The Perfect Cozy & Comforting Winter Kale Salad

Karen Patten

We have a neighborhood smoothie bar with a tiny fridge filled with amazing pre-made salads. They make  these salads each day in-house. Having failed at enjoying any kale salad I had ever tried my hand at making – I tried this winter kale salad with its awesome-sauce citrus vinaigrette on a whim. Instantly, I was transformed into the smitten kale kitten.

I was crazy for this salad like I had never loved a kale salad before. I knew the nutritional benefits of kale and I really had wanted to love it.

But it just hadn’t happened for me until this mind blowing kale salad! (Read further for the ultimate secret to #winning at preparing a fabulous kale salad!) This is my copy of a kale salad with citrus vinaigrette that satisfies each and every time I get it from my local smoothie bar or make it at home.

And, strangely enough, it makes me feel just as cozy as a bowl of soup.

It’s no secret that I love salads! They are the perfect delivery vehicle for all manner of delicious fruits and vegetables! But they can be decidedly summer-y.

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I fell in love with salads in the cooler months when a friend of mine made an amazing winter salad covering all the yummy salad fixin’s with slices of warm spicy grilled chicken. It was that combination of cool and crisp and warm and spicy that did me in. Think tacos.

And from there, I’ve branched out to find more satisfying winter salads – both warm and cool – that nurture my winter instinct to snuggle and hibernate. I particularly like the sweetness of the citrus vinaigrette that is such a great contrast to the earthy and slightly bitter flavor of the kale.

Benefits of Eating Kale

Remember when we were growing up and “kale” (we didn’t even know what to call it back then) was the stuff, along with curly parsley, that got stuffed under the main attraction on every party platter around?

Kale. What can I say? You’ve come a long way, baby! You’ve gone from inedible understudy to spotlight thief. The nutrient density of kale is phenomenal. It also provides key nutrients that can be difficult to find elsewhere.

Kale is a cruciferous veggie – related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and Brussels sprouts. One cup of raw kale for this amazing winter salad contains:

  • Vitamin: A: 206% of the DV (from beta-carotene) / Vitamin K: 684% of the DV / Vitamin C: 134% of the DV
  • What little fat kale contains is an omega 3 saturated fat known as ALA (remember: omega 3’s are the ones that most Americans are most deficient in)
  • Contains the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol. Each boasts heart protective, blood pressure lowering, anti-viral, anti-depressant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects. Quercetin also is beneficial in reducing the effects of seasonal allergies;

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  • Can help lower bad cholesterol;
  • Kale contains both sulforaphane, a substance that has been shown to help fight the formation of cancer at the molecular level;
  • Kale is a good source of both potassium and magnesium;

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What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse. It is an ancient grain believed by the Incas to increase the strength of their warriors. Among its many benefits, quinoa:

  • Is a complete protein – containing all nine amino essential amino acids (those which our body cannot produce on its own);
  • Contains almost twice as much fiber as most other grains. Fiber is necessary for relieving constipation.
  • Contains iron which is a mineral needed to maintain healthy red blood cells and increases brain function by increasing oxygen flow to the brain, iron aids in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, regulation of body temperature, enzyme activity and energy metabolism.
  • Contains lysine which is essential for tissue growth and repair.
  • Is rich in magnesium. It is estimated that at least half of Americans are magnesium deficient. Magnesium is necessary for over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. Magnesium also may reduce Type 2 diabetes by promoting healthy blood sugar control. Other health benefits of magnesium include transmission of nerve impulses, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production, and the formation of healthy bones and teeth.
  • Is high in vitamin B2 which improves energy metabolism within brain and muscle cells and helps create proper energy production in cells.
  • Is high in Manganese which is an antioxidant that helps to prevent mitochondrial damage during energy production.

(source 1)(source 2)

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The Secret To Kale Salad Perfection – It’s Weird But It Works!

So here’s the thing. When kale became all the rage – I tried to like it. I really did. I found great recipes and made it at home – at least half a dozen times. Yet, it always tasted like something I snatched off the ground and ate to survive in the wilderness without any provisions.

But when I went to a restaurant, or my favorite smoothie bar, their kale was amazing! So what was I missing?

After recounting my trials and tribulations with kale, I asked how they made theirs at the smoothie bar. And the guy there admits to me…there’s a secret to making kale good. And then he told me.

Guy: Massage.

Me: Huh? Yes, I could use a good massage. But…

Guy: No. Massage your kale.

Me: ummmmm…

Guy: Seriously. Once you have it cut, add some of the salad dressing. Get in there with your hands and massage the kale. Turns out:

Massaging the kale helps to break down the tough cell structure and gives the kale a softer texture and (some people feel) a gentler flavor, that’s more appealing in a lot of raw preparations like salads, and is supposedly easier to digest, too. (massaging kale)

So there you have it. The secret that you’ve been missing for your perfect winter salad with kale!

The Perfect Kale Salad for Winter

I always love a good salad. And we're so lucky that during the cooler months, we can still find delicious fresh ingredients to use - kale, cranberries, quinoa! I love this amazing craving quenching salad filled with nutrients!
Prep Time15 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: Salad
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients

Tangy Citrus Dressing Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp orange or tangerine juice, freshly squeezed if possible
  • zest of one orange, optional
  • 2 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp orange flower honey, other honey will be fine
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise
  • pink sea salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • red pepper flakes, to taste, optional
  • 1/4 c avocado oil, you can also use olive oil

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 c quinoa, cooked
  • 1 bunch fresh kale, center ribs removed
  • 2/3 c grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 c cucumber, 1/4" dice
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries - mine were sweetened
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds

Instructions

Instructions for Tangy Citrus Dressing

  • In a small mixing bowl, combine the orange / tangerine juice, orange zest, vinegar, mustard, and honey. 
  • Whisk to thoroughly combine.
  • Next add in mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using) and whisk to combine.
  • Slowly drizzle in the avocado or olive oil while whisking vigorously until the dressing has emulsified and all the mayonnaise "blobs" have become creamy.
  • Alternatively, you can add all ingredients into a blender and mix until the dressing is silky and emulsified.
  • At this stage, taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings as you wish. The best way to taste test your dressing is to dip a veggie in it - say, a slice of cucumber, piece of kale, or tomato. If you sample by dipping your finger in, most dressings will always taste overly strong.

Instructions for Assembling the Salad

  • Follow the instructions for your quinoa and go ahead and cook it. You'll want one cup of already cooked quinoa for this recipe.
  • Remove the kale leaves from either side of the tough center rib.
  • Once you've removed the tough ribs, make a stack of five to ten leaf halves and slice thinly across the leaf creating a fine shred.
  • Place the sliced kale into a large mixing bowl and add enough dressing to just barely coat the leaves.
  • You've waited for it and now it's time. MASSAGE that kale, girl!!! Get your hands in that bowl and massage the dressing into the kale. If nobody's watching, I love me a little KC & the Sunshine Band while I massage. Don't judge. 
  • How long to massage is somewhat subjective, but I massage my kale until I feel that it's texture has softened up a good bit. HINT: the more thinly you slice the kale, the less massaging it will need.
  • Now you can add the quinoa, tomatoes, cucumbers, cranberries, and sunflower seeds. Toss so that all ingredients are completely combined.
  • Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with remaining dressing, or to taste.

Winter Kale Salad Variations

I love recipes that are versatile and open to my personal suggestions, revisions, and additions. I love being able to toss in a little of this or a little of that. Here’s my list of great things to toss into this delicious winter kale salad to turn it into something completely different. Try as many or as few as you like:

  • Add in chunks of roasted butternut squash or other winter squash. If you try this, I suggest roasting the butternut squash in coconut oil and then as soon as it comes out of the oven and is still warm – toss it lightly in several spoonfuls of the citrus dressing. (or avoid all that and just serve the salad with my favorite Butternut Squash Soup!)
  • Toss in a handful of pomegranate seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Gogi berries
  • Apple chunks or slices
  • Mandarin orange segments
  • Bacon crumbles
  • Goat cheese crumbles
  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Seasoned roasted chickpeas for some added crunch!
  • Avocado
  • Roasted beets
  • Thinly sliced jalapeno rings
  • Fried egg
  • Grilled chicken
  • Grilled or roasted salmon

Another way that you can switch this up – deconstruct the whole thing and then drizzle the citrus vinaigrette over the top! (Don’t forget – you’ll still want to massage the kale in a tiny bit of dressing first.)

Deconstructed salads – bowls – are all the rage now. So a beautiful way to present this hearty winter salad would be to give each ingredient its own special place in the bowl to shine. Then drizzle your citrus vinaigrette over the whole thing. You can mix and match ingredients to get a perfectly unique tasty bite each time.

This would be a beautiful presentation if you wanted to bring this dish to a party! Then each guest can create their unique perfect salad. Also, remember that kale is no shrinking violet. This kale salad will hold its crunch for at least twenty-four hours.

Don’t Forget to Pin This For Later!

There’s not quite anything like a hearty winter salad filled with soul warming ingredients including kale, quinoa, and cranberries. Top it off with the best tangy citrus dressing and you’ve got a little slice of heaven for lunch or dinner. This salad is delicious, healthy, and easy to fix. It’s also low-carb, paleo, and gluten free. And I love that you can easily add ingredients like apples, goat cheese, butternut squash, beets. #wintersalad #kalesalad #quinoasalad

Welcome!

Hi, I’m Karen, the Atlanta mama, writer, and creator at Intentional Family Life. I’m a passionate advocate for intentional living so that you can experience all that you deserve for yourself and your family. Here, I inspire moms to chose what matters most and then to only do the things that move them closer to what matters most. Read More About Karen…

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