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.
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.
The Ingredients for a Great Kale Salad
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
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.