This kale salad recipe is hearty enough for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Who says you can't have really good salads in the fall and winter? This is a great salad for Thanksgiving or Christmas!
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We must remember the importance of fall and winter salads. We can't let the falling temperatures and waning light make us forget about how much we need healthy, hearty salads – green things, fresh things, raw things.
Kale is our friend this time of year. So good for you. So versatile. Truth be told, I generally make some kind of kale salad at least once a week.
I had been going with a simpler version - just cheese and lemon vinaigrette - for quite some time, but I had a little spark of an idea to zhuzh it up.
And this kale salad recipe in particular has every tasty thing we can think of this time of year. Pecans! Apples! Cranberries! We are using what's seasonal, making it a perfect fall or winter salad that we should feel absolutely zero guilt about eating.
Did you know that pecans in the grocery store can be up to two years old? Instead of risking that scenario, I order them from Millican Pecan, a family farm in Texas, because they are only selling the freshest pecans from the most recent harvest.
They are harvested every fall and you can absolutely taste the difference!
And speaking of fall, are you at a loss when trying to think of Thanksgiving salads? You know you should have a salad, but it ends up being an afterthought? Well this is no afterthought. People will actually want seconds.
Or maybe make it for Christmas! Just look at all the red and green!
So go ahead, volunteer to bring the salad.
Step by step instructions
You really must use the real parmigiano reggiano cheese for this recipe and I would really prefer that you grate it yourself. The sharp, salty, crystal-y texture makes this salad sing!
Whatever you do, just DON'T use that stuff in the shaker!
First, prepare the lemon vinaigrette.
Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil to a small bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.
Zest the lemon first, with a Microplane grater. If you squeeze the lemon juice out first, it will be much more difficult or impossible to get the zest off.
How to remove kale leaves from the stem
Grasp the leaves and fold them inward with one hand, and grasp the stem with the other hand. Pull hands away from each other at the same time to easily remove the kale leaves from their stems.
How to thinly slice kale
Stack a few of the leaves together and roll them up. Slice very thinly down the roll with a good chef's knife, being very careful to protect your fingers. The kale will slice into nice, thin ribbons.
Place the kale in a large bowl, add the lemon vinaigrette and massage the dressing into the kale leaves.
How to massage kale
Once dressing is added to the kale, take your hands and rub the kale as if you're trying to press the dressing into it. Do this for a couple of minutes, then set the massaged kale aside to rest for at least 5 minutes.
What does massaging kale do?
Kale is a very hearty green. Massaging the kale with something acidic like lemon juice softens it and breaks it down a bit, giving it a much nicer texture. This is a very important step that you should not skip!
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans. You're not really looking for color here. You just want to leave them long enough so that the oils start releasing. You'll know that when your kitchen starts smelling very pecan-y.
Once the pecans have cooled, chop them roughly. I like to use my mezzaluna for chopping nuts. You can just go back and forth so easily, it gets the job done in half the time.
Grate your parmigiano reggiano until you have about 2 ounces. Kitchen scales are handy for more than just baking! My Escali Primo digital scale actually matches the orange ceiling I have in my kitchen! If you don't have a scale, use about ½ to ¾ cup.
Add the parmigiano to the massaged kale and mix well.
Add apples, pecans, and cranberries to the massaged kale and combine.
This is a great idea for a Thanksgiving salad, or it makes a for a hearty but light lunch during fall and winter.
I love kale and it can be used in so many ways!
- This Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing recipe is adapted from the famous one at Barbuto restaurant. It makes an elegant starter.
- For a main course and side dish in one, try my Dijon Chicken Thighs with Apples and Kale
- You can make pesto from all kinds of things. Try Kale Pesto on pasta for a healthy swap.
Kale Salad with Cranberries, Apples, and Pecans
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- zest of one lemon
- pinch kosher salt
- 2 bunches curly kale
- ¾ cup toasted chopped pecans
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 2 oz freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese about ½ to ¾ cup
- 1 sweet red apple such as pink lady or fuji
- Zest the lemon and add to mixing bowl.
- Squeeze ¼ cup fresh lemon juice - from 1 - 2 lemons depending upon size - and add to bowl.
- Add 3 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- Whisk until combined and set aside.
- Remove kale leaves from stems. Lay them flat, stack them and roll them up. Slice into thin ribbons.
- Pour dressing over chopped kale and massage it into the kale leaves for a couple of minutes. Allow kale to stand for at least 5 minutes so the leaves continue to soften.
- Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans. Allow them to cool slightly, then chop roughly.
- Grate the parmigiano reggiano on a box grater and set aside.
- Slice the apple into thin wedge slices.
- Add the cheese to the massaged kale and mix well.
- Add all other ingredients and serve!
- When toasting the pecans, you're not really looking for color. You just want to leave them long enough so that the oils start releasing. You'll know that when your kitchen starts smelling very pecan-y.
- Did you know that pecans on the grocery store shelf can be up to two years old? Yuck! I order mine from Millican Pecan* because they are only selling fresh pecans from the most recent harvest. The taste is overwhelmingly better. Try them*, they will blow your mind!
- Use REAL parmigiano reggiano and grate it yourself! You won't be disappointed. The flavor makes all the difference.
- Be sure to zest the lemon before squeezing the juice! I use my handy Microplane grater for this task.
- To slice the kale, stack the leaves, then roll them up, and use a good chef's knife to slice into thin ribbons. Be sure to protect your fingers! My Global G-2 knife is lightweight and I love the rounded, stainless steel handle because it's not bulky and works for my small hands as well as my husband's man hands!
- Kitchen scales are useful for many things. I've used my Escali Primo digital kitchen scale for weighing loads of things from grated cheese to red potatoes.