Harvest kale salad is a healthy recipe that’s perfect for winter and fall. Kale is massaged with a tangy lemon vinaigrette, then topped with crunchy apples, juicy pomegranates, and protein-packed quinoa for tons of flavor and texture in every bite.
What do you eat when grilling season is over but it’s not quite cold enough to tuck into a bowl of soup or chili every night? Sheet pan meals are always a great option, but hearty winter salads piled high with tasty goodies also do the trick!
Swapping in massaged kale for more delicate lettuce blends is a great way to make salads feel substantial enough for cooler weather. Kale also holds up really well under all sorts of toppings, so you can really go to town with all of your favorite harvest flavors – form roasted butternut squash to pickled carrots.
Ingredients for quinoa and kale salad
For this harvest-inspired quinoa and kale salad, I grabbed some of my favorite late fall ingredients:
- Quinoa. I love adding a giant scoop of quinoa to this massaged kale salad. It adds protein to make the salad filling and texture to keep things interesting. Tip: Be sure to rinse your quinoa well before cooking it. This seed has a bitter coating on it to deter birds and other animals from eating it in the wild. Many brands do this step for you, but it never hurts to give it a good rinse just to be sure there’s none left behind.
- Apple. Nothing says fall like a crisp, juicy apple! Any variety will do. Gala apples are my favorite because they tend to be on the sweeter side, but honeycrisp or red delicious apples also work particularly well in this recipe.
- Pomegranate Arils. I LOVE the juicy, sweet flavor of pomegranate, and it goes so well with kale! Plus they look so pretty.
- Red onion. Thinly sliced red onion adds a little bite to this salad. If you’re not a fan of raw onion you can leave it out — or try adding pickled onion instead!
- Feta cheese. Because let’s face it, everything is better with cheese! Feta adds a pop of salty flavor and a creamy texture that really rounds things out.
- Lemon Vinaigrette. Last, but certainly not least, my favorite lemon vinaigrette. More about that below!
How to make lemon vinaigrette
This super simple lemon vinaigrette is one of my all time favorite homemade salad dressings. It has a bright citrus flavor that goes well with so many different salads, and a drizzle of honey for a kiss of sweetness.
To make it, add lemon juice, olive oil, honey, and garlic to a small dish and whisk to combine. That’s all there is to it!
Massaging the dressing into the kale before adding your toppings serves a few purposes. Massaging kale with a combination of salt, fat, and acid helps it break down, so it’s softer and more tender. It also enhances the flavor of the kale while taking away some of it’s natural bitterness, so it’s much nicer to eat!
Do I really need to massage the kale?
I know, this seems like a fussy step and you might be tempted to skip it. Please don’t. It really tones down the bitterness of the kale, and lets it other flavors shine. Chances are if you think you don’t like kale, it’s just because you’ve never had it massaged before!
If you really don’t want to do this for whatever reason, I recommend using baby kale, which is more tender and less bitter by nature, instead of mature kale.
What’s the best way to remove pomegranate seeds?
The easiest way to deal with this is to go ahead and buy just the seeds (also known as arils). These come refrigerated and can usually be found in small containers in the produce section.
If you prefer using a whole pomegranate, this post shows my personal favorite way of breaking into it without making a colossal mess.
Can kale salad be made ahead?
Yes! Since kale is so hearty, it’s a great candidate for making ahead and won’t wilt or break down the way lettuce salads will.
It’s also a great candidate for using in mason jar salads. To make it in a mason jar, layer the pomegranate in the bottom of your jar, then top with apples, onion, quinoa, and massaged kale. That way, the kale will be on the bottom when you pour it onto a plate. Prepared this way, the salad will keep well in the refrigerator for about 3 days.