This Massaged Kale Salad with Apples and Goat Cheese will turn any kale hater into a kale lover! It’s easy to enjoy healthy, raw kale when it’s drenched in a sweet and tangy apple cider vinegar and maple vinaigrette, and when paired with crunchy sweet apple slices. If you think kale is too bitter, think again- kale is actually sweet in flavor, especially if you utilize a few tricks to remove the bitterness from the leaves!
I admit: I was late to jump on the kale salad bandwagon. I mean, it just didn’t sound that great to me. But I kept seeing it everywhere, and I finally gave it a try. I’m SO glad I got on board with kale salads- they’re delicious, and such a great way to enjoy a healthy, cheap, dark green leafy vegetable!
How to make kale less bitter
Kale has a reputation as being healthy, yes, but also bitter and tough. Which can be unappealing when you think about it being served raw in a salad. But I promise- if you get to know kale a little better, you’ll find it’s a deliciously sweet vegetable, as long as you know a few tricks!
- Buy kale seasonally. If kale is grown when it’s too hot, it can turn bitter. Kale grown in cooler weather is sweeter.
- Cut the kale into small pieces. This means it will be easier to chew and more dressing will stick to it (like in coleslaw- you wouldn’t want huge chunks of cabbage in coleslaw for the same reason).
- Soak the kale in cold water. This is not only a trick to wash very dirty kale (see recipe notes), but the cold will help sweeten the leaves a bit.
- Wash the kale AFTER cutting it up. First of all, it’s going to be easier to wash the kale thoroughly when it’s cut up, since the dirt can hide in the crevices of the leaves. Second, when you cut kale, you release some of the bitter compounds. Washing it after cutting the kale ensures you wash away this bitterness after it’s been released.
- Pair it with sweet ingredients. This kale salad recipe includes sweet sliced fuji apples, and the dressing includes pure maple syrup. Both of these ingredients help balance the bitterness of the kale.
- Don’t skimp on the fat. Pairing fat with bitter ingredients helps the flavor mellow out a bit. That’s the reason why the dressing for this salad has 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, PLUS creamy goat cheese that covers every bite. As an added bonus, eating olive oil with leafy greens helps your body absorb their nutrients better!
- Massage, massage, massage! Massaging the salad dressing into the kale is vital. The oil in the dressing is absorbed by the leaves, leaving them softened and more flavorful.
I should also note: if this list feels overwhelming, please know that these are a LOT of suggestions, and you can pick and choose the ones you have time for.
Here’s more on how to prep kale!
How to massage kale
Massaging kale is the best way to prepare raw kale for a salad. You just use your hands to mix the salad dressing and chopped kale together, rubbing the dressing in as you go. For this recipe…
- Add the dressing ingredients to the bottom of a large bowl. Then, use a whisk to mix thoroughly until the dressing is thick and emulsified.
- Add the chopped kale to the bowl and massage the dressing into the leaves for one minute. You don’t have to be gentle with the kale. Really get in there and rub the dressing into the leaves as much as you can, until the leaves are softened. They will seem a lot smaller too, and not fill up the bowl as much.
- Add the remaining ingredients for the salad and toss together! The residual dressing that’s coating the kale leaves will also coat the other ingredients.
FYI, massaging doesn’t work for softer greens, like mixed baby greens, but because kale is such a tough leafy green, it’s perfect in this situation. It also works well for mature spinach or collard greens.
Don’t like the “bite” of raw red onion? Try using pickled red onions instead.
Other kale recipes:
- Slow Cooker 15-Bean Soup with Kale
- Crispy Bacon and Kale Pizza
- Creamy Potato, Caramelized Fennel, and Kale Soup
- Zuppa Toscana (Olive Garden Copycat)
- Garlic Butter Rice with Kale (from Recipe Tin Eats)
And here’s a link to all my salad recipes!
Did you make this massaged kale salad recipe? Please comment below and Rate this Recipe
Massaged Kale Salad with Apples, Goat Cheese, and Maple Vinaigrette
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lb. kale stems discarded, chopped into small pieces about 5-6 cups (see notes)
- 1 apple cored and thinly sliced (I used Fuji)
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 4 oz. soft goat cheese (chevre) crumbled
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
- Wash the chopped kale well in a colander after chopping it. Drain it well, pat it dry, or use a salad spinner to get as much liquid off as possible.
- Whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil (1/4 cup), apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons), pure maple syrup (2 tablespoons), dijon mustard (1 teaspoon), kosher salt (1 teaspoon), and black pepper (1/4 teaspoon) in the bottom of a large bowl until thick and emulsified, about 30 seconds.
- Add the washed and dried kale to the bowl. Use your hands to "massage" the dressing into the kale, until the kale is noticeably softer, for about one minute.
- Add the sliced apples, sliced almonds (1/2 cup), crumbled goat cheese (4 oz.- I usually crumble mine using a fork directly into the bowl), and thinly sliced red onion (1/2 cup) to the bowl with the kale. Toss to combine.
- Serve immediately for best results.
- I like to use this nifty leaf-shaped greens and herb stripper to separate the kale leaves from the stem.
- I used kale from my garden, which means it had more dirt on it than store-bought. If your kale is a little gritty, I recommend soaking the chopped leaves in a large bowl of water and stir it around to loosen any dirt. Then, use a slotted spoon to transfer the leaves to a colander, and give it a good rinse. Repeat if necessary. The dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl- this is a great way to wash any gritty greens, leeks, or other notoriously dirty produce.
- Goat cheese is easier to crumble when it's cold. I usually use a fork to crumble it directly into the bowl, straight out of the fridge. If it's particularly soft, you can stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to make it more firm.
- I like a sweet apple with this- I used fuji, but any kind of apple will do. It's also great diced, rather than sliced.
- To make this vegan/paleo compliant, omit the goat cheese.
- The provided nutrition information does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. Feel free to calculate it yourself using this calculator or by adding the recipe to Yummly.
Nutrition Information Disclaimer
The provided nutrition information is my best estimate and does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. I use an automatic API to calculate this information. Feel free to calculate it yourself using one of these tools: