Kale and Quinoa Salad

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The ultimate BEST EVER kale and quinoa salad! Healthy and easy to make! via chelseasmessyapron.com | #healthy #kale #quinoa #salad #easy #quick #berries #health #dressing

This Kale and Quinoa Salad is a powerhouse of nutrients! We’re tossing together kale, quinoa, fresh fruit, feta cheese, crushed pistachios, and dried blueberries. Toss everything with a balsamic dressing and be prepared to fall in love with this salad!

Not sure about the flavors here? We’ve got several variations. Try this Costco Kale SaladKale Avocado Salad, or Kale Couscous Salad instead.

And if you’re looking for quinoa in a salad, this Quinoa Salad (with a lemon vinaigrette) is wildly popular on the site!

Overhead view of Kale and Quinoa Salad.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

If you’re on the fence about kale and quinoa, this is the salad to convince you! 

For years my husband was obsessed with a kale and quinoa salad from a local soup and sandwich shop. He finally convinced me to try a bite of his (I was less than sold on the idea of kale at the time) and I’ve been in love with kale, and the combination of kale and quinoa, ever since.

This salad is a copycat of the recipe that completely changed my mind on kale! It’s sweet, fresh, and loaded with texture.

I’m also sharing the “secret” to tender and tasty kale (no more tough, fibrous, chewy greens!) which involves a massage. More on this below.

Process shots: slice kale; massage it; dry it; cook and fluff quinoa; add cooled quinoa to the kale; toss to combine.

Massaging Kale –The Secret to Tender Greens

So, what is the secret to delicious kale? Massaging it. High maintenance veggies, amIright? 🙂

It takes a little extra effort, but it is well worth it to make the best Kale and Quinoa Salad. Here’s how we do it:

  1. First, remove the bulk of the stems. Grab the bottom of the stem with one hand and run your other hand upward along the stem in a tight grasp to remove the leaves right off the stem. Some of the stem at the top is fine; we’re more concerned about the bulky large portion of the stem.
  2. Next, very thinly slice (ribbon) the kale. The smaller the shreds of kale, the better! It integrates into the salad better and the dressing adheres so much better.
  3. Toss the kale in a colander set in a clean sink. Drizzle lemon juice and a pinch of salt and then massage it for about 2-3 minutes or until the kale begins to soften. You’ll notice that the kale slightly reduces in volume and turns a deeper green color — this is what we’re looking for.
  4. Thoroughly dry the kale. Once the kale is massaged, rinse it, and then make sure to get it nice and dry. If the kale is at all damp or wet, it will make the whole salad taste soggy. If you have a salad spinner, now’s the time to use it.

Quinoa Tips

  • Make sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking it. Quinoa has a natural coating called saponin which can make it taste bitter. Pour the uncooked quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold water for 30 seconds to a minute.
    • Want to skip this step? Some quinoa comes pre-rinsed now; just check the package to see if that is advertised.
  • Any quinoa works, but tri-color quinoa is my favorite in Kale and Quinoa salad!
  • Allow time for the quinoa to steam. Once the liquid is absorbed, don’t rush to cool the quinoa, instead let it stand (covered) for at least 10 minutes. Letting the quinoa stand allows the quinoa to fully “pop” and ensures it doesn’t end up watery or mushy.
  • If the quinoa has cooked through, but there is still liquid in the pot, make sure to drain off that liquid to avoid soft or mushy quinoa.
  • Let the cooked quinoa cool completely before adding the other ingredients. (See “quick tip” below)

QUICK TIP

To speed up the process for quinoa cooling: spread the cooked and fluffed quinoa on a sheet pan in one even layer. Place the sheet pan in the fridge (or freezer) for 10-15 minutes or until cooled to room temperature.

My favorite way to make a quinoa salad is with leftover cooled quinoa (the entire salad making process is so much quicker!) So the next time you’re prepping food for the week or preparing a dish with quinoa in it, cook up extra quinoa alongside that and use it straight from the fridge in this Kale and Quinoa Salad.

Process shots: wash and prep fruit; add to salad; add dried berries, feta and pistachios; drizzle on dressing; toss and serve.

Other Kale and Quinoa Salad Toppings

  • Berries: The kale and quinoa pairs so nicely with ripe berries. Grapes are another fun addition that adds some crunch. Unconvinced about grapes in a salad? I was too, but they’ve become one of my favorite salad additions after trying the restaurant’s version!
    • Don’t want to use three kinds of berries? Pick one or two and simply increase the quantity of each.
  • Dried blueberries: If you’ve never tried dried blueberries, you are in for a mega treat! They’ve got an intense sweetness and are a fun change from the dried cranberries you typically find in salads. Dried blueberries can typically be found by other dried fruits or nuts in the grocery store.
  • Pistachios: I use shelled, toasted, and lightly salted pistachios to coarsely chop for this Kale and Quinoa Salad. Other nuts can be substituted such as pecans, almonds, walnuts, etc.
  • Feta: Last, but certainly not least, we add feta cheese. Feel free to leave it out or replace it with crumbled goat’s cheese (my personal favorite).

Images of the dressing ingredients in a jar, before and after combining.

Balsamic Dressing

If you follow along on the blog (or know me personally), you know I’m a huge fan of making my own dressings. I very rarely use a prepared dressing for a salad because I always think they taste better (and cost less) homemade.

So while I’ve shared a recipe for a homemade balsamic dressing on this kale and quinoa salad, I’ll also give my recommendation for a store-bought dressing because it’s convenient and a nice time saver. Since massaging the kale, prepping the fruit, and cooking the quinoa took a bit of time, using bottled dressing might help your schedule.

The one store-bought dressing I have used on this salad and do recommend is Simply Dressed® Marzetti Balsamic Salad Dressing (not sponsored). It’s the next best thing to homemade and is a great time saver.

Close-up view of the fruits, nuts and cheese in the salad.

Kale and Quinoa Salad FAQs

1Is Kale good raw in salad?

Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat and it can be enjoyed in so many different ways — raw in salads or smoothies, steamed, sautéed, boiled, or baked.

Kale is very good raw in a salad, so long as you’ve massaged it. More on this in the post!

2What is the best kale for salad?

There are several different varieties of kale. We like curly kale best for Kale and Quinoa Salad. It’s readily available in most grocery stores and becomes incredibly tender when massaged. Lactino/Dinosaur/Tuscan kale can be used, but it’s more tender to begin with, so you won’t want to massage it for as long as curly kale.

3Is quinoa salad served hot or cold?

This salad is best served cold!

4How long will massaged kale salad keep?

As long as this salad isn’t dressed and berries are stored separately, everything will keep nicely for up to 3 days. I like to store the kale and quinoa in one container, berries and salad toppings in another container, and the dressing in a Mason jar. When ready to enjoy a salad, simply assemble the quantity you need and return leftovers (still stored separately) to the fridge.

5Why should I massage kale?

Kale is tough and fibrous and can be difficult to chew. By rubbing the leaves with salt we create friction that breaks down the tough fibers and mellows out the flavor. Once it’s massaged it becomes easier to chew and digest… plus it’s tastier!

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Kale and Quinoa Salad

5 from 9 votes
This Kale and Quinoa Salad is a powerhouse of nutrients! We're tossing together kale, quinoa, fresh fruit, feta cheese, crushed pistachios, and dried blueberries. Toss everything with a balsamic dressing and be prepared to fall in love with this salad!
Print Recipe

Kale and Quinoa Salad

5 from 9 votes
This Kale and Quinoa Salad is a powerhouse of nutrients! We're tossing together kale, quinoa, fresh fruit, feta cheese, crushed pistachios, and dried blueberries. Toss everything with a balsamic dressing and be prepared to fall in love with this salad!
Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword kale and quinoa salad
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Chilling Time (Quinoa) 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Servings 6 servings (as a side)
Calories 362kcal
Author Chelsea, inspired by Zupa's "Kale and Quinoa Salad"
Cost $10.43

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (98g) quinoa tri-colored (or plain) with 1 cup water for cooking
  • 5 cups (100g) curly kale rolled up like a cigar and very thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 lemon optional
  • 3/4 cup (100g) fresh strawberries hulled and thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup (100g) fresh blackberries halved
  • 3/4 cup (90g) fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup (88g) red seedless grapes halved
  • 1/3 cup (58g) dried blueberries
  • 1/4 cup (31g) shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup (43g) crumbled feta cheese
  • Marzetti Simply Dressed Balsamic Salad Dressing (Note 1 for homemade balsamic dressing)

Instructions

  • QUINOA: Combine the quinoa and water with salt to taste (I add 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt) in a small pot. Follow package directions to cook the quinoa. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and quinoa has "popped", about 15-25 minutes (depending on heat, pot size, etc). Remove from heat; let stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes to steam. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a bowl; refrigerate to chill through. (To get it cold faster, spread it on a lined sheet pan and place in the freezer.) Quinoa can be prepared 3-4 days in advance.
  • DRESSING: If preparing the dressing, start here so it has a chance to chill and for flavors to intensify. Follow directions in Note 1.
  • KALE PREP: Remove the coarse stems on the kale. (I do this by grabbing the bottom of the stem with one hand and running my other hand upward along the stem in a tight grasp to remove the leaves from the stem. Some of the stem at the top is fine to leave; we're more concerned about the bulky large portion of the stem.) Take the kale leaves, roll them up like a cigar, and finely slice the kale to make thin and small ribbons of kale.
  • MASSAGE THE KALE: Place in a colander and rinse. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt on top of the kale and squeeze on a few wedges of fresh lemon. Massage and rub the kale with clean hands for 2-3 minutes or until tender and a deep green color. Rinse again and thoroughly dry. (I add to a salad spinner.) Toss the completely cooled quinoa with the fully dried kale.
  • SALAD ASSEMBLY: Add the prepared fruit (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and grapes) to the salad. Add the dried blueberries, pistachios, and feta cheese. Drizzle dressing over to preference. (We use the entire homemade dressing amount or about 1/2 cup Marzetti dressing) Gently toss and enjoy immediately.
  • STORAGE: This salad doesn't sit well with the dressing, so only dress what will be used the same day. Store any leftover kale and quinoa separately from the dressing and salad toppings.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Make your own balsamic dressing if you prefer. Combine the following ingredients in a Mason jar and shake to combine: 2 tablespoons (30g) balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon (14g) red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon (17g) Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon (20g) honey, 1/4 cup (47g) olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste (I add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper). Store dressing in the fridge to allow flavors to intensify; shake again before adding to the salad.
 
Nutritional information is for the salad without dressing.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 362kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 325mg | Potassium: 1487mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 19878IU | Vitamin C: 279mg | Calcium: 414mg | Iron: 5mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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15 Comments

  1. I love how healthy this salad is! I’ve definitely got to try dried blueberries now… kale salads are my jam and I love mixing up what goes in them 🙂 Pinning!

  2. 5 stars
    Oh my! This looks amazing, delicious, healthy and so creative! I know it will go well with my current fav Brianna’s Home Style Dressing Creamy Balsamic, which I am betting is nearly identical to your Marzetti brand suggestion. Going to have to try it 🙂 Thanks!

  3. 5 stars
    Hi Chelsea: Mmmmm, pleasing to the eye and most probably tastes delicious. Little sweet, tart, spicy and crunchy. Wow! what more anybody want. I will definitely try this one. Thanks for sharing

  4. How much of the dressing did you use? I’d like to make my own balsamic dressing, but don’t know how much I’ll need. Do you have a recipe?

  5. 5 stars
    Love this salad – I’ve already made it three times this month! I’m not sure how anyone could prepare it in only 10 minutes, since it’s been taking me about 30 to cook quinoa, wash and cut produce, combine ingredients, etc. Could you please let us know whether dressing was factored into the nutritional info (and if so, how much?)? Thanks for a great recipe!

    1. So happy to hear it! Thanks Mary 🙂 Dressing is factored into the nutrition facts. The salad (divided 6 ways) without dressing is 158 calories a serving! I’d use the nutrition facts on the back of the Marzetti bottle to factor how much you want on the salad. 🙂

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