A delicious kale and cranberry salad recipe that is a total crowd-pleaser. Make it for meal prep when you want a healthy lunch, top it with grilled chicken for a quick weeknight dinner, or let it grace your holiday table. It is a great make-ahead option for the Fall holidays.
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Please read the entire post for tips and tricks to ensure a perfect recipe every time. And don't forget to tag @peelwithzeal on Instagram so we can admire your creation!
This salad only takes 15 minutes to make, including the homemade dressing! It is a perfect side dish for my spicy blackened chicken sandwich but I also love it with our roast pork and apples. So many possibilities!
📖Why This Recipe Works
Unlike many green leafy vegetables, kale can stand up to be dressed ahead of time. Add in Fall flavors like pecans and cranberries, and there you have the perfect kale salad for Autumn.
I tried this recipe with goat cheese, but honestly, I wanted something hardier. I chunk the cheddar cheese instead of grating. I don't want cheese in every bite but when I get a piece it should have that unmistakable salty note that balances perfectly with the sweet cranberries.
The dressing is a play on my favorite honey mustard sauce, but I lightened it up a bit. Less honey and more vinegar for a classic vinaigrette.
This recipe is gluten-free and vegetarian.
Kale is the star of the show. For the photos, I used common curly kale because that is what looked best at the grocery store. You can also lacinato kale, also called dinosaur kale or tuscan kale.
This recipe uses 8 to 10 ounces of kale which is one large bunch or 2 smaller bunches of kale.
If you want to make the salad in advance or to make enough for leftovers, I don't recommend using the baby kale leaves that come in the plastic clamshell.
For this recipe you will also need:
Dried Cranberries- Tart cranberries are softened and sweetened with sugar. You can use a reduced-sugar cranberry if you like. Both raisins and dried cherries work as substitutes.
Carrots- I like using orange or yellow for contrast.
Cheddar Cheese- Use a good quality sharp white cheddar cheese that crumbles on its own.
Pecans- Nuts add crunch and texture to the salad. You can use any array of items from toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds to hazelnuts or chopped almonds.
Crisp apple slices make a great addition to the salad but are not make-ahead-friendly. In addition to browning, the acid in the dressing will turn the apples to mush.
The dressing contains simple ingredients. If you want to jazz it up, try using garlic fermented honey in place of raw honey. You can also substitute maple syrup.
I use a small amount of shallot in the recipe, you can substitute red onion. Be sure to rinse the onion in cold water to take out the bite.
For the vinegar, I use AVC (apple cider vinegar) for its classic Fall feel. But you can also substitute orange juice (much better than lemon juice for this recipe!) or red wine vinegar.
See the printable recipe card for exact quantities.
⏲️How to Make Kale Salad with Cranberries
It might take you longer to read this blog post than it would just to make the recipe! Kidding aside let's get to the tips and tricks for the very best kale salad (personal opinion, of course).
Step 1- Prep the Kale
You can wash the kale before or after chopping it. Like spinach, kale can be a bit sandy when it is freshly picked. Wash it whole and dry thoroughly with a dish towel or paper towel. Or chop it up and give it a rinse and dry it in your salad spinner.
To chop the kale you need to remove the stem. Fold the kale and half, tightly grip the stem and pull off the leafy part. You can also use a knife to cut it out as we do in our lemon rainbow chard recipe.
Step 2- Make the Dressing
I prefer to make the dressing in a glass measuring cup as opposed to a small bowl or mason jar. I have more control when pouring it onto the salad.
Nothing fancy about this dressing, just combine all the ingredients and season to taste. You can make the dressing up to one week in advance!
Step 3- Toast the Pecans
Pecans can be toasted in the oven or on the stovetop. When doing a small batch I prefer to dry toast the nuts on the stovetop.
Add the pecan pieces to a small pan, do not add any oil or butter. Dry toast the pecan pieces over medium heat until warm and fragrant.
Step 4- Assemble the Salad
Taste the kale first. If it is bitter pour on ⅓ of the salad dressing. Massage the kale, meaning use your hands to rub the dressing into the kale.
Let the kale sit for 10 minutes. The acid will begin to break down the cell walls of the kale making it sweeter.
Add the carrot and remaining dressing and toss. Top with cranberries, cheese, and nuts.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tip
If the raw kale is too bitter, in addition to giving it a good massage, chopping it into fine pieces will help the acid reach more surface area, tenderizing the kale.
The undressed salad will last in an airtight container for 5 to 6 days. Once dressed the kale will hold up for 1 to 2 days.
The simple dressing should be stored in an airtight jar in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before using.
More Fall Salads
💬Frequently Asked Questions
For this recipe, I suggest adding grilled chicken or an inexpensive steak cut like flank steak.
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Kale Salad with Cranberries
- 10 ounces curly kale
- 1 carrot shredded
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup pecans chopped
- ½ cup sharp white cheddar diced
- Wash and dry the kale. Remove the stems and cut into bite size pieces.10 ounces curly kale
- In a small pan, dry toast the pecan pieces over medium heat until warm and fragrant. Watch closely so they do not burn.½ cup pecans
- Toss the kale and shredded carrot in the dressing. Add the cranberries, cheddar, and toasted pecans.1 carrot, ½ cup dried cranberries, ½ cup sharp white cheddar
Honey Mustard Salad Dressing
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon shallot, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- If the kale tastes bitter add the kale to a large bowl. Add a small amount of dressing and massage with your hands for 2 minutes. Let the kale sit for 5 to 10 minutes before assembling the rest of the salad.