Kale Salad with Balsamic Dressing

SaladHealthyKale

This easy kale salad comes together with dried cranberries, pine nuts, Parmesan, and a balsamic vinaigrette. No need to massage this make-ahead salad—the kale becomes tender as it rests before serving.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.)

This kale salad has now become a favorite at our house, and one of the most requested sides for holiday meals.

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How to Make Raw Kale Tender

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.

No need to massage the kale

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.

Many kale recipes call for massaging kale leaves, but with this recipe you don’t have to. The greens become tender all on their own with a little time. This approach also makes this salad a great make-ahead salad for parties or potlucks.

That said, if you’d like to speed up the tenderizing process, you can massage the kale by rubbing the kale with your fingers to work in the vinaigrette.

What else helps make the kale tender for a salad? Cutting out the tough midribs and cutting the leaves into thin slices also helps tenderize the leaves. Using a more tender variety of kale, such as lacinato kale, make a difference as well.

Kale for making easy kale salad

The Ingredients for a Great Kale Salad

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 any meal.

A Good Make-Ahead Salad

Make this salad at least thirty minutes or up to a few hours before serving. The leftovers also keep well and are good for lunch the next day, though they might be a little more wilted than ideal.

What to Serve with Kale Salad

This kale salad makes an easy side dish for just about any weeknight meal, but is particularly good with baked chicken, baked salmon, or even just a simple grilled cheese sandwich.

Easy Ingredient Swaps

Feel free to sub out the pine nuts with toasted slivered almonds, and the dried sweetened cranberries with golden raisins. We use both interchangeably in this salad.

You can also use regular kale instead of dinosaur kale, you might want to let the salad marinate a bit longer (two hours or more) before serving.

More Ways to Use Up a Bunch of Kale

Updated January 14, 2020 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle! No changes to the original recipe.

Kale Salad with Balsamic Dressing Recipe

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Rest in dressing time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8

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

Feel free to sub out the pine nuts with toasted slivered almonds, and the dried sweetened cranberries with golden raisins. We use both interchangeably in this salad.

If you are using regular kale instead of dinosaur kale, you might want to let the salad marinate a bit longer, two hours or more, before serving.

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 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, packed

Method

1 Toast the pine nuts: Heat a small skillet 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 Prep the kale: 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 Make the dressing: In a smaller bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rice vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.

4 Dress the kale and toss with nuts and cranberries: A half hour to an hour or two before serving, toss the kale together with the toasted pine nuts, the dried cranberries, and the dressing, allowing the kale to marinate a bit.

5 Right before serving, stir in the grated Parmesan cheese.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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40 Comments / Reviews

No ImageKale Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Elle

    This immediately became a lunchtime staple! It’s perfect as-is and also works well with small adaptions, swapping out the nuts and fruits for different varieties. Such a great find!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Ana

    Great recipe. As I had some pomegranate seeds, I replaced the cranberries with pomegranate seeds. Also added some avocado.
    It would have been great with some chicken also, but also very nice on it’s own.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Elizabeth

    Yes, I followed the recipe exactly, so unlike me. It was wonderful! I let the kale marinate for over an hour before adding the pine nuts and cranberries. I’ve been advised to eat more dark, leafy greens because of my eyes. My husband has asked often we have to eat kale. After last night, he isnt afraid.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Lejla

    This is SO delicious. I make this all the time now (at least 2 times a week).

  5. Emily

    Have made this several times and it’s so good. Thank you!! Good with walnuts and feta and whatever dried fruit you have on hand! It’s hard for me to stop eating this and I’ve never liked kale salad before. I’ve had a csa for 10 years so that’s saying a lot! Ha.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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