Make a Giant Kale Salad That Doesn’t Suck

Kale is a lightning rod for ridicule, but if you make it right, a giant kale salad could be the perfect lunch you’ve been looking for.

Woman making kale salad

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After squash bugs, flea beetles, dry spells, and a couple of frosts, my kale plants are currently the lone survivors in a once-plentiful garden. The tall stalks tower over a wasteland of spent plants like proud palm trees. A crop was never easier to grow, or healthier to eat, or … mocked so endlessly.

“The best way to prepare kale? Throw it right into the garbage!!” Yuk, yuk, yuk.

Like tofu or sprouts, kale seems to be a lightning rod for ridicule. Comedian Jim Gaffigan said that it tastes like bug spray, and his audience roared in disapproval of the “health fad.” Of course, there wouldn’t be any kale backlash if it hadn’t come into vogue in recent years, popping up in unlikely places like smoothies and chips.

The hardy leafy green has come a long way in the American diet, once relegated to salad bars as an inedible garnish. It is well known that kale is uniquely nutritious (high in beneficial vitamins and minerals and low in calories), and you shouldn’t let the naysayers steer you away. Jim Gaffigan might enjoy kale if he knew how to prepare it.

Here’s the rub: I’m not here to say that you should hang out in your urban garden nude, munching raw leaves and reading a book about metaphysical naturalism. I am saying that if you make it right, a giant kale salad could be the perfect lunch you’ve been looking for — guiltless, satisfying, and cheap.

I start in the morning by picking kale leaves from the garden. I grew Lacinato and Red Russian kale this year, but curly varieties are great too. The right amount for a giant lunch salad is just about as many leaves as you can grip in one hand. Take them inside and rinse them off carefully to make sure you don’t get stuck with any straggler cabbage worms. Once they’re clean, pull the leaves forward and remove the hard stem from the back (you can also do this with kitchen shears). Bunch up the leaves, and rip them into bite-sized pieces into a bowl.

This next part is important: massaging the kale. I know, it sounds like you’re treating your lunch to a ridiculous luxury, but this step helps to break down some of the fibers and make it easier to chew and digest. Sprinkle the kale with a couple of pinches of salt and about a half-teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil (I also like to use avocado oil or sunflower oil), and rub your hand through it for one to three minutes, crushing the leaves together as you go.

Afterwards, leave it in the refrigerator covered until lunchtime. You can also massage a big batch of kale and keep it for three to five days.

After this simple prep, the possibilities for your giant kale salad are legion. Go easy on adding more salt and oil, but the combination of nuts, grains, seeds, meats, and acids is up to you. Try some of my favorite giant kale salad recipes below. You could even bring it to Thanksgiving as a side dish, and watch your relatives retract their every disparaging word about kale. Who’s laughing now?

Giant Kale Salad with Cranberries, Walnuts, and Quinoa

  • 2 cups kale (massaged as instructed above)
  • ⅓ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 shallot, chopped (or 1 heaping tbsp chopped red onion)
  • 2 tbsp tahini lemon dressing (mix tahini with lemon juice and a little oil)
  • Pepper to taste
  • Optional: sunflower seeds, roasted squash, goat cheese

Giant Kale Salad with Prosciutto, White Cheddar, and Apples

  • 2 cups kale (massaged as instructed above)
  • 2 slices prosciutto, torn into pieces
  • ¼ cup grated white cheddar
  • ½ apple, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
  • 2 tbsp dressing (½ balsamic vinegar, ½ honey, a little oil)
  • Optional: olives, sun-dried tomatoes, slivered almonds

Giant Kale Salad with Chickpeas, Black Rice, and Beets

  • 2 cups kale (massaged as instructed above)
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
  • ½ cup cooked black rice
  • ½ beet, peeled and chopped or grated
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • 2 tbsp yogurt dressing (½ greek yogurt, ¼ dijon mustard, ¼ white wine vinegar)
  • Pepper to taste
  • Optional: chopped carrots or radishes, pomegranate seeds, cashews

Featured image: Shutterstock, by Love Like Salt

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