This vegan kale salad with cranberries and maple balsamic vinaigrette is dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and has no refined sugar! You can’t get much healthier than a bowl of kale, and you won’t be able to stop eating it prepared this way! Even my kids love the taste of this sweet, tender, salad!
My parents came to visit one spring with 3 huge bags of spring kale that they had just picked from their garden. I needed to figure out what to do with all of it. It was so soft and tender, that it seemed like a shame to cook it, so I came up with this salad recipe, and it's been a favorite in my house ever since.
❤️ You'll love this recipe because
- is quick and easy to make.
- it holds up well in the fridge so you can make it ahead of time.
- is sweet, tender, and delicious!
- gets your whole family eating bowl after bowl of healthy kale!
🧾 Ingredients and substitutions
- Kale - I like to use younger, more tender kale for this salad. If you are lucky enough to grow some in your garden or have a farmer's market where you can find it, it is delicious. You can use regular kale, curly kale, dino kale, and even the bagged shredded kale from the grocery store too, you just need to massage it a little more to get it tender.
- Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing - I use my own maple balsamic dressing recipe for this salad. For this, you will need light olive oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, yellow mustard, garlic powder, and sea salt.
- (It takes less than 5 minutes to make your own). If you don't want to make your own you can probably find maple vinaigrette in regular grocery stores, or you can order it from Amazon. I usually have some made up in my fridge, because I love maple "bacon" salad for lunch.
- Dried Cranberries - Just a handful of dried cranberries add a ton of flavor and texture to this salad. They soak up the dressing a little and are delicious. You can also swap them out for raisins or dried blueberries.
- Nuts - for a little crunch and added flavor. Nuts are totally optional but do add a nice texture. We like toasted pine nuts, slivered almonds, or crushed walnuts. Candied pecans are also delicious sprinkled on top!
- Optional Ingredients - you can toss in some chickpeas to add some protein and make this more of a meal. This salad is also delicious with some pickled red onions or refrigerator pickles. You can also serve this with some roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash.
🥄 How to make a vegan kale salad
Step 1 - Put the dressing ingredients (oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, yellow mustard, garlic powder, and salt) into a salad bowl and stir well. (Or if using store-bought dressing, pour 1/3 cup into the bowl, then add the dried cranberries. (This will rehydrate the cranberries a little.)
Step 2 - Wash the kale well and rip it into small pieces removing the hard stem.
Step 3 - Put the washed kale into the salad bowl and sprinkle with a little salt (optional)
Step 4 - Use your hands to massage the dressing into the kale until it turns bright green and shiny. (This will take about 3-5 minutes. The longer you massage it, the more tender it will be.)
✨ How do I massage kale?
- Simply pour the dressing over the kale then grab it in your hands, give it a squeeze, rub the kale leaves together, and drop it.
- Pick up another handful and squeeze and rub again.
- Repeat this until all the kale is bright green, shiny, and limp when you hold up a piece. This means the tough fibers have softened and they will be tender to eat.
Note: It will take about 3-5 minutes depending on the toughness of your kale and how tender you want it.
❓ Do I really need to massage the kale?
Yes! Kale has a naturally tough texture, so to soften it up, it needs to be massaged. I know it seems like a high-maintenance vegetable, but it is well worth the effort.
This is one of those salads that is a hit with everyone! It can be made a few hours ahead of time and doesn't get soggy with the dressing on it like salads made from lettuce. For this reason, it works great for holidays, potlucks, dinner parties, and even packed lunches.
🌟 More vegan salad recipes
- Broccoli Salad with Cranberries
- Vegan Potato Salad
- Strawberry Spinach Salad
- Vegan Ramen Noodle
- German Potato Salad
- Creamy Vegan Coleslaw
- Vegan Bean Salads
📌 Be sure to follow me on Pinterest for new vegan recipes!
📋 Vegan kale salad recipe
Vegan Kale Salad with Cranberries and Maple Vinaigrette
- 6 cups kale (ripped into small pieces and packed in the measuring cup)
- 1/3 cup maple vinaigrette dressing
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- 1 dash salt optional
- ¼ cup pine nuts or other chopped nuts optional
For homemade maple balsamic dressing
- 3 tablespoon oil (any neutral flavored oil will work)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 dash salt
- Put the dressing ingredients (oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, yellow mustard, garlic powder, and salt) into a salad bowl and stir well. (Or if using store-bought dressing, pour 1/3 cup into the bowl, then add the dried cranberries. (This will rehydrate the cranberries a little.)
- Wash the kale well.
- Rip it into small pieces removing the hard stem.
- Put the washed kale into the salad bowl.
- Sprinkle with a little salt (optional)
- Use your hands to massage the dressing into the kale until it turns bright green and shiny. (This will take about 3-5 minutes. The longer you massage it, the more tender it will be.)
- Mix in nuts if desired.
- You can eat this salad immediately or keep it in the refrigerator for a few hours until it's ready to eat.
- It's best if eaten within 12 hours of making.
*Originally posted 5-18-17 updated on 5-13-19 and again on 11/11/21 with new images.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Click the stars above or leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you!
Laura N Dwight says
This salad was great. I skipped the oil and I wonder if the oil has a role in tenderizing the kale. I added sliced grape tomatoes because I had some, and I think they were a nice addition.
I'm so happy that you liked it, Laura. The grape tomatoes sound like a delicious addition.
We learned several years ago to massage kale for our kale salad. Got a great recipe, tho this one sounds just as good or better... and way simpler! I could eat kale salad like this every single day. Love the idea of tender new baby kale! Might have to start growing our own this winter. Thanks so much for this lovely, healthy, festive recipe, Monica! Been your big fan for years!! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! 🙂
I'm so glad that you like my recipes! Thanks for following along all of this time! Happy Thanksgiving to you too! 🙂
Sue Levy says
Wow! I already make a salad just like this, but with a few more ingredients - scalloped carrot slices, grape tomatoes halved, chopped tender celery, peppered drained chickpeas, whatever. Always the pine nuts and cranberries.
I'll certainly try rubbing the kale - never thought of it.
This is always the first salad to go at a friends' buffet meal because it's so different and looks so enticing.
Thank you for the tip!
Sue in Perth, Australia
Those add-ins sound delicious, Sue! Massaging the kale gives it a great texture that I think you'll like. Enjoy! 🙂
This salad is delicious! This is my new favorite way to eat kale!!! Thanks so much for the recipe.
Thanks Kara! So happy that you like it!