This kale apple salad is the kale salad to serve to people who say they don’t like kale. I’m serious! Kale is a polarizing vegetable. People love it or hate it. The haters have even created a popular meme on social media sites that shows a photo of kale in a pan with the caption: “Cooking tip! If you stir coconut oil into your kale, it makes it easier to scrape it into the trash.” Well, serve this to both the lovers and the haters. Tender ribbons of kale, with sweet-tart matchsticks of crisp apple, toasted pecans and blue cheese in a wonderful mustard maple balsamic vinaigrette. You'll see, everyone will be happy.
Serve this kale apple salad with pecans and blue cheese as a beautiful salad starter to any meal. It's also perfect as a side dish to roasted chicken such as Marcella Hazan's Roast Chicken with Lemons and Middle Eastern Chicken - Glazed with Pomegranate Molasses. I could make a meal out of this salad alone.
Kale apple salad recipe background
Our friends Melanie and Brian in Asheville LOVE kale salad. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever been out to dinner with them when one or both of them hasn’t ordered a kale salad of some kind. In my experience, though, I have been served some really outstanding versions of kale salad and also some really “meh” versions as well. The “meh” versions are almost invariably tough and chewy and flavorless. My husband would say they are "hard work" to eat!
At a recent pot luck dinner, Melanie brought over her own version of kale apple salad. Hers was outstanding in every way: tender with just the right amount of chew, slightly sweet and also tart, with crunchy nuts and creamy cheese. In fact, I would call it "Perfect!" My husband went crazy for it and was sad when they took the leftovers home. Of course, I asked Melanie for her recipe. She didn’t have one written down, but explained the basic elements. So, I set out to duplicate the taste and I came up with one pretty delicious salad.
Side note: While your kale marinates in the dressing, check out Melanie and Brian’s amazing furniture business, Brian Boggs Chairmakers. Brian is one of the premier chair makers in the country and his artistry is stunning.)
What kind of kale is best for kale apple salad?
To answer the question: "What type of kale is best for kale salad?", I bought a head of curly kale, one of lacinato (dinosaur) kale and a clamshell of baby kale. I tested baby kale thinking that this might be a real time saver. The little baby leaves lack the rigid center vein that needs to be cut off of both curly and lacinato kale varieties, thus saving a step.
For the test, I shredded the curly and lacinato kales and left the baby kale whole. Then I dressed all 3 lightly with balsamic maple vinaigrette and let each of them marinate for a bit. Finally, I tasted each for comparison.
My usual preferred variety of kale, lacinato, produced the most beautiful dark green salad of the 3 varieties, and I expected it to be my favorite for taste as well. I was wrong. In fact, for me, the lacinato kale had the most bitter taste of the 3 varieties of kale. Also, I found that the baby kale had a strong, slightly unpleasant aftertaste, something like broccoli stems or raw cabbage. Surprisingly, the curly kale was the sweetest, mildest tasting of the 3 kale varieties, with no hint of bitterness. Winner: curly kale
To massage or not to massage the kale?
"To massage or not to massage?" Conventional wisdom says that you must massage an acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) into shredded kale leaves in order to soften the kale. So, I put this accepted practice to the test. For each of the 3 types of kale: curly, lacinato and baby kale, I thinly shredded 1 oz and divided each into two ½ oz piles.
For each type of kale, I dressed the first pile with a scant teaspoon of maple balsamic vinaigrette and set aside. Then, for the 2nd pile I massaged the dressing into the kale, using my fingers, for a full 3 minutes. Both samples went into the refrigerator for 1 hour. In all cases, the volume of salad decreased when the leaves were massaged, as the act of massaging the leaves accelerated the wilting of the leaves. Taste-wise, I found that my preference depended on the type of kale.
Curly kale: The massaged version of the curly kale was slightly softer, but I actually preferred the slightly crunchier un-massaged curly kale. For curly kale: don’t massage, just dress and let sit
Lacinato (dinosaur kale): Texture-wise, I did prefer the massaged version of the lacinato kale. The un-massaged version was a little TOO tough and crunchy. For lacinato kale: massage for 3 minutes
Baby kale (in a clamshell): The massaged version had an unpleasant mushy texture. It’s just too delicate to man-handle like that. For baby kale: don’t massage
Bottom line: For this kale apple salad and any kale salad for that matter:
- Choose curly kale. Lacinato kale would be my 2nd choice. Don't use baby kale.
- Finely shred it (1/16” in with a sharp knife - see instructions below).
- Massage with enough vinaigrette to moisten.
- Let sit for one hour, covered, in the refrigerator.
Even the most kale-averse will love it.
Ingredients for Kale Apple Salad
- spicy brown mustard
- maple syrup
- aged balsamic vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- kale (curly kale preferred)
- honeycrisp apple
- toasted pecans
- dried cranberries
- blue cheese
See recipe card for quantities.
Instructions for Kale Apple Salad
Place Place shallot, garlic, mustard, syrup, vinegar, olive oil and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until thickened, smooth and glossy. Set aside.
Cut the large tough veins off each kale leaf.
Stack the leaves and cut crosswise into thin 1/16” shreds.
Gently massage in enough of the vinaigrette with your fingers to just moisten the shreds. Place in the refrigerator a minimum of an hour. When ready to serve, cut apple matchsticks (see video below) and add to the kale, along with the toasted pecans, cranberries and blue cheese. Toss well and place in a large shallow serving bowl on on individual salad plates. Serve any leftover dressing on the side for those that want it.
- Vegan - substitute vegan crumbled cheese or eliminate the cheese entirely
- Other nuts - crushed marcona almonds or toasted walnuts are also excellent in this kale apple salad
- Other cheeses - if you don't like blue cheese, choose a strong flavored cheese, such as parmesan or aged goat cheese
Those of you who follow my blog know that I love my Global G2 chef's knife. I learned about it from Anthony Bourdain's wonderful Kitchen Confidential memoir. He used it for most tasks in the kitchen and so do I. Actually, most of my other knives sit in their block, unused and unloved. A high quality chef's knife like this one is an investment, but it's well worth it. My Global G2 chef's knife makes short and easy work of both slicing the ribbons of kale and also creating the apple matchsticks for this kale apple salad (see video below).
Cover any leftovers and store in the refrigerator overnight. One of the great things about kale salad is that it holds and travels well. It's a great make-ahead option for a dinner party or pock-luck.
Use thinly sliced curly kale, dressed in just enough vinaigrette to moisten and let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour before completing the salad and serving. There is no need to massage your kale!
Green vegetables are the most nutrient dense of all foods. And kale belongs to the family of green vegetables known as cruciferous vegetables. Other cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Dr. Joel Fuhrman is the New York Times best selling author of Super Immunity, in which he highlights the health benefits of the G-BOMBS foods (Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Seeds and Berries). Dr. Fuhrman wants us all to "eat for life." Cruciferous greens like kale, in particular, provide significant health benefits. Their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals help protect against heart disease and cancer. Kale is also low in calories and the fiber in kale helps feed good bacteria in the colon, contributing to a healthy gut microbiome.
Kale Apple Salad with Pecans and Blue Cheese
- 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 2 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 6-8 oz bunch kale, curly kale preferred
- 1 honeycrisp apple
- ⅓ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- ⅓ cup sweetened dried cranberries
- ⅓ cup blue cheese, crumbled
- Place shallot, garlic, mustard, syrup, vinegar, olive oil and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until thickened, smooth and glossy. Set aside.
- Cut the large tough veins off each kale leaf.
- Stack the leaves and cut crosswise into thin 1/16” shreds.
- Gently massage in enough of the vinaigrette with your fingers to just moisten the shreds. Place in the refrigerator a minimum of an hour. When ready to serve, cut apple matchsticks (see video below) and add to the kale, along with the pecans, cranberries and blue cheese. Toss well and place in a large shallow serving bowl on on individual salad plates. Serve any leftover dressing on the side for those that want it.