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Tuscan Kale Salad

January 16, 2014

Tuscan Kale SaladPin it!

I know what you’re thinking: ugh, another raw kale salad? That’s so 2012; I’ll just skip over this post and no one will be the wiser.

But don’t skip this post! I swear this is the best way to eat raw kale, and I bet 99% of you would thoroughly enjoy this salad. A bold claim, I know.

This is my new favorite winter salad. I think I’ve made it about seven times in the past few weeks.

Shredding kale for Tuscan Kale Salad

After all the Christmas-y cookies and quick breads, and after all the nights it’s been too chilly to find cold salads appealing—and we’ve gone the noodles/rice/soup + bread route instead—it just feels right to return to fresh greens! (Even if we’re still enjoying those greens as a side dish to our breadier entrees.)

Maybe that’s a January cliché, but I don’t care; it’s true that it’s still too dark and cold in the evenings to be satisfied—or even tempted—by a salad, but this is a salad that can be assembled in advance and packed up for lunch the next day, unlike its counterparts with wimpier lettuce leaves. And I’m always up for a salad around lunchtime, even if my exhausted evening self would rather turn to something more comforting or convenient.

Making Tuscan Kale SaladPin it!

This recipe is inspired by a salad I’ve gotten to eat a few times now at a wonderful restaurant called Big Sky Cafe, up the coast a little in San Luis Obispo, California.

Tuscan Kale (also known as Lacinato Kale or Dinosaur Kale)

On my first visit there, the promise of an accompanying Tuscan kale salad helped convince me to order the lobster mac & cheese—not that I’d ever need much convincing to order something like lobster OR mac & cheese, let alone LOBSTER MAC & CHEESE; maybe I somehow felt that such a decadent meal would be nicely balanced out by the kale salad… little did I know this kale salad would turn out to be quite a temptation of its own.

Making Tuscan Kale Salad with parmesan, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts.

The dish was delicious and perfect, except for one thing: the giant diner-sized plate of about three servings-worth of mac & cheese was accompanied by about three BITES of kale salad! I’m not kidding—I wish I had a photo to share with you; it was one of the most ridiculous ratios of food I’ve ever seen on one plate.

I know you’d think anyone who would order lobster mac & cheese would not be complaining about the ratio unless the salad was crowding out the pasta, but I could not get enough of that salad.

Tuscan Kale SaladPin it!

It’s what’s brought me back to Big Sky Cafe on every subsequent visit to San Luis Obispo (where Paula and I now know to order an entire Tuscan kale salad, which comes in a much more reasonably sized portion, to share).

This recipe is as near an imitation of the restaurant’s as I could come up with, although I skipped adding bread crumbs; I don’t think it needs it.

Slicing kale for Tuscan Kale Salad

I’ve dabbled in “massaged” kale salads before, where you really need to take the time to massage the olive oil into the kale. The genius of this salad is that it’s nearly all in how you slice it: taking the time to cut the kale into thin ribbons means the leaves get partially broken down just from slicing them so finely, so you barely need to massage the kale at all to make it palatable.

Slicing kale for Tuscan Kale Salad

This shredded kale technique takes the massage time from up to 10 minutes down to 30 seconds. (As good as olive oil probably is for your skin, it’s still not that fun to be wrist-deep in kale and with oily fingers.)

Shredding kale for Tuscan Kale Salad

As far as I’m concerned, this cuts down the prep time in the perfect way, since I don’t mind the almost meditative chopping and slicing. I find the “massaging” step more annoying because I have to wash my hands right after, and I am such a frequent hand-washer in the kitchen that my hands always end up dry after I’ve been cooking a lot. (I must not be giving enough long olive oil massages to kale leaves…)

Making Tuscan Kale Salad

The citrus-laced kale is appealingly fresh and tangy, and makes for an incredibly versatile base for whatever sort of additional ingredients you see fit to toss in (I’ve given some suggestions below).

I also love that it keeps in the fridge for a few days, making it the perfect make-ahead salad—dressing and all! Who knew such a thing existed?!—to bring to parties or potlucks.

Making Tuscan Kale Salad

Paula and I love the touristy/beachy Central Coast area of Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and Pismo Beach; we’ve passed through it several times and gone there twice for little weekend getaways. Big Sky Cafe is always on our destination list. The three little cities are only 90 minutes north of Santa Barbara, but we don’t make it up there often enough, since my car’s so unreliable.

At least we no longer need to rent a car just to enjoy our own Tuscan kale salad!

Tuscan Kale SaladPin it!

Print this recipe. (PDF)


Tuscan Kale Salad
(Inspired by Big Sky Cafe in San Luis Obispo, CA.)

(Serves 4-6)

Active and Total time: 15-20 minutes

~ 1 bunch Tuscan / lacinato / dinosaur kale
~ 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
~ 1-2 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
~ 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
~ sea salt and black pepper, to taste
~ 2-3 Tbsp. sundried tomatoes, diced
~ 1/4 cup pine nuts
~ freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste
~ other ingredients, like chopped walnuts, halved grapes or cherry tomatoes, avocado, goat cheese or feta cheese, pomegranate seeds, etc.

How to make it:

1. Rinse the kale leaves well, then pat them dry, a few at a time, using a clean dish towel. Fold each leaf in half, then use a sharp knife to cut out the thick part of the stem from the back of the leaf. Once you’ve de-stemmed about a third of the leaves, stack them and roll them tightly together, then—starting with the tops of the leaves—slice the roll of leaves crosswise into very thin ribbons. Toss the ribbons into a medium bowl, and repeat with the remaining kale leaves.

Making Tuscan Kale Salad           Making Tuscan Kale Salad

2. Add 1 Tbsp. of olive oil to the bowl of kale ribbons, and use your hands to massage it into the kale for about 30 seconds. Add up to another tablespoon of olive oil, if desired.

Making Tuscan Kale SaladDiced sundried tomatoes for Tuscan Kale Salad

3. Drizzle the salad with the lemon juice and vinegar, using spoons to mix it all together, and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss in desired ingredients, such as diced sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, and parmesan, then stir them into the salad. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to several days, then bring to room temperature to serve. It’s best on the first day or two.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Tuscan Kale SaladPin it!

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53 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2014 7:58 am

    I ALWAYS buy kale and it ALWAYS (well, almost) just wilts in my fridge before I use it. This is so beautiful. I’ve gotta try that finely sliced technique and make a big make-ahead salad. It just might be the answer to my kale-problems.

    • January 16, 2014 8:15 am

      Oh, I feel your pain, because that’s definitely happened to me before. (Usually when my kale is getting close to wilty, or it’s wilty but still edible, then I know it’s time to make this.)

      Anyway, yes! I hope this salad is the answer to your kale problems! If you have time, maybe slice it all up the second you get home from grocery shopping, then just stick this salad in the fridge and enjoy it for the next few days. :)

  2. January 16, 2014 8:15 am

    i am such a fan of kale, i don’t care that it’s so passe now (what’s the veggie of the moment, brussel sprouts?). i’ve taken to buying baby kale, which luckily for me is available organic at my local market, though truth be told, i will eat any kind of kale, grown or baby. i really like the addition of the a citrus dressing, we typically make a tahini based dressing when we eat it raw.

    • January 16, 2014 8:18 am

      I am, too! And I don’t care about that either! :)

      (Also, I keep re-trying brussels sprouts to see if I like them yet, and unfortunately… still nope.)

      I haven’t seen much baby kale at the stores/farmer’s market stands around here, but I like that stuff too, and it works especially well raw in salads. I’ll have to try a tahini-based dressing on my next kale salad; that sounds soooo good, too!

  3. January 16, 2014 8:46 am

    salads <3 because i don't eat healthy dinners, but try to make up by eating healthier lunches with salads :) glad you shared!!

  4. January 16, 2014 9:08 am

    My mouth is watering.

  5. January 16, 2014 9:39 am

    This looks great! It’s on my list of recipes to try next week.

  6. January 16, 2014 10:34 am

    I love kale but you’re right, I was about to bypass this particular post – smart intro, madam! It looks delicious and I’m definitely going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

    • January 16, 2014 10:37 am

      Wow, my intro actually worked?! I was a little bit worried that it would lead people to think “ugh, another post that begins with ‘ugh, another raw kale salad? … But don’t skip this post! This one is special!’ … How special could it be?” :)

      But I am ever so happy to hear that as a fellow kale-lover, you actually read it, and also plan to give it a try! Wonderful! I really hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.

  7. January 16, 2014 10:46 am

    All I have to say is 2012 kale, meet the new 2014 kale! I’d never skip over a post that held such a lovely recipe!! This looks delicious… such a perfect combination of ingredients that are made for each other! I’ll be making this one for sure.. :-)

  8. January 16, 2014 11:57 am

    This looks delicious! I’ll take any ideas on incorporating healthy greens into my diet that also taste good. So if you roll up the kale, that’s how you get it into such thin slices…i see! I love sundried tomatoes. I also like throwing in a little apple for acidity and cranberries.

    • January 23, 2014 9:52 am

      Thanks, Amanda! Yes, just since last week when I posted this recipe, Paula’s become obsessed with kale salads that have walnuts, goat cheese, and dried cranberries—I forgot to include cranberries on my list of suggestions in the post.

      Adding sliced apples is a wonderful idea, too! I almost never remember to try putting apples on my salads at home, even though I’ve definitely enjoyed things like that out at restaurants… now I really want to try that on my next kale salad.

  9. January 16, 2014 12:24 pm

    This salad looks very yum! I think it would be best accompanied with something- it is definitely hard to be in the mood for salads when you are bundled up in jackets and beanies :) Lobster mac n cheese sounds amazing too!!

    • January 23, 2014 9:55 am

      Thanks! Yes, it’s definitely best as an accompaniment for something else / a main dish / something warm (like lobster mac & cheese! …or pretty much anything!).

      Although I could also probably eat enough of this to fill me up (especially if I added enough nuts/cheese/etc. to the salad) but I prefer to spread it out and eat just a little over several days. That way—for those few days at least—even my laziness and coldness doesn’t get in the way of me eating something green with every meal!

      • January 26, 2014 7:52 am

        That is a good call! :) I try to at least include spinach in my meals since I typically have on hand. I want to make Kale soup soon too!

  10. January 16, 2014 1:07 pm

    Just last week a friend brought lunch in for us and included the most wonderful kale salad I have ever had. I am not over kale salads in the least bit and I’ll be trying your salad for sure. Like the thinly slicing the kale rather than massaging. Looks great!

    • January 23, 2014 9:58 am

      I’m so glad to hear that so many people are with me on not being over kale salads yet. :)

      I am also a total convert to the thinly sliced method versus the excessive massaging, though if you look above, I do suggest massaging the olive oil into the kale ribbons for at least a few seconds—really 30 seconds at the *most*—but since the shredding does break down the leaves a bit, it probably wouldn’t be too big of a deal to skip it (and then just whisk together the dressing ingredients before drizzling them over, so the leaves all get dressed evenly).

  11. January 16, 2014 4:10 pm

    What a great idea! I’ve had something similar with the addition of golden raisins and it was HEAVEN.

    • January 23, 2014 9:58 am

      Thanks! Oo, golden raisins definitely bring back childhood memories for me… And another great addition I forgot to mention in the recipe above: dried cranberries.

  12. January 16, 2014 7:12 pm

    Excellent post that any kale fan should read! The photographs are wonderful.

  13. January 16, 2014 8:31 pm

    Thank you for this recipe! I can never get enough of Kale – because it’s one of the most powerful Superfoods!! Love that you cut it so finely, I can see it really helps the taste, I also read about “massaging”, but never understood how to do that, so this is a great tip to get around it ;-) Really like the combination with tomato and pine nuts too, I made once a similar one, with dried tomato, olives and mozzarella. Lastly, such beautiful pictures as always!!! Super appetizing and inspiring – thanks so much for sharing ;-)

    • January 23, 2014 10:01 am

      Thank you so much, Sylvia! I can never get enough kale either—it’s just a bonus for me that it happens to be a superfood! :)

      Your version with dried tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella sounds awesome. I should try using mozzarella instead of parmesan on my kale salads one of these days…

  14. January 16, 2014 8:45 pm

    I’ve made very similar salads before! Massaging is really where it’s at. This sounds delicious and I’m with you–I’d be pissed at that mac-and-cheese-to-salad ratio too! Good thing yours is probably even better.

    • January 23, 2014 10:04 am

      Thanks, Danguole! I swear, I didn’t even feel like I had the right to be pissed or say anything about that ratio, since it’d seem like I was being ungrateful about my extremely generous portion of LOBSTER MAC & CHEESE (apparently I can’t write that without using all caps…), so instead of righteous indignation I felt something more like crushing disappointment, especially once I ate one of those three bites and tasted how good the salad was. I can’t believe it took me so long to start reproducing it at home.

  15. January 16, 2014 10:10 pm

    I love kale. Definitely don’t think that it’s been overdone, the more the better! This is a great tutorial on preparing it… love the classic mediterranean flavours :) P.S what’s dinosaur kale?! I’ve never heard of it!

    • January 23, 2014 10:05 am

      Thanks, Laura! I’m glad you agree: the more kale, the merrier. :)

      Dinosaur kale is just another name for Tuscan kale or lacinato kale—they’re all the same thing, as far as I know.

  16. Anneli permalink
    January 17, 2014 4:58 am

    Ok thanks for this recipe. I was just talking to a colleague about growing some kale this year because we juice with it and I like adding it to soups. Now I’ll definitely try this salad… maybe even tonight! Thanks again!

  17. January 18, 2014 1:56 pm

    Oh Alison, I did laugh at your intro because that’s exactly what I thought…but scrolling down I do think this is an absolutely yummy, balanced and versatile recipe xx

    • January 23, 2014 10:07 am

      Haha, thanks Deena. I’m glad I could hook you into continuing to read past the first two sentences. It’s definitely a versatile recipe, that I’ll always come back to.

  18. January 18, 2014 5:31 pm

    I’ve been to Big Sky Café – it’s great! An I’m certainly a fan of kale salads, but I’ve never used dino kale to make one. I’ll be trying this for sure! Celeste :)

    • January 23, 2014 10:07 am

      Awesome! Yes, I love Big Sky Café so much—I really wish we had an equivalent (with that price range) in Santa Barbara. I’m glad to hear you’ll be trying this—hope you enjoy it!

  19. January 20, 2014 11:07 am

    A parent brought a raw kale salad to a luncheon once and I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I liked it. I cant remember what was in the salad but the ingredients made it super delicious. I can only remember that it had grapes.

    • January 23, 2014 10:09 am

      I really like adding halved red grapes to salads, especially if they have a rich cheese that goes well with the grapes, like goat cheese. That combination is good with walnuts, too, like I mentioned above.

      If you remember what other ingredients made that salad so delicious, let me know—I’m curious! :)

  20. January 21, 2014 5:29 pm

    Can’t wait to try this – I’m always looking for new ways to use the tuscan kale we grow in the backyard and I’ve given up on raw kale salads before because the massaging part is so tiresome. Thanks for the idea.

    • January 23, 2014 10:11 am

      Yay, I’m so glad to hear you plan to try this! I hope it gives you renewed faith in raw kale salads, since it cuts down on the massaging part so much.

      How awesome that you grow tuscan kale in your backyard—as an apartment-renter with a shady balcony and no dirt patch to call my own (not to mention a proven lack of a green thumb)—I have to admit, I’m a little jealous. :)

  21. January 27, 2014 11:41 am

    I do love kale and the fact that it’s super food I’m so happy to eat even more. :D I’ve never added sundried tomatoes to kale before. Now you make me curious to give this recipe a try!

    • February 4, 2014 11:02 pm

      Yes, I’m not the biggest fan of sundried tomatoes, because I usually prefer the fresh kind! Or slow-roasted tomatoes, or juicy cooked tomatoes… etc… :)

      But sundried tomatoes are actually really nice in this salad! (And like the kale, they keep really, if you make the salad ahead of time or save the leftovers in the fridge.)

  22. January 31, 2014 3:19 pm

    I make a kale salad very similar to this one! Your recipe looks so tastey. Maybe I’ll try it out for my work lunches next week. :)

    • February 4, 2014 11:04 pm

      Thanks, Cathy! I’m curious to hear what other ingredients you like to add to your kale salad. I cannot get enough of this recipe and all its variations. :)

      • February 5, 2014 7:28 am

        I love adding a little bit of quinoa, feta, and sometimes roasted butternut squash to my salads. It makes for a great wintertime salad combo. :)

      • February 5, 2014 8:53 am

        Oo, yum. I could see that combination being very tasty. I almost never make quinoa (vs. rice), even though I do keep some in my cabinets, but this would be a great way to use it! Thanks for the ideas. :)

  23. February 10, 2014 2:46 am

    Hello Allison, I love your recipe!!! I write in a natural lifestyle & food blog and I would like to mention your recipe (always with the source: you, and linking your post), could I?
    Your recipe is so delicious!!

    • February 13, 2014 10:08 am

      Hi! Yes, of course! Feel free to mention/share my recipes as long as you mention the source and add a link! I’d be honored if you did that. Thanks for asking! :)


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