to allow to cool.  Hint when toasting nuts: do not take your eyes off of them! Nuts can go from browned to burned very quickly.

2 Use a sharp knife to cut out the tough midrib of each kale leaf, and discard or compost. Slice the leaves crosswise into thin, 1/4 inch wide, slices.  The easiest way to do this is to work with a small bunch of leaves at a time, stack the leaves and roll them into a loose cigar shape. Then using a sharp knife, work from one end of the "cigar" to the other, slicing a 1/4 inch off from the end.  Place the kale slices into a large bowl.

3 In a smaller bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rice vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.   A half hour to an hour before serving, toss the kale together with the toasted pine nuts, the dried cranberries, and the dressing, allowing the kale to marinate a bit.  Right before serving, stir in the grated Parmesan cheese.

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Links:

Raw Tuscan Kale Salad - from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks
Kale Salad with Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon - from theKitchn
Kale salad with oranges, almonds, and avocado - from Eat Live Run

33 Comments

  1. Ryan

    It’s actually the oil that breaks down the cells, it penetrates the waxy cuticle.

    • Elise

      Hi Ryan, thanks for setting me straight on that. I pulled out my Shirley Corriher to confirm, and you are totally right. Learned something new today, thank you! I’ve adjusted my intro accordingly.

    • Gloria

      I dressed the salad the day before and it made a nice improvement in the texture and bitterness of the kale. It was softened just enough that it still looked crisp, but wasn’t so hard. Also, I added crumbled goat cheese instead of the parmesan cheese and roasted cubed sweet potato instead of cranberries. I also added some carmelized onions and sliced raw mushrooms since they sounded good. It was a huge hit!

  2. PepperReed

    Another good addition (or sub) is grapes; they’re available year round and add a juicy sweet/tart-ness to the salad. I also make this in the summer time with melon and feta. Fantastic! and a sure way to convert someone to be a kale lover.

  3. Sara

    Hi Elise,

    So, this sounds like you get the same results as the current trend for “massaging” the kale. Yes? Your way is a lot easier!

  4. Margaret

    If considering this for a potluck, how long can all the ingredients sit together before becoming unappetizing? It would be handy to mix all together before heading out to my event.

    • Elise

      I had leftovers of this salad several hours after making it, and liked it even better.

      • Chris S.

        I’ve had leftover kale and brussels sprouts salad from epicurioius.com that I’ve eaten with delight from the fridge after four days! Kale is strong enough that essentially it ends up being marinated, not withered to a pulp as lettuce would be in the same circumstances. Elise’s recipe looks fabulous, and if I have any left over tonight (hah!), I will happily eat it tomorrow (or even the next day, if it lasts that long before we gobble it up!). :)

      • Jennifer

        I even had it the next day and it was still delightful.

    • Mike

      I made this on New Year’s day and ate the leftovers yesterday and it was still very good. A few hours won’t hurt it at all.

      Great recipe, btw. I toasted almonds instead of pine nuts (because I had them) and they worked well.

  5. Louise

    I’ve been making something similiar for a couple of years now, kale, olive oil, lemon and a pinch of salt and parmesan. It’s SO good. I have kale salad almost everyday. Delicious and so good for you.

  6. Chris S.

    Oh, YES! Thanks for reminding me what a good idea kale salads are. We have some lovely local kale in the fridge, purchased just this week before our favorite organic provider gave up the ghost until 2013, and I’m going to make your salad tonight. (I also munch on kale right out of the fridge — makes a great snack, when you want something kind of crunchy that has basically no calories — whew!!).

    By the way, there’s a kale and brussels sprouts recipe at Epicurious that took that site by storm during the previous holiday season. We took it to two holiday parties for rave reviews and made it at home five or six times for a lovely fresh salad taste when most places won’t have any local lettuce for months. You can find it at http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Kale-Brussels-Sprout-Salad-368295 (if my HTML didn’t work properly, you can locate it at epicurious.com just by searching “kale brussels sprouts salad”. THANKS for spurring me to make your kale salad tonight!! -Chris

  7. liliyasrecipes.com

    wow, this sound so good. I will be making it for christmas.

  8. tijuana (po' man meals)

    this looks sooo good! i LOVE greens. kale, mustards, turnips, collards. they are so yummy. i am use to greens slow cooked all day with smoked turkey, but i can’t wait to step out the box and try this! :)

  9. randi

    We only have curly kale avaiable in my neighbourhood. Do you think it might be too bitter?

    • Elise

      I think you can make raw kale salad with just about any kale. That said, I’ve only tried this salad with the Tuscan kale.

  10. Tj's Mamma

    Made this for the in-laws last night. Huge hit! Hubby said to file in our recipe box. Thankyou!

  11. Elise

    I’m guessing they would work just fine.

  12. kimek

    Wow. I like this light bitter taste mixed with sweet honey, cranberries and vinegar. Yummy.

  13. Bree {Skinny Mommy}

    Yummm. This looks awesome!

  14. Jennifer

    I used a mixture of currants, cranberries, and dried cherries. I think the cherries tasted the best!! I took this salad to a potluck and it was very popular and many of them had not tried kale before. I think this is a great way to introduce kale.

  15. Theresa

    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……… so glad I found this incredible recipe. Can’t wait to share it tonight.

  16. Sean

    I added all three, cranberries, currants and golden raisins as well as toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) along with using fennel salt in place of regular and substituting 1/2 the normal balsamic with white balsamic. The results were great and a big hit for Easter dinner! I will do this one again.

  17. Shades70

    can I make the dressing ahead and store it in the fridge until I am ready to use it? Can at be stored for a few weeks? I would just add the kale, parmesan and nuts when I’m ready to mix the salad.

    • Elise

      Sure, it’s just a balsamic vinaigrette. You can make this ahead and store it for several weeks.

  18. Rachael

    We make this all the time, and it is fantastic. We substituted chopped figs for the cranberries/currants the other night, and it tasted great.

  19. Conniebird

    This salad is awesome – have made it twice, using regular kale. It keeps well over several days, dinner guests love this, too.

  20. Mark

    This recipe has been a constant favorite since it first posted. Thanks, Elise.

    I’m making some today (by request) for a pot luck. We use pumpkin seeds instead of the costlier pine nuts.

  21. Sylvia Davis

    I made this for the office Thanksgiving potluck and everyone ate it up! So easy and love that it gets better the longer it sits. I used almonds and raisins in place of the pine nuts and craisins.

  22. Penny

    My friend has been telling me about Kale salad for awhile, but the whole massaging thing threw me off. Well I tried yours and its my husbands new favorite recipe! Wow is it good, no massaging necessary.

  23. gabbe

    this has to be the salad from the King of Queens episode where Doug has a “food affair”…we made this with slivered dates and it was awesome.
    thank you for a new diet staple.

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