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This Kale Crunch Salad with Apples, Cheddar, and Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette is so delicious and pairs well with a hearty, meaty-dish! This is actually the best kale salad that you’ll ever eat!
Lighten up a heavy winter recipe with a crisp, tasty salad, such as this one! While kale may be bitter, the sweet dressing and honey crisp apples give it an addictive quality.
You'll love this recipe because...
It’s unique - white cheddar isn’t paired with kale and sweet balsamic dressing very often, and I'm not sure why, it’s a fabulous combination!
It’s festive - this salad makes a great holiday side dish, it adds color to a holiday plate, and pairs well with a heavy, filling dish (perfect for the chilly months).
The kale is soft and flavorful - frankly, we all know kale isn’t known for its fantastic flavor on its own, BUT, it does have a fantastic texture and can absorb flavors and become totally enjoyable! If you chop the kale finely or use the blender or food processor, the kale will be tender, not tough. Additionally, adding a little dressing to the kale before you add the rest of the ingredients will add so much flavor.
Ingredients + substitutions
For the dressing:
- Olive oil: a good-tasting olive oil is key, as it’s the base for your dressing. Any neutral-tasting dressing will work in place of olive oil, but I suggest using avocado oil or rapeseed.
- Aged balsamic: aged balsamic vinegar is a good choice here because it’s full of sweet, rich flavor. Additionally, it’s thicker making it perfect for this dressing.
- Maple syrup: be sure to use pure maple syrup to sweeten the dressing.
- Cinnamon: this will add a warm, sweet, ever-so-slightly spicy element to your dressing.
- Italian seasoning: for a little extra flavor.
- Kosher salt: just a pinch, to balance out the acidic flavors.
For the salad:
- Red kale: red kale is also known as “Russian Red Kale”, is a little bit more colorful than curly kale (the common kind that you probably think of when you think of kale). You can use red kale or curly kale for this recipe, just be sure to remove the stems.
- Honey crisp apples: these apples taste the best, but they do brown quickly, for tips to keep them from browning see the FAQ section. You can swap the hone ycrisp apples for gala or ambrosia.
- Dried cranberries: for color, texture, sweetness, and flavor.
Pepitas: these are green pumpkin seeds. You can swap them for pine nuts if you’d like.
- Walnuts: chopped walnuts taste great and compliment the cheddar and balsamic. You can swap them for chopped pecans or candied pecans.
- White cheddar: white cheddar has a savory, nutty flavor, making it perfect to pair with the sweet balsamic and maple dressing. You can swap the white cheddar for parmesan.
How to make the Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette + Kale Salad (+ infographics)
See the infographic below for coordinating photos!
STEP 1: First, make the dressing by combining the olive oil, aged balsamic, maple syrup, cinnamon, Italian seasoning, and kosher salt in a mason jar. Shake it until it’s well combined. (Alternatively, you can simply whisk it together in a pyrex or small bowl).
STEP 2: Next, remove the stems from the kale and give it a few pulses in the food processor or blender (be careful, you’re not making a smoothie, you’re just chopping the kale to soften it up). Or just chop it. Add it to a large bowl.
STEP 3: Add 2 tablespoons of the dressing to the kale and massage it in with your hands.
STEP 4: Then add the sliced honey crisp apples, dried cranberries, pepitas, walnuts, and white cheddar.
STEP 5: Toss it all together and serve the dressing on the side.
Tips + tricks
- Process the kale - add the kale (after you’ve removed the stems, to your blender or food processor and pulse it a few times. It gets the kale chopped fine and it softens it quite a bit making it much more palatable.
- Massage the kale - add a couple of tablespoons of dressing to the kale and massage it with your hands. This helps to soften the kale as well as gives it a good coating of the dressing and marinades it a little before serving. ***If you’re making this salad ahead of time, do not do this ahead of time, do this right before serving or else you risk having a soggy salad.
- Use aged balsamic - be sure to use a good, aged balsamic vinegar for the dressing. Balsamic vinegars really range in flavor, just be sure to use one that you like!
- Parmesan Apple Kale Salad - just swap the cheddar for shaved Parmesan and you’re all set.
- Kale Pear Salad - you could easily swap the apples for pears, any pear will work, but I’d suggest using a red dan ju for awesome results.
- Kale Candied Pecan Salad - swap the walnuts for candied pecans, and if you go this route, I also suggest using goat cheese or feta rather than cheddar.
How do you keep sliced apples from getting brown?
Mix together 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice and 2 tbsp of cold water. Toss the apples with this solution and this should keep them from getting overly brown for a few hours. This works if you’re making this salad the morning before a party.
Can you make this salad ahead of time?
Actually, no, I don’t recommend doing that. The kale will get soggy and the apples will get brown. However, you can make the dressing 3 days in advance and keep it in the fridge. Additionally, you can pre-chop your walnuts and pre-measure your ingredients in order to make the salad quicker to assemble.
Kale Crunch Salad with Apples, Cheddar, and Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
FOR THE MAPLE BALSAMIC
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup aged balsamic
- 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
- ½ tsp cinnamon *see notes
- ¼ tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch kosher salt
FOR THE SALAD
- 5 cups red kale chopped
- 2 honey crisp apples sliced or julienned
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup pepitas
- ¼ cup walnuts chopped
- ¼ cup white cheddar shaved or grated *see notes
- First, make the dressing by combining the olive oil, aged balsamic, maple syrup, cinnamon, Italian seasoning, and kosher salt in a mason jar. Shake it until it’s well combined. (Alternatively, you can simply whisk it together in a pyrex or small bowl).
- Next, remove the stems from the kale and give it a few pulses in the food processor or blender (be careful, you’re not making a smoothie, you’re just chopping the kale to soften it up). Or just chop it. Add it to a large bowl.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the dressing to the kale and massage it in with your hands.
- Then add the sliced honey crisp apples, dried cranberries, pepitas, walnuts, and white cheddar.
- 5: Toss it all together and serve the dressing on the side.