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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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
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.
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Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- 8 cups kale, curly green, ½" thick slices
- 1 cup baby tomatoes, halved
- ⅓ 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
- 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.
- 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 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.
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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