This easy Massaged Kale Salad with Cranberries is made with sweet Tuscan kale. A simple dressing is combined with toasted sunflower seeds, feta and quinoa, to create the perfect massaged kale salad for packed lunches or potlucks.
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Lately I've been in the habit of making a big kale salad at the start of the week.
Unlike salads made with more tender greens, like my Pear Gorgonzola Salad, kale salads tend to only improve with a bit of time. Their leaves get more tender, the dressing melds with the other ingredients, and you've got a sturdy fridge salad that's ready for you to grab and go whenever you need.
I find that keeping a massaged kale salad on hand is one easy way to ensure I eat a healthy lunch or dinner when my days get particularly busy - and let's be real, when are they not?
How to massage kale
It hardly seems fair that we live in a word where kale gets more frequent massages than I do, but here we are. Kale is naturally quite tough, but taking a few moments to massage the dressing into the leaves transforms them into tender, delicate, salad-worthy greens.
How do you massage kale? Simply rub the dressing into the leaves with your fingers.
You'll both see and feel the leaves becoming more tender as you go. 30-ish seconds is all it takes, and once you've tried massaging your kale you'll never look back. Can't stop, won't stop!
What's in this recipe?
So much good stuff, my friends! To make this delicious massaged kale salad you're going to need some:
- Kale! --> I prefer to use Tuscan kale, also known as lacinato kale, calvo nero, or dinosaur kale. But if you can't find it, curly kale is fine too.
- Cranberries --> We're using dried cranberries that we'll plump up by soaking in vinegar.
- Quinoa --> This is totes optional, but really takes this massaged kale salad from a side dish to a meal.
- Feta --> Don't mind if I do!
- Dill --> Some fresh dill weed getting up in your business.
- Green onion --> Moooooooore flavour!
- Sunflower seeds --> Toasted, please and thank you.
- Vinegar/olive oil/honey/Dijon/salt/pepper --> For a simple and delish kale salad dressing.
How to make this recipe
Step 1: Since we're making kale salad with cranberries, we're going to start by combining our dried cranberries with apple cider vinegar. Set them aside while you're preparing the rest of the ingredients so the cranberries can plump up and infuse the vinegar with cranberry flavour.
Step 2: Next we're going to toast our sunflower seeds in a dry (no oil) frying pan over medium heat. Give them a toss every few minutes until you start to smell their nutty aroma and can see they're slightly browned. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Step 3: Now we're going to prepare our kale.
How to de-stem kale
Great question! Here's what to do:
- With one hand, hold a leave of kale by the sturdy, thick end of its stalk.
- With your other hand, pull the base of the leaf away from the stalk, pulling towards the tip.
- Repeat with all of the kale.
Then you're going to stack your kale leaves into a pile, and using a sharp knife (I have this one), slice them into thick ribbons. My friend Ceri from Natural Kitchen Adventures has a great video demonstrating how to de-stem and chiffonade kale.
Step 4: Drain the cranberries, reserving the infused vinegar for the dressing. In a small bowl combine the vinegar with olive oil, both smooth and grainy Dijon mustard, a bit of honey, and some salt and pepper. Give it a good whisk to combine.
Step 5: Place your ribboned kale in a large bowl, and pour a couple of tablespoons of the dressing over top. Use your (clean!) hands to massage the dressing into the kale for about 30 seconds, until the leaves relax under your fingers.
Step 6: Add the green onion, dill, toasted sunflower seeds, and plumbed cranberries to the bowl, along with the remaining dressing. Give the salad a good toss, then scatter with crumbled feta.
Note! When I originally posted this recipe I called for cooked and cooled quinoa to be mixed in, and if I'm making a refrigerator salad that's how I make it. Other times I'll nestle the quinoa into the salad bowl alongside the kale so people can choose whether they want to add it, and how much.
How long will kale salad last in the fridge?
If stored in the fridge in an air-tight container, this kale salad with cranberries will be perfectly fine for 3-5 days, though I expect you'll make good work of it before then.
Can I pack this salad for lunch?
You can and you should! You can pack it either with the quinoa tossed through the salad, or tucked alongside in your lunch box.
Related: 20 Vegetarian Lunch Ideas.
Can I make this salad vegan?
You sure can! To make a vegan kale salad swap the honey in the dressing for another liquid sweetener. You can either leave the feta out, or replace it with tofu feta or try this recipe for sunflower feta.
Hey Nutrition Lady, is kale healthy?
Yes my friends, it sure is. When you make a delicious massaged kale salad with cranberries you're not only getting a tasty meal, but a big serving of a nutrition powerhouse!
Kale is extraordinarily rich in micronutrients, dietary fiber, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and cancer fighting glucosinolates. Kale is a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, and contains nearly twice the vitamin K (essential for blood clotting and also an important anti-inflammatory agent) than any other cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, cabbage, etc). Recent research has shown that cabbages (including kale) are now seen as more effective than tomatoes at preventing most forms of prostate cancer.
The dietary fiber in kale is known to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Iron, magnesium, vitamin E, folate, and phosphorous are among the complement of vital minerals found in kale.
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Massaged Kale Salad with Cranberries
Soak the cranberries:
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries go for unsweetened if you can find them
- 3 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Make the salad:
- 8 oz Tuscan kale de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons
- ½ cup sunflower seeds toasted
- 2-3 green onions finely sliced
- 2 tablespoon fresh dill minced
- 4 oz feta crumbled
- 1 ½ cups quinoa from ½ cup uncooked quinoa
For the dressing:
- 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar reserved from the soaked cranberries
- 2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine the dried cranberries with 3 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Set aside so the cranberries can plump up while you're preparing the rest of the salad.
- In a small pan over medium heat, toast the sunflower seeds. Toss frequently until they're lightly golden and fragrant.
- Prepare the kale: Give it a good rinse, then pat dry and de-stem the leaves. You can cut the thick stems out with a sharp knife, or hold the base of the stem in one hand and pull the leaf from it with the other. Stack the de-stemmed leaves on top of one another, and using a very sharp knife, slice them into very thin ribbons. Place into a large bowl.
- Drain the cranberries, reserving the liquid to use in the dressing.
- In a small bowl whisk together 1 ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar (drained from the cranberries), olive oil, grainy mustard, smooth Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
- Place the kale ribbons in a large bowl. Add a little bit of dressing and use your fingers to massage it into the kale until tender, approximately 30 seconds.
- Add the with sunflower seeds, cranberries, smoked feta, dill, green onions, and quinoa (if using). Pour the remaining dressing over the salad, and give everything a good toss.
- Let the salad stand for about 10 minutes before serving - a longer stint in the fridge is perfectly fine.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only
This recipe was originally published April 17, 2014. It was retested, rephotographed, and updated April 24, 2019. Last edited and updated April 27, 2021.
This looks vegan!!
The cheese is not vegan.
Ok, but if you used plant based cheese?
I finally massaged my kale ???? I didn’t have all the goodies to add but I did make the dressing and give it a good rubdown and it truly did soften the kale quite a bit. Kids ate it and anything I can do to help them eat dark leafy greens I’ll do.
It's an unfair world we live in where kale gets more frequent massages than I do, but what are you gonna do?
I thought this was tasty but I was a little disappointed in the end quantity it made. For 6 servings I thought I'd get more bang for my time. Next time I'll double the greens at least. I ended up using dried cherries, a combo of almonds and sunflower seeds, pumpkin seed oil, freekeh instead of quinoa and goat cheese instead of smoked feta. It was good that I was able to use up some of my dill, which has been growing like a weed. So, in retrospect I just used this as an inspiration, but I think it's really versatile for what you have and can access. I like the idea of a salad that will keep well for several days, so I'll probably be making some version again!
Hey Claire, thanks for the feedback! It may be more realistic to say that it serves 6 as a side and 4 as a main, so I'll adjust the recipe card accordingly. Still glad you enjoyed the flavours and found some inspiration in this!
I’ve just planted a new crop of kale and it’s the one green that the dear didn’t eat from my winter garden. This salad is delicious, even for people who don’t care for kale.. it’s a great thing to take to a pot luck- no last minute fussing.
Even without the big up from you (and a big thank you, btw) I would be singing this recipe's praises. I mean, for goodness sake, smoked feta. YES PLEASE. I am away just now but trust me this is getting made asap upon return. Right now, I am sipping a gin and tonic and nibbling some cheese from one of Scotland's finest cheese shops (didn't spot any smoked feta but they specialise in British cheeses - Mellis's) and some rough and crumbly Scottish oatcakes made by a small company just down the road. The only thing that would make this better is if you personally delivered this very salad. True. Or if Ryan Gosling did 😉
Kellie, let's make it happen. I'll bring the kale salad, you bring your chickpea pakoras, and the Gos can just bring himself 😉
Looks very healthy!
It is very healthy, but also very delicious!
Chez @ Chez Moi
I have never heard of smoked feta but I can just imagine the flavour. I bet it absolutely makes this salad
It's the first time I've used it, but I've found it in a few shops around the city, so it can't be all that rare. It's totally my new favourite thing!
This salad sound delicious especially now that I am a kale salad convert! I am definitely going to see if I can find some smoked feta at the store. Very interesting!!!
I hope you can find some! I still think of your kale salad with pickled pumpkin! Smoked feta is a real game changer, but I have a thing for any smoked cheese so I'm biased in that direction.
You know I rarely use kale in salad, as I worry it may become bitter. However, your pairing with salty, smoked feta is so perfectly in harmony with the kale. Your pic is lovely too x
Thanks Deena. The smoked feta really is incredible. I hope you can get your hands on some!