Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

5 from 12 votes
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You’re going to love this healthy lemon kale salad with zesty citrus dressing. The recipe makes a big batch of leafy greens to share, and there’s plenty of lemon vinaigrette to go around.

Bowl of kale salad with lemon dressing

When the craving hits for a healthy meal that actually tastes good, give this Italian-inspired kale salad recipe a try. I use simple ingredients to make this vibrant side dish. It’s going to be a big hit at the dinner table. So grab a big bunch of leafy greens, and start chopping.

I have a couple of easy tips for cutting down the bitterness of the rough and robust kale. Massaging the leaves, then tossing them in a tart and savory dressing makes each bite more enjoyable. Paired with ripe tomatoes, crunchy almonds, and savory parmesan cheese makes for a simple yet gourmet dish.

Kale selection

I use curly green kale for this recipe. The rough texture on the leaves and wavy shape is ideal for catching the lemon dressing and even coating. You can use other types of kale, like purple kale, which is a great substitute and has a vibrant color for extra phytonutrients.

Chopping the leaves

Kale is sold in bunches, with individual large stalks that need to be cut down. The rigid stem is very chewy when eaten raw, so it’s best to remove it. I cut off the tender leaves using a chef’s knife. For salads, cut the leaves into ½-inch thick pieces, so it’s easier to chew.

rinsing kale leaves under running water

A quick technique to reduce bitterness

The bitter taste of kale intensifies with chewing. That’s because inside the cell walls of the vegetable are sulfur-containing compounds called isothiocyanates. The astringent compounds release when breaking down the leaves. To combat this, briefly massage the leaves to bring those undesirable flavors to the surface.

Rinse the chopped pieces thoroughly with cool water to remove the bad-tasting compounds. To further mask the bitterness when eating, the acidic and savory vinaigrette works well to coat the taste buds before the astringent flavors are perceived. 

Make a lemon dressing

The vinaigrette dressing is a simple combination of freshly squeezed lemon juice, lots of aromatic zest, and extra-virgin olive oil. I use a decent amount of Dijon mustard for a pleasant spicy taste. Also, using dried Italian seasonings provides concentrated herbaceous notes. However, you can use freshly chopped basil, parsley, and oregano. 

Freshly grated parmesan cheese and salt enhance the flavors of the dressing while upping the savory taste. Make sure to slowly add the oil to the liquid, whisking vigorously to break the fat into tiny droplets. This process keeps the dressing from separating back into their liquid or oil phases right away. 

Add extra texture and flavor

There’s a variety of vibrant ingredients with different textures to boost the dish’s Italian flavors. Juicy baby tomatoes provide a natural sweetness that helps to balance the taste of the kale.

Sliced almonds add a delightful crunch factor. You can use other types of nuts like walnuts or pine nuts. Aged parmesan cheese adds nuttiness to the salad. I also like to use pecorino romano or small pieces of fresh mozzarella.

What to serve this with

pouring salad dressing on a bowl of salad

Two ways to make a more stable dressing

Dijon mustard has some emulsifying agent properties. Mixing it in with lemon juice can help stabilize the dressing before the oil is added. It’s also important to gradually add the fat and whisk constantly. The physical agitation breaks the oil into smaller droplets to stay better suspended in the oil-in-water emulsion. The oil and lemon juice eventually separate over time, but this technique keeps it mixed long enough to coat the kale.

Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Craving a healthy meal? Try this lemony kale salad with zesty citrus vinaigrette dressing. It's delicious served as is, or as a dinner side.
5 from 12 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Salad
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

Kale Salad

  • 8 cups kale, curly green, ½" thick slices
  • 1 cup baby tomatoes, halved
  • cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Lemon Vinaigrette (¾ cup)

  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest, about 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasonings, dried
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions 

Kale Salad

  • Cut the leaves off the tough kale stem. Briefly massage the leaves. Slice into ½-inch thick pieces. Rinse under cool water and dry.
  • In a large bowl, add the kale, tomatoes, almonds, and parmesan cheese.

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, mustard, pepper, and Italian seasonings.
  • Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until it becomes a lightly thickened emulsified dressing. Season to taste.
  • To Serve: To the large bowl with the kale salad, add ½ cup of the dressing. Gently toss to combine. Garnish with sliced almonds, parmesan cheese, and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve with extra dressing on the side.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 8 cups
  • Serving Size: 2 cups kale salad plus 3 tablespoons of dressing
  • Storing: Dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Whisk before using. Salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 226kcal (11%)Carbohydrates 10g (3%)Protein 6g (12%)Fat 20g (31%)Saturated Fat 3g (15%)Trans Fat 1gCholesterol 2mg (1%)Sodium 235mg (10%)Potassium 455mg (13%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 6809IU (136%)Vitamin C 88mg (107%)Calcium 163mg (16%)Iron 2mg (11%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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