Once you try this Apple Kale Salad you will definitely add it to your regular salad rotation! This recipe is only 212 calories per 2 cup serving, has 145 % of your DV for Vitamin A and 98% of your DV for Vitamin C and is Vegan! The secret to success is rubbing the kale leaves with olive oil before you toss with the apples and other salad toppings to make it tender and delicate. I know it sounds strange, intentionally “roughing up” your produce, but it works wonders and is pretty much my favorite way to prepare kale!

A white bowl with a salad from the side with tongs

I originally shared this recipe on January 15, 2021. I have updated the text today.

Why We Love This Massaged Kale Salad Recipe

If you think you aren’t a fan of kale salad, because those you have tried have been chewy, then you’ll want to read on! Or perhaps you thought that the frilly edged kale leaves have a scratchy texture in your mouth. Then you’re going to love what a little bit of hands on time will do for this superfood green!

Once you have massaged your kale, then you can add on the toppings. I love kale and apple so I knew I wanted to add that in. From there I added in fennel, celery and avocado, all of which are great produce to use as salad toppers at this time of year. To them I added in dried sweetened cranberries and toasted pecans. It is all about the goodies in this vegan kale salad!

If you don’t love apple, or want to swap in other toppings that is great too! Citrus is in season now so you could try that! Or if you have another favorite, try it!

Why Massage Kale?

Kale has a much more robust cellulose structure and thicker cell walls than lettuces do. Massaging the small pieces of kale leaves breaks that structure down enough to resemble the texture of typical tender salad greens.

I have gotten around this problem in the past by making Overnight Kale Caesar, which allows the dressing to slowly wilt the greens, essentially doing the same thing. Massaging is much faster and you don’t have to plan ahead! Or even just a quick sauté will transform the greens into a deliciously tender side dish like in this Sautéed Kale With Cider Vinegar.

Ingredients For Apple Kale Salad

massaged kale salad with apple ingredients
  • Bunch of Kale – This powerhouse superfood is of course packed with vitamins and nutrients. Curly kale is also a great choice for make ahead salads because it is sturdy enough to hold up to a dressing and gets even better as it sits in the fridge.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and salt – A bit of heart-healthy olive oil and salt are used to add flavor to the salad, but also to help breakdown and tenderize the kale.
  • Apple – Diced apple adds a delicious subtle sweetness and texture to the salad.
  • Avocado – Packed with nutrients and healthy fats and fiber avocados not only add awesome creamy texture and flavor they also help this salad to keep you fuller longer.
  • Celery – One of my favorite ways to add a crispy freshness to salads without a lot of additional calories or fat.
  • Fennel Root – The mild licorice flavor and crunch texture of fennel is the perfect compliment to the other flavors and textures in this salad.
  • Pecans – Toasting the pecans enhances their nutty flavor and actually makes them crunchier.
  • Dried Sweetened Cranberries – They add fabulous sweet tart flavor and a welcome chewy texture. Dried fruit is higher in sugar, so a little goes a long way.
  • Vinaigrette – I used my Tarragon Vinaigrette to toss with the salad, but if you have a favorite dressing or want to try something different you can try another recipe like the ones below.
a white bowl with kale salad, a pitcher of dressing is being poured over it
Kale salad before it is tossed

Step By Step Instructions To Make This Easy Massaged Kale

drizzling oil over a bowl of kale

Place kale in a large bowl and drizzle on a little oil and sprinkle with salt. The oil helps to make the leaves more slippery and easy to knead with your fingertips. The salt works like a body scrub to also tenderize the leaves.

massaging kale

The best way is to toss the raw kale leaves a few times to distribute the oil and salt throughout, then use both of you clean hands to grab handfuls of the greens, squeezing them into your palms, and crunching them up giving them a little massage. (You can see in my video how I do this.)

Continue massaging until all of the leaves are glossy and the bunch has is about 1/3 less voluminous. You can also try tasting a leaf to see if it is tender. It should not be scratchy, tough or too crunchy.

I have seen some recipes where they recommend rubbing the leaves one by one, and I find this completely tiresome and I don’t have the patience for it. I think crunching it up with my hands works to tenderize it just as well, and takes a fraction of the time.

Note that the kale will seem to “wilt” down as you massage it, and that is normal. That’s because it is less fluffy and there’s less air between pieces in the bowl. Don’t worry, it won’t be watery or soggy.

the toppings on the kale salad

Add the rest of the ingredients including the apple, avocado, celery, fennel, pecans and cranberries.

pour on dressing

Drizzle with the vinaigrette of your choice.

Tossing the kale salad with apples, pecans, dried cranberries and avocado

Toss to coat and serve immediately!

FAQ’s And Expert Tips

Can kale salads be made in advance?

You can massage the kale ahead and put it in the fridge up to 4 hours ahead of time. The whole salad holds up remarkably well even after it is all tossed together (we had it 6 hours after tossing.) But the avocado and apple do brown a bit, so I don’t recommend adding them.

Does massaging kale salad make it more digestible?

Yes, rubbing the kale leaves softens the fibers in the leaves making them easier to chew and digest.

How long does massage kale last in the fridge?

Undressed massaged kale will last in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. It is best to add the dressing and toppings right before serving to make a great next-day meal.

Additional Vinaigrette Recipes To Try

  • My recipe for Lemon Vinaigrette which gets its bright acidity from lemon juice and has a little bit of sweetness to balance it from agave (for vegans) or honey.
  • This Apple Cider Vinegar salad dressing is one of my most popular, and is a great neutral tasting dressing that works with all sorts of salad combinations.
  • This Walnut Balsamic dressing would be great with this salad. You could swap in toasted walnuts for the pecans if you want to really play up the walnut flavor!  
  • If you love the way this recipe comes out, you can do the same thing for kale Caesar. Just skip all the toppings I used here, and use my Egg-free Caesar dressing or creamy Caesar Dressing with egg and a batch of homemade croutons and Parmesan instead to make a Massaged Kale Caesar! Use the same ratios in the recipe (1 bunch kale massaged with 1 Tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Then add in ½ c Caesar dressing. Add the Parmesan to taste.)
  • You could also do a spin on this recipe for Spinach Salad with Bacon and Eggs, subbing in the massaged kale for the spinach.
a close up of the tossed salad

Additional Kale Salads Recipes To Try

At Healthy Seasonal Recipes, we specialize in cooking with fresh veggies and creating weeknight meals. Sign up HERE to get more produce-forward dinner ideas for FREE! If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review. I would love to hear what you thought! Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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A bowl of tossed kale salad

Massaged Kale Salad with Apple

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 7 reviews

  • Author: Katie
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 12 cups 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


This fresh and healthy kale salad is made with kale that is massaged until it is tender. Then it is tossed with apples, avocado, pecans, dried cranberries and vinaigrette. It is vegan and only 212 calories per 2 cup serving. 



1 large bunch kale

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 large diced apple, such as honey crisp or pink lady

1 avocado, diced

1 cup finely diced celery

1 cup finely diced fennel root

1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries

1/2 cup tarragon vinaigrette or lemon vinaigrette


1.     Remove kale leaves from the stems. Cut leaves into bite sized pieces. Wash and spin dry.

2.     Place kale in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. With clean hands, massage oil into the kale until all of the pieces are glossy.

3.     Add the apple, avocado, celery, fennel, pecans and cranberries. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Serve immediately.


Feel free to use your favorite viniagrette for this recipe. And you can also mix up the toppings as well. To make it a meal, add on cheese, or cooked chicken. Or you can use beans or chickpeas to keep it vegan! 

Make Ahead Tip:

Massage the kale ahead and put it in the fridge up to 4 hours ahead of time. The whole salad holds up remarkably well even after it is all tossed together (we had it 6 hours after tossing.) But the avocado and apple do brown a bit, so I don’t recommend adding them.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: no cook
  • Cuisine: American


  • Serving Size: 2 cups
  • Calories: 212
  • Sugar: 7 g
  • Sodium: 385 mg
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Saturated Fat: 2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 22 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 3 g