Give me a bunch of kale, and I will find a hundred ways of using it in the kitchen, but making Massaged Kale salad is by far one of my favorites! Rubbing the kale leaves with olive oil before you toss with the apples and other salad toppings makes them tender and delicate. I know it sounds strange, intentionally “roughing up” your produce, but it works wonders! One try and you’ll add this Vegan Kale Salad to your salad rotation!

A white bowl with a salad from the side with tongs

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!

Why Massage Kale?

Kale has a much more robust cellulose structure and thicker cell walls than lettuces do. Massaging the 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!

How To Massage Kale

drizzling oil over a bowl of kale

Drizzle on olive 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

Toss the leaves a few times to distribute the oil and salt throughout, then use both hands to grab handfuls of the greens, squeezing them into your palms, and crunching them up. (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.

Add Toppings and Dressing

The Toppings

Kale salad before it is tossed

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!

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 there is another favorite of yours try it! Leave me a comment below to let me know what you try

The Dressing

a white bowl with kale salad, a pitcher of dressing is being poured over it

I used my Tarragon Vinaigrette to toss with the salad, but you can use another one. Some that I would recommend are:

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

Finish by tossing everything together! This recipe is only 212 calories per 2 cup serving and has 145 % of your DV for Vitamin A and 98% of your DV for Vitamin C!

Make Ahead Tips

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.

a close up of the tossed salad

More Kale Salads

A bowl of tossed kale salad

Massaged Kale Salad with Apple

  • Author: Katie
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 12 cups 1x
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: no cook
  • Cuisine: American
  • 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

¼ 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

½ cup chopped toasted pecans

¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries

½ 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! 


  • 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