Kale is one of my favorite foods, and I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy it! My current obsession is this Kale Crunch Salad. It’s got tender massaged kale, crisp fresh cabbage, and a maple dijon vinaigrette that’s the perfect balance of sweet, tangy, and savory. Top it all off with toasted almonds for a super satisfying crunch.
One bunch of curly kale makes a huge bowl of this salad, and I can honestly eat the entire thing over the course of a day — it’s that delicious. Quite often I make it as an easy side to balance out a heavier main course for dinner (like a creamy pasta or a hearty chowder). But it can also be paired with a protein (like some grilled tofu or vegan chicken) and a slice of crusty bread to serve as a balanced lunch or dinner.
This recipe is inspired by a popular salad served at Chick-Fil-A. I’ve never personally tried it (I’ve actually never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A), but I was inspired to create my own copycat recipe after seeing people rave about it on social media! Based on the description on their website, this is very similar to their Kale Crunch Salad.
Ingredients for Kale Crunch Salad
- Curly kale. The base of our salad. I use 1 bunch of curly kale, which generally yields about 10 cups (very loosely packed) once de-stemmed and chopped. Bunches of Tuscan/lacinato kale tend to yield a bit less volume, so you may need extra if you make that substitution.
- Cabbage. Thinly sliced, this adds extra crunch to the recipe and extra nutrients. You can use green or red cabbage — red tastes slightly more peppery and will add a nice beautiful pop of color, but they are more or less interchangeable.
- Scallions. Optional, but I always like to add some kind of allium into my salad bases, whether that’s scallions or paper-thin red onion slices. It boosts the savory factor and balances out the sweetness of the dressing.
- Sliced & toasted almonds. Buy them toasted, or quickly toast them in a pan over medium-high heat on the stove. It only takes a few minutes. Feel free to substitute in a different type of toasted nut or seed (I love adding roasted sunflower seeds). These add extra “crunch” to this Kale Crunch Salad.
- Apple cider vinegar. I’m a big fan of apple cider vinegar with mustard and maple. The combo is especially good in autumnal dressings and marinades. It contributes sweetness and acidity, and it will help to tenderize the kale.
- Dijon mustard. The peppery mustard interacts beautifully with the sweetness from the other dressing ingredients. You could substitute in a good whole grain mustard if you don’t have any Dijon on hand.
- Maple syrup. Adds sweetness and a comforting autumnal flavor. If you aren’t the biggest fan of sweet-and-savory dressings, reduce this to about 1 teaspoon — that’s enough to round out the flavors in the dressing without the maple flavor being too pronounced.
How to Make Kale Crunch Salad
Kale Crunch Salad is ridiculously easy to make! Make sure to give your curly kale a thorough rinse first, then remove the rough stalks and give it a chop. If you’re short on time, you can buy pre-cut and washed kale at the supermarket.
I’m a big fan of using a salad spinner to remove all the extra water from the surface of the kale. I always thought this was another gimmicky gadget that would collect dust in my kitchen, but I use it multiple times a week since we are big salad lovers in this home! It really works to keep greens fresher longer, and to avoid a soggy salad with extra liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Starting out with fully dry kale also allows the dressing to cling to it better, so if you don’t have a salad spinner, I recommend patting it dry with a clean, lint-free kitchen towel.
Mix the dressing ingredients, either whisking them together in a bowl, or my preferred method: shaking it all up in a sealed jar. (I love saving Bonne Maman jam jars for exactly this purpose. A mason jar would also work!) Then drizzle all of the dressing over the kale and massage it in with your hands.
Why Massage Kale?
I think people sometimes hear the phrase “massaged kale” and assume the process is super high-maintenance, but I promise it’s not! It takes just a few extra minutes and a tiiiiiny bit of elbow grease, and it transforms the flavor and texture of kale from tough and bitter to tender and flavorful.
I also find it makes it easier to digest, because the acidity of the vinegar and lemon juice start to break down the fiber. Get in there and massage firmly until the kale becomes darker, shinier, and shrinks considerably in volume.
Finish up the Salad
Now simply toss in the shredded cabbage, scallions, and any other add-ins you might like: chopped apple, dried cranberries, shredded carrots, etc. I like to save the toasted almonds till right when I’m about to enjoy the salad so that they stay nice and crunchy.
Make this Salad More Substantial
As mentioned earlier, if I want to make this salad into a more satisfying lunch or dinner, I love to serve it with a side of crusty bread (usually homemade toasted sourdough) and add an extra source of plant-based protein. There are many options!
- Tofu or meat substitute: My go-to is a simple grilled tofu. A vegan chicken substitute like the kind from Daring is another great option.
- Crispy chickpeas: Another favorite way to boost the protein content of a salad is to whip up a batch of crispy chickpeas in the oven or air fryer. These are a great alternative to croutons, adding a satisfying crunch and making a dish more nutritious and satiating.
- Grains or legumes: Add a serving of grains (like cooked farro or quinoa) or lentils to the salad.
- Extra nuts & seeds: Add in an extra handful of toasted nuts or sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are rich in healthy fats and protein and will add even more crunch to your Kale Crunch Salad.
How to Store Leftover Kale Crunch Salad
Cabbage and kale are quite hearty, and they hold up well once they’ve been tossed in the dressing. Unlike lettuce or spinach, they won’t release much extra moisture or result in soggy leftovers. I generally make a big batch of this salad and keep the dressed kale and cabbage blend in my fridge, in an airtight container, for 3-4 days. If anything, the extra time “marinating” in the dressing makes the greens even more tender and flavorful.
I recommend storing the toasted almonds separately, in an airtight container, so they stay nice and crunchy. Just sprinkle them on top of the salad when you’re ready to serve it!
Additionally, if you’ve added in any fresh fruit like apples or pears, they may oxidize a little as leftovers, but they should still taste delicious.
Kale Crunch Salad
- cutting board and knife
- large mixing bowl
- skillet to toast nuts
- 1 bunch curly kale stalks removed, thinly sliced (about 8-10 loosely packed cups)
- 2 cups shredded red or green cabbage
- 1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds
Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- pepper to preference
- chopped apple
- dried cranberries
- vegan feta cheese or parmesan we like Follow Your Heart, Trader Joe's, or Violife
- shredded carrots
- sliced green onions
- Whisk together all ingredients for dressing. (Or add ingredients to a jar with a lid and shake to emulsify.)
- Add kale to a large bowl. Add in the dressing and massage firmly for 3-5 minutes, until the kale has softened and shrunk considerably in volume.
- Toss in the shredded cabbage and green onions. The salad can be served immediately, or it can be marinated for several hours or even overnight and the greens will continue to tenderize. Top with sliced toasted almonds and any other optional add-ins when ready to serve.