If you’ve ever eaten a kale salad—knowing how incredibly good it is for you—and felt like you were essentially eating a pile of grass, that may be because it wasn’t prepared the right way. Yes, there’s actually a right way, and it makes a huge difference in terms of flavor and edibility. So we tapped nutritionist Heather Bauer, founder of Bestowed, and nutritionist Keri Glassman, author of “Slim, Calm, Sexy Diet: 365 Proven Food Strategies for Mind/Body Bliss,” for their top tips on making a stellar and totally addictive kale salad.
1. Choose the right type of kale. There are two types of kale usually found at the food store: The first is curly kale, which has a grassy taste and is so fibrous and hard to chew that it’s not great for salads. The second kind is lacinato kale—also called tuscan, cavolo and dinosaur kale—which is best in salads because it’s a little sweeter to taste, notes Bauer. And even though you don’t want to eat the rib, which is the stalk that runs through the middle, it is actually edible in lacinato kale.
2. Cut the kale correctly. First, rinse the kale and let it dry on paper towels or use a salad spinner. To cut: “I always cut the rib out first, and then I chop the kale into fine pieces,” says Bauer.
3. Select ingredients that compliment kale’s flavor. Certain flavors tend to work better with kale, such as strong cheeses, fruits and creamy textures. Try kale with strawberries and avocado; a kale Caesar; Greek kale salad with tomato, feta and olives; kale mixed with Pecorino, raisins and almonds; or kale mixed into any quinoa salad.
4. Choose the right salad dressing. Certain dressings are destined to pair well with kale, including olive oil and lemon; any citrus dressing; balsamic vinaigrette (good on cold and warm kale salads), creamy Caesar or creamy lemon tahini, according to Bauer.
5. Prep the leaves to make the salad dressing stick. Unlike regular salad lettuce, kale is a hearty leaf that doesn’t absorb salad dressing easily. “Kale leaves actually have a waxy coating to protect them from rain,” notes Bauer, “but it works to also protect them from dressing so there’s a little trick you can do to prep the leaves: About 30 minutes prior to dressing your salad, add a little olive oil and salt—it helps remove the waxy coating. You may need to add a little more dressing then you traditionally use, but I find when I do the olive oil trick or dress the salad earlier in the day or the previous day, it’s not an issue.” In fact, Glassman cautions about going overboard on salad dressing: “Dressings are an easy way to turn a healthy salad into a diet disaster,” she notes. “They can be high in calories and often loaded with sugar, so it’s best to stick to a simple 1-2 tablespoons—max—with any dressing.”
6. Give kale a massage. Instead of tossing the salad with tongs like you do normally, massage or mix the salad and dressing together with your hands. “If you’re not a fan of kale’s thick crunchiness, you can ‘massage’ the leaves to become more supple,” suggests Glassman. “It’s a personal preference. I’ve learned to love the toughness of kale and find it adds a perfect crunchiness when chopped for a salad. As far as the dressing, add it in any way you like. It won’t make a difference if you drizzle and toss or massage it in, the flavors will be the same—but massaging it in might spread the wealth a little more evenly.”And voila! You’ve got the perfect kale salad.