A simple technique makes this sesame kale salad, seasoned with Asian flavors and full of healthy vegetables, just about perfect. This is a go-to recipe for summer months along with grilled foods and also in cooler months as a side to baked and roasted main dishes. Another quick, healthy recipe you're going to love.
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Since kale is pretty easy to grow in our vegetable garden - its leaves apparently are too rough for the ground squirrels, so they leave it alone - we typically have a good amount to harvest. And not just in spring, either - kale will grow through the summer here, although it will slow down when the weather turns warm, picking up again in the fall (it's easy to replant for fall, though, if it does get too tough from the hot weather).
My favorite ways to use kale is to add it to soups like 15-minute rustic Italian sausage soup or slow cooker sausage bean soup or in main dishes like sausage, beans and greens gratins and this skillet spiced chicken dinner with lemon.
But summer menus around our house lean heavily on salads - I'm often not in the mood to eat a hot dish on hot days. Plus salads usually come together in 15-20 minutes and are easy to make into a main dish or pair with grilled meat or seafood.
Here's the dilemma, though: lettuce doesn't like the heat, so typically doesn't grow well in summer. But kale does - so enter the kale salad. I should say, though, that we eat kale salads (or kale in our salads) all year long since it's actually a great cold-weather crop. It's just that I've found kale (and swiss chard) to be greens that will grow through the summer for us, making it a good option.
I have to be honest, though - I've found some raw kale salads to be bitter and tough (kale caesar, I'm looking at you...), so it took me awhile to get on the kale salad train.
But I've found some flavor combos I like that actually pair well with kale - one being this kale cranberry salad with feta and pecans, and the other the sesame kale salad with a delicious Asian inspired dressing I'm sharing here.
And there's a simple technique you can do to help make kale more tender. This, plus pairing it with hearty vegetables and prominent flavors, are what take kale salad from just "okay" to "wow, this is really good."
Can you eat kale raw like lettuce?
If you've wondered if it's okay to eat raw kale, you're not alone - I did, too. I think we sort of naturally think that raw versions of vegetables are automatically better for you, but that simply isn't true. Cooked tomatoes contain more lycopene than raw, broccoli and cauliflower can produce bloating and gas when eaten raw, and you can absorb more beta carotene from cooked carrots versus raw.
This isn't to bash one way or the other - I think we need to eat a balance because when you read about it, you see, for example, that fresh tomatoes have more vitamin C than cooked. So you'll want to eat both cooked and raw tomatoes to get both vitamin C and lycopene. It's all about variety and balance. Here's a good overview of raw vs. cooked vegetables.
That said, most things I read suggest eating raw kale only 1-2 times a week since it can cause pain and bloating from the indigestible fiber. (source) Of course this is super generalized and you know your own body, so go for it if you know you don't have issues.
In any case, making this salad (or this kale salad with cranberries) once or twice a month is fine - and once you taste them, I think you'll be adding kale salads to your menus regularly.
Sesame Kale Salad Recipe
How to Prepare Raw Kale for Salad
There are many recipes that will have you just chop up kale and toss it with other ingredients for a salad. When I made kale salad with cranberries and feta, I used a salad mix, so didn't bother to prep the kale.
If I were going to use only kale, though, I always take a minute to massage the kale after chopping. It's simple and adds only a minute or so to the prep time.
How to Massage Kale
- Remove the kale stems (you can use a knife, but it's easier to simply grab the thickest part of the stem end in one hand and use your other to skim up the stem, pulling the leaves off as you do) and chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
- Then take handfuls of the chopped kale and rub the leaves back and forth in your hands until you see the leaves start to brighten in color and soften. Put that handful into a bowl and continue until all the leaves have been massaged.
Once your kale is massaged and in the bowl, simply add the remaining ingredients for this sesame kale salad and toss:
- chopped sweet onion
- chopped sweet red bell pepper
- shredded carrot
- halved cherry tomatoes or one chopped tomato
- sesame seeds
- optional chili maple pecans or other nuts
The easy sesame dressing comes together quickly and you can dress it right away - kale stand up better than lettuce to dressing and is even good the next day as leftovers.
I like this dressing so much, in fact, that I often double it to have some left for other salads - it's especially good with noodle and vegetable salads.
Serving Ideas for Sesame Kale Salad:
- 2-Ingredient Soy Sriracha Grilled Chicken
- Lemon Vegetable & Fish Foil Packets
- Rotisserie Style Slow Cooked (or Instant Pot) Spiced Chicken (Toss in the cooked, chopped chicken to make a main dish salad.)
- Easy Baked White Fish with Parmesan Herb Crust
The best vote for this salad though? It comes from when our daughter wasn't into "weird" healthy foods, but when she tried this, she said, "hey, mom, this is actually pretty good!"
Yes - yes it is.
Healthy Sesame Kale Salad Recipe
Easy Sesame Dressing:
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper *
- 2 tablespoon neutral oil like expeller pressed sunflower or light olive oil
- 1 bunch kale, chopped and massaged (about 6 cups)
- 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
- 1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled & shredded
- 12 cherry tomatoes, halved (or a chopped medium tomato)
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- Optional: Chili-Maple Pecans OR cashews
Make Sesame Dressing:
- Combine the first 7 ingredients in a small bowl; whisk in the oil until everything is mixed well. Set aside.
- Add all salad ingredients to a large bowl (except optional nuts), pour dressing over all and toss all together.
- Top with pecans or other nuts, if using and serve immediately.
More Easy, Delicious Salads to Try
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