Kale Salad With Balsamic Dressing

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.

The best kale salad served in a blue bowl
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.

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
Elise Bauer

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

Kale Salad With Balsamic Dressing

Prep Time 25 mins
Rest in dressing 30 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Servings 6 to 8 servings

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.

    How to cut the rib from a leaf of kale
    Elise Bauer
  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