This mouthwatering Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon Dressing is simple and fast to prepare ... it's delicious as a side or main dish salad, and it's great for meal prep, too!
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Have you jumped on the kale salad bandwagon yet?
I've never been a huge "salad as a meal" person. Although I love salad, and there are tons of yummy options out there, I prefer meals that don't leave me hungry again an hour later ... you know?
Salads made with raw kale are different though. They're heartier than a typical lettuce-based salad and keep you full longer. Plus, kale is super sturdy and stands up to lots of add-ins, which means you can stuff your salad with protein and veggies.
I've shared many recipes for this wonder veggie before, but this easy Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon Dressing is my simplest (and perhaps most delicious) one yet!
If you're looking for the BEST kale salad recipe, this is it!
This zesty salad features bold, bright flavors (courtesy of olive oil, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan cheese) and a wonderful texture (chewy kale and crunchy bread crumbs) that you are going to love. It's a great basic salad recipe that's perfect as a side dish or, with a few add-ins, you've got yourself a light, healthy meal.
Apart from it's delish flavor, my favorite thing about this Lemon Kale Salad is that it lasts a few days in the fridge ... if you don't gobble it all down first.
Which means it's perfect for meal prep. I like making a big batch, then topping it with roasted vegetables, chickpeas, and a sprinkle of feta or goat cheese. Yum!
Have I sold you on this yummy salad yet? Then keep reading, because I'm going to walk you through how to make kale salad step-by-step!
This easy salad features healthy, simple, yet flavor packed ingredients. You'll find everything you need in most grocery stores:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh Lemon Juice
- Fresh Garlic
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
- Parmesan Cheese
- Panko Bread Crumbs
- You can use any kind of kale for this recipe. I prefer to use Lacinato kale (also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale), which has flat leaves. I used curly kale here though, because that's all my grocery store stocks lately, and it works perfectly fine.
- I always use kosher salt (instead of standard table salt) for all my recipes, and I highly recommend it for this salad. The flavor is soooo much better.
- Make sure to use fresh lemon juice and garlic, not the prepared, bottled stuff ... it will make a huge difference in this simple recipe.
- Feel free to use Romano, Pecorino Romano, or another hard grating cheese instead of the Parmesan. Just make sure to use a high quality cheese ... the pre-grated, store brand stuff doesn't cut it.
- To make this recipe vegan, try replacing the Parmesan with nutritional yeast (to taste) ... or just leave it out.
- Panko bread crumbs add a delicious crunch to this salad! You could use regular bread crumbs, but they won't be as crispy.
How to Make Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon Dressing
So let's talk about how to make this yummy Lemon Kale Salad!
If you've never made a salad with raw kale before, this is a great beginner recipe. And once you master it, you can easily adapt it by adding other ingredients and toppings.
I'm providing lots of details below, but be sure to watch the video in the recipe card for a visual overview, too.
Preparing the Kale
Washing the kale well will help you avoid a gritty salad, so that's the first step. Rinse a few leaves at a time under running water, then give them a good shake to remove any excess water. If your kale is really wet after washing, blot it dry with a paper towel or put it in your salad spinner.
Kale stems are tough and inedible, so you'll remove those next. Don't waste your time cutting out the stems with knife though ... try my quick trick instead!
Grasp the stem firmly in one hand, then pull your other hand quickly down the stem, removing the leaf. Don't worry if your kale looks a little ragged after this (you won't notice this later), or if the smaller stems near the tips remains (those are fine to eat).
Next, stack the kale leaves, then slice them about ¼ to ½-inch wide. If the sliced leaves are really long, you can give them a quick chop in the other direction, too.
Massaging the Kale
A bowl of tough, raw kale leaves is kind of unappealing. So how do you soften kale for salad?
Basically, you are going to massage a little olive oil and salt into the sliced leaves using your hands. It sounds weird but it works ... and it has the added benefit of moisturizing your hands. Ha!
Here's how to do it:
- Add the sliced kale to a large bowl.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Stick your hands in the bowl and rub the kale between your fingers, working the oil and salt into the leaves.
This process should take about 2 to 3 minutes. You'll know you're done when the kale turns a dark green color. (See the difference between the first and third pics below?) The kale should also be reduced in volume by about a ¼ to a ⅓.
If you watch the video in the recipe card, you can see exactly how I massage kale in action.
Making the Lemon Dressing
Next, you're going to add the rest of the lemon vinaigrette ingredients.
Combine the lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes (if you're using them) in a small bowl, then drizzle them over your salad. Use a pair of tongs to toss everything together. You'll sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese next, then mix everything again.
At this point, taste your salad. If it's "missing a little something", adjust the flavor to your taste by adding a little extra salt, lemon juice, or olive oil.
Note: in the recipe video, I added the vinaigrette ingredients (lemon, garlic, and red pepper flakes) separately, so I could show each item individually. If you don't want to dirty an extra bowl, feel free to do the same. Just make sure to mix everything really well, because raw garlic has a tendency to clump together.
Finishing the Salad
The last step is making the crunchy bread crumb topping.
You'll start by heating a little olive oil in a skillet, then sauteing a clove of garlic until tender.
Next, add the panko and a dash of salt. Continue cooking the panko until it's golden brown. Watch the pan closely and stir often so it doesn't burn.
Let the bread crumbs cool a bit. Then serve your salad topped with a little extra Parmesan and a generous sprinkle of Panko. I love the contrast of chewy kale and crunchy panko ... so delicious!
If you're making this salad for meal prep, wait to add the bread crumbs until you're ready to serve the salad. Unless you like soggy panko, that is!
This salad is so versatile! Serve it alongside your favorite meal, or add extra toppings (like fresh or roasted veggies, olives, sun dried tomatoes, dried fruit, beans, hummus, etc.) and enjoy it as a main dish salad.
However you serve it, this is simple Kale Salad recipe is one you'll want to add to your weekly rotation ... it's that good!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Still have questions about how to make the perfect Massaged Kale Salad? Check out the answers to these frequently asked questions:
What does it mean to massage kale?
When you massage kale, you're combining raw kale with olive oil and salt (or dressing), then using your hands to massage the oil and salt into the leaves. This softens the leaves and makes it easier to chew and digest.
How do you massage raw kale?
To massage kale, first slice the kale, then place it in a large bowl. Drizzle the leaves with olive oil and a little salt. Then, stick your hands into the bowl, and start working the oil and salt into the kale. The kale should soften as you do this, as well as decompress in volume. (See more tips above and watch the video to see exactly how I do this.)
How long will massaged kale salad keep?
Massaged kale salad will keep for three to four days when stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator. If you're adding any crispy toppings (like panko) store them separately, then add just before serving.
How do you wash kale for salad?
To wash kale for salad, hold leaves under running water, making sure to rinse off any grit or dirt. Shake leaves vigorously over sink to remove water. You can also use a salad spinner to remove excess water or blot them dry with paper towels, if needed. I recommend washing a few leaves at a time, rather than the whole bunch. That way, you don't miss anything.
What is the best kale for salads?
Lacinato kale (sometimes called Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale) is the best kale to use for salads. It has large flat, dark green leaves. Curly kale works fine though, so feel free to use it if that's all you can find. I don't recommend baby kale for massaged kale salads, because it won't stand up to massaging.
If you love kale, you're in luck! I have tons of other kale salad recipes for you to try:
- Warm Farro Kale Salad with Feta
- Superfood Salad with Citrus Dressing
- Mexican Kale Salad with Chili Lime Vinaigrette
- Kale Quinoa Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Easy Italian Pasta Salad
- Winter Kale Salad with Freekeh and Roasted Vegetables
- Kale Pasta Salad with Creamy Lemon Basil Dressing
- Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
- Kale Caesar Salad
- Easy Kale Salad with Creamy Lemon Garlic Dressing
And calling all SALAD LOVERS ... you can find all of my salad recipes here!
Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon Dressing
- 2 medium bunches kale (about 8 cups sliced)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
For Bread Crumbs:
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
- dash salt
- Wash kale well, then remove leaves from stems. Stack kale and slice about ¼ to ½ inch wide.
- Place kale in a large bowl. Top with olive oil and salt.
- Use your hands to massage oil and salt into kale, continuing for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until kale is tender and has reduced in size.
- Mix together lemon juice, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Drizzle over salad; toss to combine.
- Sprinkle Parmesan over salad; mix well.
- Taste salad and adjust flavor to taste with additional salt, lemon juice, or olive oil, if desired. Set salad aside.
Prepare Bread Crumbs:
- Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat.
- Add garlic to oil and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Stir panko into oil; add a sprinkle of salt. Cook panko until golden, watching closely and stirring often.
- Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Serve salad sprinkled with extra Parmesan (if desired) and Panko. Enjoy!
Have you ever made a raw kale salad?