The best kale salad ever, ever, ever!

8 Feb


Printable recipe: FreeTheMom-Kale-Salad-Recipe

Being raised mostly vegetarian, I can honestly say salad is my favorite food. Totally not lying.

Watching my dad whisk together a hundred varieties of vinaigrette using whatever happened to be in the fridge also served me well because, to be honest, most of the reason I eat salad is to get the dressing into my body. This means that I am also a salad snob. I don’t do bottled dressings, and get super moody when restaurant dressing isn’t homemade. The good news is that using a very basic vinaigrette recipe a whole world of variations can be thrown together in no time. Once you learn how you’ll never turn back, promise. If you don’t believe me come on over and we’ll have a salad buffet to prove it. Mmmmmmm.

This particular recipe is one that I came up with a couple years ago, and have shared with dozens of friends who have successfully turned it into their own. The dressing is tart and sweet and adjustable to your personal palette. The kale, which is marinated overnight to soften it, is super hardy yet tender. I call kale the meat of the lettuce family, which is a pretty awesome analogy if I do say so myself. Do not attempt to eat either meat OR kale without first marinating and/or cooking it. You’ll feel like a cow chewing on a weed.

This salad also makes an ideal party or potluck dish because 1) you can assemble it ahead and free yourself up for party time, and 2) it holds really well, and will be just as yummy at the start of the party as it will be 6 hours later, or even as leftovers the next day.

As if all that weren’t enough awesome, I’ve also gotta’ put in the plug that kale is a super-mega-superfood. It’s loaded with fiber, iron, vitamins A, C, & K, antioxidants, and calcium. It is anti-inflammatory (great for those of us with allergies), and detoxifying (great for those of us who drink wine every night). I just googled kale to be sure I had all this right, and found that the world is now referring to kale as “the new beef”. They must have overheard my genius in the last paragraph.

Are you sold yet? Great, now let’s get choppin’!
kale-salad-ingredientsFirst, the salad ingredients. Really, anything goes here. My favorite combination is crumbled feta, slivered almonds, and dried cranberries. I was out of cranberries today, so I used mandarin oranges instead, which go really well with the citrus in the vinaigrette. I’ve been known to throw in tomatoes, strawberries, candied pecans, the kitchen sink. You get the idea.

kale-varietiesThere are two main types of kale. Lacinato kale has a more delicate, sweeter tasting leaf than traditional curly kale. For this reason, Lacinato is often referred to as “salad kale”. Curly kale is a bit more hardy, and is usually eaten steamed or roasted. With the overnight marinating technique used in this recipe, however, you will find that both types of leaves turn tender and delicious, so feel free to use whichever leaf your grocery store carries.


I get my kale from our weekly Tanaka Farms CSA Box, which is delivered right to the doorstep of my kiddos’ school. We receive fresh, seasonal ingredients weekly and the boys love looking for caterpillars in the box every Tuesday. So far we’ve found 3 – one of which I inadvertently sent to school on a snap pea. I started washing our veggies more thoroughly after that…salad-dressing-ingredients

Here are the ingredients for the dressing. Not pictured here is a clove of garlic had to run to the bathroom at the last minute.


A close-up that very clearly illustrates where I do all of my grocery shopping.chow-to-cut-kale

Okay, so the first step in prepping the salad is to cut the tough center rib out of each kale stalk.

kale-rib     cut-out-kale-rib

By folding the leaf in half, you can slice the rib out with just one or two hacks of the knife. Easy peasy! chop-kale

Next step is to line up your de-ribbed leaves and slice them into a pile of bite-sized pieces. About 1-2″ squares is ideal. Any smaller and they’ll get a bit too soggy in the overnight marinade, and larger and your guests will curse you.garlic-and-lemon

Oh look, garlic has returned! Just in time for some pressing action. I love running garlic through a press or microplane for salad dressing. If you don’t love garlic as much as I do then omit this ingredient, or maybe try half a clove first and see how you like it. It’s zesty, it’s tangy, it’s sure to keep the vampires at bay. garlic-presslemon-juicerPress some garlic.  Then juice either a half or whole lemon, according to your taste. I live for lemons, so don’t follow my lead if sour isn’t your thing.whole-grain-dijon dijon-mustard

Next add about a tablespoon of whole grain dijon mustard for texture, and about a teaspoon of regular dijon mustard. If this is too complicated then just add about a tablespoon of one or the other. Don’t be fussy!orange-muscat-vinegar

Pour in about 1/2 cup of Orange Muscat Vinegar. I have only found this vinegar at Trader Joe’s, so if you don’t have one locally you can use some red wine vinegar mixed with fresh orange juice, or just substitute red wine, white wine, or champagne vinegar for this. Again, no need for fuss!red-wine-vinegar

Next add 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar. Yee-haw, sour power!olive-oil

Now for the olive oil. I don’t add much because (surprise, did ‘ya know?!) I love vinegar. But if you are a more normal-ish human being then 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil is probably to your taste.

agave-syrupNow here’s a secret I learned from my dad – in a dressing with vinegar, always add a bit of sugar. I use 1 tablespoon of agave syrup in this dressing becaue the orange muscat vinegar already has a lot of sweetness. Go ahead and try it out for yourself until you strike a balance that works for you. If you don’t have agave on hand, you can use sugar. Honey works too, but will flavor the dressing a bit so use it sparingly.

kosher-salt     fresh-ground-pepper

Toss in a sprinkle of kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper.yummy-kale-salad-dressing

Then admire your handiwork. Holy night, I could drink that whole jar. I actually have some in the fridge. I may just go help myself to a nip…pour-dressing

And now the fun part. Pour about half of the jar of dressing onto the kale as a start.mix-salad-with-hands

Then dig in and mix! This is one part of the process that is actually really important. Think of yourself as massaging the kale, not just stirring it around. You want the acidity from the lemon and vinegar to reach each and every curly crevice of each and every leaf. So take your rings off and get slimy.


You can see here that I have dressing pooled in the bottom of the bowl, and this is exactly what you are going for. As you hand-mix, you will notice that some of this dressing gets absorbed. That’s good. If you think you need more dressing to get the kale well covered, go ahead and pour it in, remembering that the idea is for the leaves to “marinate” for a while. Then cover the bowl, pop it in the fridge, and let the kale soften for at least 3 hours, or overnight. kale-salad-with-feta

When you take the salad out of the fridge, give it another good toss to mix the leaves up since the ones sitting in the bottom of the bowl will be softer than the ones on the top. You may also notice that the rest of the dressing has been soaked up. Kale is thirsty, and that’s a good thing, so if you want more liquid then feel free to pur on additional dressing. Right before serving you can add your toppings. Here I have feta, almonds, and mandarin oranges, but I’d recommend also throwing in some dried cranberries as well!

Now serve to your friends and family and wait for the oohs and aahs. Or you can be like me and keep it all to yourself. Either way, this recipe is surefire. Now try it out and lemme know what you think!

Here’s the printable recipe: FreeTheMom-Kale-Salad-Recipe

Free The Mom Kale Salad:

Salad Ingredients:

Lacinato or curly kale

Toppings: crumbled feta, slivered almonds, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries (anything goes!)

Kale salad dressing ingredients:

1/2c. Trader Joe’s orange muscat vinegar (if you don’t have this then just use white wine, red wine, or champagne vinegar)

1/3c. red wine vinegar

1/4c. olive oil

juice of half or whole lemon

1 clove of garlic, passed through garlic press or grated on a microplane

1T Dijon mustard

1T Agave nectar

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

45 Responses to “The best kale salad ever, ever, ever!”

  1. enjoywithjoy February 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I would love to try this I love, love, love kale…the super food!

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

      You’ll have to let me know how it measures up! It’s sooooo yummy 🙂

  2. rpitner February 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Mmmmm… what time should we come over?

  3. kk February 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Can’t wait to try this, mama! Thanks for taking the time to share this. It will be a good counter-balance to my Count Chocula diet. ;)-

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Hahaa, nothing beats pop tarts! Except kale salad, I mean 😉

  4. taliaj February 8, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Two things – 1) YOU ARE AMAZING for posting this recipe because ever since we finished that jar of dressing that you gave me and Max for Christmas I have been experiencing severe withdrawals. 2) Part of the reason why we finished that dressing so fast is because Max also DRINKS salad dressing like it’s water! I used to think it was so strange that whenever I asked him what he wanted for dinner his immediate response would be “salad” and how whenever I would look in the kitchen, I’d catch him drinking salad dressing/vinegar! Now I realize that this is just a quirky family trait 🙂

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

      Hahahaa, I am truly laughing my ass off right now. It’s genetic. The way to our hearts is through lemons and vinegar… Is that odd?!

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Oh, and thanks for letting me know…now I’ll be sure to send you home with 2 jars every time I see you 😉

  5. Rose Armand February 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    I’ve tasted your kale salad, and I agree…it’s yummy! Thanks for the step-by-step directions and pictures…visuals always help and also inspire.

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

      Agreed! You eat first with your eyes 😉

  6. ajamoorad February 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    Salad is undoubtedly the premier food group in our family! Remember eating lemons whole from our tree, like oranges? And licking our plates clean of every drop of salad dressing? I’m happy that we all haven’t changed. And thanks, Anj, for sharing your dressing recipe! I’m definitely going to turn my salads up with this liquid gold.

    And in addition to all the goodies you’ve mentioned to add to salads, my latest add-on obsessions include hearts of palm, scallions, kalamata olives, gorgonzola or bleu cheese, and quinoa…just in case anyone needs ideas!

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

      Ooohhhhhhh, quinoa yes!! Dude, leave it to you to kick up it a notch. Love love love!!!

  7. Trina McElroy February 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    I LOVE this salad! There’s some in my fridge right now! If I wasn’t on the last bit of my cleanse right now I would be diving in to that beautiful kale! Thank you! Thank you!

  8. Erin Upson Cuevas February 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    This looks delicious!!! I’m going to make it! Trader Joe’s is my favorite store too. Always looking for new things to try from there. Definitely going to make that dressing too. XO

    • FreeTheMom February 8, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

      It truly is awesome. I like to have a batch in the fridge at all times to snack on every time I get a chocolate/potato chip/ice cream craving. Apparently kale salad goes right to my dessert stomach 😉

  9. kuophoto February 10, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    Such a pretty post, Anj!! 🙂 LOVE it! Now…we usually *massage* our kale with the lemon to soften it…Do you find you don’t need to with this dressing?? Miss you, mama!!!

    • FreeTheMom February 11, 2013 at 5:12 am #

      Yes, massaging with lemon is so good! The acidity in the lemon works the same as the acidity in the vinegar/lemon dressing, so either method works. If using the only lemon I find that the kale needs to marinate overnight as opposed to 3 hours in order to soften enough for my taste. Hugs to you, world traveler!

  10. Aryan February 10, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    OMG, what a beautiful visual inspiration, love it. Thank you for taking the time and showing the process. I will try this & keep you posted. Last 2 times I wanted to be super healthy & super mom with Kale was disaster. As you mentioned we felt like cows …. Mooo 🙂

    • FreeTheMom February 11, 2013 at 5:12 am #

      Hahaha, that is the danger! Good luck this time around – let me know how it goes!!

  11. LindaB February 11, 2013 at 12:42 am #

    I wanted to love kale but tried it unmarinated the first/last time. Thx for your inspiration – I wanna give it another go. Sounds great. Btw, u r seriously the hottest Martha Stewart ever!

    • FreeTheMom February 11, 2013 at 5:15 am #

      You WILL love kale this way, promise! And hot damn, THANK-YOU gal! I ❤ Martha!!!

  12. bellavistafarm February 18, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    I love kale! So I will try this new salad recipe because it looks incredibly good!

    • FreeTheMom February 18, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      Oh yay hooray! I know you will LOVE it!

  13. Processing the Light February 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Right now I am dipping artichoke leaves into your dressing!! Even my picky eater cant get enough tangy dressing!!

    • FreeTheMom February 20, 2013 at 5:09 am #

      Ah, that sounds like heaven! So happy your family approves!!

  14. Claire Noble February 21, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Step-by-step instructions with great photos–thank you! I usually only grudgingly put kale in minestrone soup–but this salad looks lovely. I may have to re-think kale.

    • FreeTheMom February 21, 2013 at 6:15 am #

      Oooh, yes, do! This one makes it worth the effort 🙂

  15. journey of a chocolate chic February 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    looks good thanks for sharing I am going to try it

    • FreeTheMom February 27, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

      It’s fab! Let me know if you like it 🙂

  16. bloomlisa March 4, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    I am exploring kale in new recipes lately and this looks delicious! I am allergic to garlic but substitut with shallots.

    • FreeTheMom March 4, 2013 at 9:24 am #

      Oooh, shallots sound wonderful! Let me know how it comes out!

  17. aquasana water 4 life September 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this info.
    Today bloggers publish just about gossip and internet stuff and this is actually irritating.
    A good blog with exciting content, this is what I need.
    Thanks for making this web site, and I’ll be visiting again.
    Do you do newsletters? I Can not find it.

    • FreeTheMom October 12, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      Why THANK-YOU!!! I am so happy to hear your feedback, and agree that it can be hard to find quality stuff around the ‘ol interweb these days. With life and work such as it is at the moment I am sorry that FreeTheMom is on the back burner. But someday soon a shift will occur (as it always does!) and writing will be back on my weekly to-do list.

      For now, I hope you enjoy poking around here, and THANK-YOU again for the kind words!

  18. Theresa December 23, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    I recently found your site through Pinterest while looking for a good kale salad recipe. I’m decided to try YOURS for my Christmas Eve feast. It’s festive and I like all your “hints” to make the beautiful kale not grass-like. Wish me luck! And…thank you! Happy holidays!

  19. Hannah December 23, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Love, love, love this salad. I made this for Thanksgiving and have had requests to make it for Christmas! This salad converted those who disliked kale to now being obsessed. Thank you for the great recipe!

    • FreeTheMom December 23, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      You are so welcome, Hannah! Kale lovers unite!!!

  20. Kathi Browne (@CleverKibitzer) March 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    Just made this and it was awesome! I didn’t have that funky vinegar you mentioned so I used sherry vinegar and added some orange marmalade. Delicious salad! Can’t wait to have it again tonight!

    • FreeTheMom March 2, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

      Yay Kathi! Glad to know the sherry vinegar works too. Sour is sour in my book! Thx for the love!

  21. Barbara Baar June 6, 2015 at 7:54 am #

    I hope this doesn’t sound too dumb, but about how much kale do you use? I have grown some this year but have only tried a couple of recipes. I’d love to take this to a party hosting about 30 people. Thanks, It really looks yummy!

    • FreeTheMom June 22, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      Hi Barbara! Homegrown kale…yummmmm.

      The thing about kale is that after it marinates in lemon for a while it wilts (which is exactly what we want it to do so that it’s easier to chew and digest). This means that if you start with a full bowl of kale, after a few hours it will decrease in amount by about 1/3.

      To make the recipe here I use about 4 bunches of kale. For 30 people I would double or even triple the recipe. This salad saves great in the fridge for a day, so if there end up being leftovers then you can send people home with some for lunch the next day! Good luck, and let me know how it turns out for you!

  22. Catherine M October 19, 2015 at 9:35 pm #

    Love this recipe. Made a batch for a potluck this past weekend and it was a hit. I let put the dressing on the greens about an hour in advance of eating to give kale some time to soften up. I also replaced the lemon juice in the dressing with apple cider vinegar, because I didn’t have lemons on hand. The flavors were incredible, and paired nicely with the apples I threw in the salad. Will definitely make again! Thanks for the recipe!

    • FreeTheMom October 20, 2015 at 6:43 am #

      Thank-you for sharing that tweak, Catherine! I will definitely be trying the apple cider vinegar replacement – the health benefits are huge! Thanks again, and glad you enjoyed it 🙂


  1. Asian salad dressing « Free the Mom - February 15, 2013

    […] posting my all time fave kale salad recipe last week I realized that I neglected to share with you a variation that is equally as delicious […]

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