Massaged Kale Salad with Lemon

5 from 4 votes
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Enjoy this easy massaged kale salad with lemon dressing; a delicious base kale salad recipe ready in just minutes and perfect for adding to (5+ variations below). Plus, this recipe uses only 4 ingredients and is meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan!

A bowl of kale salad topped with slivered almonds and pomegranate seeds

When it comes to quick lunches, I love a low-effort healthy salad. I’ve already shared several including this Heirloom Burrata Caprese Salad (Burrata Salad) and Simple Lebanese Pita Salad (Fattoush), and now this massaged kale salad.

While kale was seen everywhere for a while, some maintain that this ingredient is bitter and inedible. That isn’t the case, though; massage a simple kale salad with a lemon dressing and add your extras of choice, and you’ll have a simple, flavorful salad you’ll want to have time and time again.

Best of all, even simple kale salads are super nutrient-dense too, with healthy doses of several vitamins (Vit K, C, and A) as well as fiber. It can also be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for several days!

A serving of kale salad and baked cauliflower topped with pomegranate seeds and tahini sauce

In fact, this simple lemon garlic kale salad is so adaptable it works well as meal-prep, a quick lunch, or even to impress at parties, gatherings, and potlucks!

Below I’ve included my ‘base’ massaged kale salad with several ideas on how you can adapt it – in no time at all, you’ll find your perfect kale salad! Within the post, I’ll take you through how to cut kale, how to massage kale, and how to make a kale salad worthy of your weekly rotation!

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The ingredients

Ingredients for a kale salad

Kale: you can use baby kale (which is usually tender enough not to even need massaging), curly kale (most common and cheapest), or Tuscan kale (also called dinosaur kale/black kale and is what I used here)
Oil: I use olive oil. However, avocado oil, coconut oil, or grapeseed oil will work.
Garlic: the harsh bitterness of raw garlic will mellow as it sits in the lemon juice, resulting in just delicious garlic notes. 
Lemon: make sure to use fresh lemon juice (not bottled). This will tenderize the leaves and add tons of flavor.
Salt & Pepper: to season, but also the salt helps to tenderize. 

Toppings (optional): I decided to make a quick kale pomegranate salad with pomegranate seeds and almond flakes. I then topped that with Air Fryer roasted cauliflower.

Check further down for the massaged kale salad variations and option add-ins!

How to make kale salad

Step 1: How to cut kale

First, wash the kale well and dry it either in a salad spinner or pat it dry with a kitchen towel. 

Rinsing kale leaves

There are two main ways to cut kale and remove the thick stem (debone the kale).

  • By hand: use two fingers to squeeze where the thickest part of the stem is, then slowly move your hands down the stem, pulling the leaves off as you go.
  • By Knife: run the knife as close to the side of the stem to remove the leaves.

The kale stems can be added to smoothies or fresh green juices, to make vegetable stock, pesto, stir-fried, or even roasted. 

Kale leaves with the stems removed

If you prefer, you can chop the leaves into even smaller pieces or tear them by hand, though this isn’t necessary.

Step 2: How to prepare the lemon dressing

First, mince the garlic into a small bowl and add the juice of half a lemon. Then add the salt, pepper, and olive oil and mix well. 

Steps for mixing vinaigrette

Step 3: How to massage the kale

Add the lemon garlic kale salad dressing to the bowl with the kale leaves and then use clean hands to grab handfuls of the kale leaves and squeeze, massaging (squeezing and pinching) them until the kale is soft and tender. This usually takes 2-3 minutes.

Massaging kale leaves in a bowl

Step 4: How To Serve Massaged Kale Salad

Once massaged, allow the kale to sit for just a few minutes while preparing any toppings and add-ins. This will allow it to macerate and further tenderize the kale. 

For the lemony kale pomegranate salad (as pictured), I added some fresh pomegranate seeds, flaked almonds, and then topped with some Air Fryer baked cauliflower

A bowl with kale salad with a half pomegranate being held above it

How to store

Once prepared, any leftover kale salad with lemon dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days – however, the leaves will become softer/more wilted as it sits, so it sometimes only lasts 1-2 days.

If you want to make the kale salad 3-5 days in advance, then clean and prep the leaves in advance, but only add the dressing the day before or on the day (the acid will break down the leaves without the need to massage the kale).

Kale salad variations

Simple Variations

  1. Kale cranberry salad: swap out the pomegranate seeds for dried cranberries, keep the almonds, and optionally add a soft cheese like goat cheese.
  2. Kale chickpea salad: add some of these Lightly Spiced Easy Crispy Chickpeas. This pairs really well with avocado too. 
  3. Kale quinoa salad: like this Kale, butternut squash, and quinoa salad. You could also add kale to this quinoa, avocado, and walnut salad.
  4. Kale avocado salad: I use around 1/2 small avocado per serving. You could also use guacamole if you want to make a Mexican kale salad with beans, corn, and salsa.

Kale Salad Dressings 

I tend to use the ‘massaging’ ingredients as a simple, flavorful lemony kale salad dressing. However, if you want to add even more flavor, then you can add a dressing of your choice, such as:

Other Ingredient Add-ins

Just like other salads, there are tons of optional add-ins you could include to your massaged kale salad, such as:

  • Vegetables: tomato, cucumber, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, sweet potato, beans or legumes, carrot, radish, potato, red cabbage, etc.
  • Fruit: strawberries (like this healthy strawberry spinach salad), blueberries, and apples all work well paired with kale salads.
  • Cheese: Softer cheeses work amazingly with kale salads, i.e., goat cheese, feta (or vegan feta), or even ricotta (or vegan ricotta).
  • Whole grain: quinoa, farro, bulgur wheat, etc.
  • Protein: baked tofu, salmon (if not vegan), or grilled chicken. 
  • Nuts & seeds: walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, linseed, or even this mixed Omega sprinkle will add extra crunch, healthy fats, and nutrients.

FAQs

Why massage kale?

If you’ve ever tried raw kale that hasn’t been massaged, you could be forgiven for thinking it tastes like flavorless, dry paper (sometimes even bitter paper) that you could chew and chew forever without getting anywhere. However, once massaged, kale salad transforms into an easily digestible, tender treat.

In short, massaged kale starts to break down a little so that it’s easier (and nicer) to eat. More so, when massaging it with your salad dressing of choice, it helps to infuse the kale with the flavors, like the lemon juice in this kale salad with lemon dressing.

Kale leaves

Which kale is best for salads?

This really comes down to personal preference. Let’s take a little look at the different types of kale, though.

  • Curly kale: this is the most common and cheapest type of kale, with very curly, bright green leaves. This kale can be quite bitter and have an almost peppery flavor (though this is muted once massaged).
  • Tuscan kale: this kale comes under many names depending on where you live and what shop you’re at: Dinosaur kale, black kale, and cavolo nero are all names for this kale. These kale leaves are much flatter in appearance and a darker green color. The flavor is often described as ‘earthy’ with less bitterness and an almost slight ‘nuttiness.’ This is the type I use most often.
  • There is also ‘Russian red kale,’ but this isn’t as common. This type is very mild with just a hint of pepperiness.

Lastly, baby kale is also an option – baby kale leaves are so tender they don’t need to be massaged, though this variety is harder to get a hold of. They are slightly chewy and are often compared to arugula in flavor.

More salad recipes

If you try this massaged kale salad recipe, then let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments. I’d also really appreciate a recipe rating and would love to see your recreations – just tag @AlphaFoodie.

Simple Massaged Kale Salad With Lemon Dressing (+ Variations)

5 from 4 votes
By: Samira
How to make a simple massaged kale salad with lemon garlic dressing and dress it up with tons of different optional sauces and add-ins!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1 bowl kale salad

Ingredients 
 

  • 5 oz kale leaves stems removed. Curly or Tuscan will work
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon juiced (fresh not bottled)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Instructions 

Step 1: Cut the kale

  • Wash the kale well and dry it either in a salad spinner or pat it dry with a kitchen towel.
  • There are two main ways to cut kale and remove the thick stem (debone the kale).
    By hand: use two fingers to squeeze where the thickest part of the stem is, then slowly move your hands down the stem, and the kale leaves should fall off.
    By Knife: run the knife as close to the side of the stem to remove the leaves.
    If you prefer, you can chop the leaves into even smaller pieces or tear them by hand, though this isn't necessary.

Step 2: Prepare the lemon dressing

  • Mince the garlic into a small bowl and add the juice of half a lemon. Then add the salt, pepper, and olive oil and mix well.

Step 3: Massage the kale

  • Add the lemon garlic kale salad dressing to the bowl with the kale leaves and then use clean hands to grab handfuls of the kale leaves and squeeze, massaging (squeezing and pinching) them until the kale is soft and tender. This usually takes 2-3 minutes.

Step 4: Serve the massaged kale salad

  • Once massaged, allow the kale to sit for just a few minutes while preparing any toppings and add-ins. This will allow it to macerate and further tenderize the kale.
    For the lemony kale pomegranate salad, I added some fresh pomegranate seeds, flaked almonds, and then topped with some Air Fryer baked cauliflower.

How To Store

  • Once prepared, any leftover kale salad with lemon dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days – however, the leaves will become softer/more wilted as it sits, so it sometimes only lasts 1-2 days.
    If you want to make the kale salad 3-5 days in advance, then prepare the leaves in advance but only add the dressing the day before or on the day (the acid will break down the leaves without the need to massage the kale).

Video

Notes

  • The kale stems can be added to smoothies or fresh green juices, to make vegetable stock, pesto, stir-fried, or even roasted.
Read the blog post above for the answers to more FAQs as well as tons of ways to adapt this recipe with different dressings and add-ins!
Course: Appetizer, Main, Salad
Cuisine: American
Freezer friendly: No
Shelf life: 3-4 Days

Nutrition

Serving: 1bowl, Calories: 215kcal, Carbohydrates: 19g, Protein: 7g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Sodium: 1219mg, Potassium: 790mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 14176IU, Vitamin C: 200mg, Calcium: 235mg, Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

5 from 4 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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2 Comments

  1. Flore says:

    5 stars
    This kale hack is great! Kale is a lot easier to keep in the fridge and it makes for a great tasting salad ( when massaged)!

    1. Samira @ Alphafoodie says:

      Thank you so much Flore, glad you liked it 🙂