Easy Massaged Kale Salad (15 Minutes!)

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Platter of Massaged Kale Salad topped with Crispy Baked Chickpeas and tahini dressing

If you’ve ever wondered why some people suggest massaging kale before eating it, you’ve come to the right place.

We’re here to share the how and why of massaging kale, plus our go-to kale salad for hosting. Let’s do this!

Kale, tahini, chickpeas, and other ingredients for making our Easy Massaged Kale Salad

This 15-minute, 6-ingredient salad starts with the kale — our favorite variety being curly. Here’s why:

Best Kale for Massaged Kale Salad

Because some kale varieties are more delicate than others, we suggest using curly kale for massaging because it’s quite hearty, fibrous, and benefits from a good massage.

Lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur or Tuscan kale) can be a bit too tender and delicate in our experience, making it not as ideal for massaging.

That being said, lacinato can still be massaged, we just prefer curly!

Removing the stems from kale to make our Easy Massaged Kale Salad recipe

We love using this quick and simple method for removing the greens from the stem: Simply grab the bottom, stalky end of the stem and run your other hand upward along the stem using a tight hold to remove the greens.

When you do this, the greens break off, usually taking the top 1/2 or 2/3 of the stem with it. That’s okay! We actually love the texture the stem provides, just not the bulkier, larger portion of the stem as it can be quite fibrous and difficult to chew. (The discarded stem can either be composted or used to make DIY vegetable broth.)

Next, give your kale a chop and add it to a mixing or serving bowl.

Using a large knife to chop kale for our Massaged Kale Salad recipe

Why Massage Kale?

The reason it’s often recommended to massage kale is simple: Kale is quite tough and fibrous and can be difficult to chew compared to other greens like romaine lettuce or spinach.

By massaging it for as little as 2-3 minutes with a little oil and/or lemon juice, it becomes more tender, making it easier to chew and digest.

The other reason is to infuse the kale with more flavor before the dressing is added.

Massaging kale on a large platter

How to Massage Kale

Our go-to method: Add chopped kale to a large bowl and top with lemon juice and olive oil. Use clean hands to massage for about 3 minutes to soften the leaves and infuse the leaves with the oil and lemon. A pinch of salt added near the end of massaging adds even more flavor.

You’ll notice in the photo below that by the end of massaging the kale gets quite glossy and is slightly reduced in volume. That’s exactly what you’re going for.

Massaging kale on a large platter

Best Dressing for Kale Salad

In all of our testing, we haven’t found a better dressing for kale than tahini! It’s a match made in salad heaven. See our favorites here:

Using a spoon to stir a bowl of tahini dressing for kale salad

We hope you LOVE this salad! It’s:

  • Quick & easy
  • Hearty
  • Satisfying
  • Customizable
  • Citrusy
  • & Delicious

This would make the perfect side to just about any main, especially our Easy Grillable Veggie Burgers, Sweet Potato Lasagna, or My Favorite Vegan Pizza! BONUS: We also find that it sautés nicely (even with the dressing and chickpeas) if you’re looking for a cooked version!

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If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

Pouring tahini dressing from a small pitcher onto kale salad

Easy Massaged Kale Salad (15 Minutes!)

Everything you need to know about massaged kale salads, plus a delicious, fast, and easy recipe for our go-to kale salad with tahini dressing! 15 minutes, 6 ingredients required.
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Pouring dressing over a massaged kale salad
5 from 11 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 4 (Servings)
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Grain-Free, Vegan
Freezer Friendly No
Does it keep? 3-4 Days

Ingredients

  • 2 large bundles curly kale*, large stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if avoiding oil, omit)
  • 1 healthy pinch sea salt

DRESSING

  • 1/3 cup tahini (see our Tahini Review!)
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 Tbsp maple syrup (or sub agave, or honey if not vegan)
  • 1 pinch sea salt (optional)
  • Water to thin (~3-6 Tbsp or 45-90 ml as original recipe is written)

TOPPINGS optional

Instructions

  • Once you’ve rinsed and dried your kale, run your hand along the stem to remove the green leaves from the stalky stem. You don’t have to remove the stem completely (we actually enjoy the top 2/3 in the salad), but be sure to compost or reserve the larger bottom stalks for DIY vegetable broth.
  • Stack your stalks of kale on top of each other and finely chop. No need to mince, just cut into manageable, bite-size pieces.
  • Add kale to a large mixing / serving bowl and top with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Then massage with clean hands for about 3 minutes. The point of massaging is to infuse the kale with the lemon juice and oil, and also to break down some of the tough, fibrous characteristics of kale. This makes it easier to chew and digest, and makes for a more tender salad. Season with salt, massage/toss once more, then set aside.
  • Next prepare the dressing by adding tahini, lemon juice, maple syrup, and salt (optional) to a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Then slowly add water until creamy and pourable. The mixture may seize up and thicken at first, but continue adding water a little at a time, whisking until creamy and smooth. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more lemon juice for acidity, maple syrup for sweetness, or salt to taste. Set aside. (Store leftover dressing in the refrigerator up to 5-7 days — sometimes longer.)
  • To serve, top with desired amount of dressing and crispy chickpeas (optional), toss, and serve. Leftovers keep covered in the refrigerator up to 3-4 days (not freezer friendly). We enjoy leftovers chilled, but also find that they sauté nicely (even with the dressing and chickpeas) if you’re looking for a cooked version.

Video

Notes

*We recommend using curly kale for massaged kale salads as the non-curly (a.k.a. lacinato / dinosaur / Tuscan variety) is more tender to begin with and doesn’t require as much massaging. It does work, we just prefer curly for this recipe.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with the lesser amount of maple syrup and without optional ingredients.
*Prep time does not include baking optional crispy chickpeas.

Nutrition (1 of 4 servings)

Serving: 4 servings Calories: 183 Carbohydrates: 10.8 g Protein: 6.9 g Fat: 14.4 g Saturated Fat: 2 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 5.16 g Monounsaturated Fat: 6.5 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 46 mg Potassium: 315 mg Fiber: 4.4 g Sugar: 4.4 g Vitamin A: 4013 IU Vitamin C: 53.89 mg Calcium: 81 mg Iron: 2.22 mg

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  1. Cheryl says

    This is my go-to kale salad. Massaging kale is really the only way to go for a kale salad (that’s not made with baby leaves). I agree that curly kale is best too.

    I go very light on the oil, salt, and use about a half of a lime per serving as I prefer limes to lemons. I don’t even bother with a dressing, since it’s already flavorful from the lime. It pairs nicely with a juicy fruit like strawberries and peaches, and something chewy like raisins.

  2. Nicki says

    Hi I am new to eating plant based and noticed alot of recipes using tahini all over the internet which I really really dislike lol what would be some substitutions you would recommend? I would love to try this salad but just in general if I saw a dish that called for tahini what would you use? Your website have been such a great resource so thanks a million!

  3. Courtney B says

    I’ve made this twice now. It’s so great to have on hand during these hot summer months. I wasn’t sure if I loved it at first, but found myself kind of addicted to this salad. The slight bitterness of the kale is complimented nicely by the rich tahini, acid of the lemon juice, and the subtle sweetness of maple syrup/agave. I like it alongside avocado toast (what up breakfast salad?!), or a slice of pizza or nachos to feel like I’m being healthy. Thanks for the recipe!

  4. Geoff says

    I’ve used a similar method to massage kale. I use lemon juice and avocado instead of oil. Depending on the amount of kale, I use 1/2 a lemon and a large avocado or 2 smaller ones. That will coat enough kale for 4 salads. Every person I’ve made it for, kale haters and carnivores alike loved the transition in the kale and went home with recipe.

    Really glad to see you ‘touch’ on it here!

    Thanks!

  5. Claire says

    I just massaged kale for the first time and feel like I’ve fledged as a hippie! Thanks for a delicious recipe! I appreciated that the dressing was really easy, too.

  6. Tajhae Barr says

    Great recipe, going to try tonight. Although, it’s common sense, you may want to consider adding to Cleanse your Kale (greens) prior to prepping.

    Thanks!

  7. Shaakira says

    What would you add to make this meal a dinner? Grilled chicken? Shrimp? I’m unsure and would love your opinion!

  8. Danica says

    Thank you so much for this recipe. I never had any idea what “massaging” make meant until I saw that photo of your hands actually doing it. I used to hate kale, but now I love it – now that I actually know how to prepare it. Five stars!

  9. Chintha Samarawickrema says

    Hi Dana, OMG! This recipe is absolutely delicious! Thank you so very much for this nutritional recipe! I’m on whole plant based due to an autoimmune issue, and it fits quite well with my diet. I cannot thank you enough!
    Chintha S.

  10. Sabine says

    Màde the salad for our Christmas dinner and it was delicious and easy to make. I didn’t use the chickpeas but added pecans.
    Wonderful dish.

  11. Madeeha Pitcher says

    Great recipe.
    Better dressing for kale? = Equal parts balsamic, pennut butter, dark soy sauce and maple syrup.

  12. Diane says

    Made this salad tonight…so delicious. It was my first time massaging the kale and it came out perfect. The dressing is so yummy too. Highly recommend. :)

  13. Jennifer says

    This looks wonderful! I was wondering if this would work using the bagged (already cut up) bags of Kale (from Trader Joes) unable to get to my Whole Foods to get it bundled… I’m wondering about the stems, I don’t want to cut the stems from every cut up piece in the bag! Do you have experience using the bagged kale? What would you suggest? I plan to take this to a party tomorrow and will report back of the success :)
    Thanks in advance for your response