If you’re looking for a hearty and delicious veg-centric entrée, this Warm Kale Salad is just what the flavor doctor ordered. Featuring crispy bacon, piquant shallots, sweet roasted red peppers, and the most lick-the-bowl-tasty honey dijon vinaigrette, this recipe for wilted kale salad is nutritious, delicious, and the perfect way to introduce your family to this lovely leafy green.
Read on to get all of my tips for sautéing and cooking kale for salad; plus, some of my favorite ways to serve this hot kale.
This post was originally published in November 2014. I took new photos, tweaked the recipe slightly and updated the post below to include more information about this Healthy Wilted Kale Salad recipe!
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About this kale warm salad
This easy warm salad recipe is well-rounded with sweet, earthy, and tart flavors. It’s also invitingly colorful and topped with lots of yummy goodies for plenty of textural interest. In short, this nutritious warm kale recipe is jam-packed with deliciousness that you’re sure to love.
Loaded with crisp, salty bacon, smoky-sweet roasted red peppers, crispy fried shallots, crunchy toasted walnuts, freshly shredded parmesan cheese, and finished with a creamy, sweet-tart honey dijon vinaigrette (arguably the BEST dressing for kale salad), this cooked kale salad is an explosion of flavor that’ll have you coming back for more!
With that said, go grab your sauté pan and whip together this super quick, easy, healthy and delicious warm kale salad recipe with all the fix-ins, mm-kay? Your body and your tastebuds will thank you.
Why you’ll love this salad recipe
TL;DR? This recipe for healthy kale salad is:
- Quick & Easy – You can have the kale cooked and the salad on the table in just 25 minutes!
- Wholesome & Nutritious – Since this warm salad recipe is made with entirely whole foods, you can feel good about feeding it to your family. That said, it’s not too virtuous — there’s some salty bacon and a dusting of creamy parmesan to help you convert the salad-phobic folks in your life. 😉
- Made With Only 12 Simple Ingredients – And that’s including the homemade honey dijon dressing!
What is kale, and is it any good to eat raw?
Kale is a hardy, leafy green vegetable and it is a member of the cabbage family (a.k.a. the cruciferous vegetable family or brassica family). Kale can either be eaten raw or cooked and used as a base for healthy, nutritious salads.
There are many varieties of kale, but the two most popular types are classic curly-leafed kale and flat-leafed Dinosaur (also known as Tuscan or Lacinato) kale.
What type of kale is best for salads?
While there are many types of kale at the grocery store, not all kale leaves work great in salads! Here’s a quick rundown:
- Dinosaur Kale (also known as Lacinato kale, Tuscan kale, or Black kale). With flat, tender leaves and a very mild flavor, dinosaur kale is perfect for both raw and warm salads.
- Baby Kale. Similar to spinach with leafy greens, but a more peppery flavor, baby kale requires zero preparation and is fantastic in salads!
- Red Kale. With a sweet flavor and thick leaves, this heirloom variety of kale is delicious in salads!
- Curly Kale. With thick, peppery leaves, curly kale needs to be cooked to be palatable. While you shouldn’t use curly kale in raw salads, it is a good option in this warm kale salad. It’s also perfect for soups and stews!
Take away: You can use dinosaur, baby, red, or curly kale to make warm kale salad recipes.
Ingredients for warm kale salad
As promised, you don’t need much to make this yummy sautéed kale salad with bacon. Here’s your shopping list:
- Bacon – Adding a touch of what I lovingly refer to as “pig candy” transforms a simple kale salad into a gee-dang opus of deliciousness.
- Substitutions: Pancetta, uncured pork belly, turkey bacon, vegan bacon bits, or your favorite vegetarian bacon can all be used instead. You’re also welcome to use actual candied bacon, too.
- Shallots – Essentially onions-lite, these little alliums pack a bit of piquancy but with a gentler touch than their larger cousins.
- Substitutions: Red onions or sweet onions can also be used. Feel free to soak the slices in cool water to remove some of the “bite.”
- Roasted Red Peppers – While you can certainly roast your own, feel free to use jarred roasted peppers to keep your prep time to a minimum. You’re also welcome to pre-roast and freeze peppers for later use!
- Garlic – Fresh cloves give the punchiest flavor, but you are welcome to use about a tablespoon of minced jarred garlic to save some time.
- Substitution: On a low-FODMAP plan? Consider using a pinch or two of asafoetida (a.k.a. hing) instead. Just note that many commercially available brands are processed with wheat, so check your labels if you have gluten sensitivity.
- Kale – Dino, baby, red, or curly — it’s all gravy in this yummy warm salad!
- Walnuts – For a touch of slightly bitter toastiness and an irresistible crunch.
- Substitutions: Feel free to swap in your favorite nut like pecans or pistachios. You’re also welcome to use toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or sunflower seeds if nuts are a no-no.
- Parmesan Cheese – Salty, creamy, umami parm is a welcome addition to this blanched kale salad. Make sure you grate your own for the best consistency and meltability.
- Substitutions: Feel free to swap in any hard, aged cheese you have on hand like asiago, pecorino romano, or grana padano. If you are vegetarian, make sure to choose a vegetarian cheese brand as many hard cheeses are made with animal rennet.
Kale salad dressing ingredients
This sauteed kale salad gets a major flavor upgrade with a silky-smooth, deliciously flavorful honey dijon dressing. I love adding a touch of fresh lemon juice to brighten up the flavors, but you do you!
- Dijon Mustard – I suggest using smooth mustard for the warm kale salad dressing so that it emulsifies into creamy goodness.
- Substitutions: You can also use brown mustard, yellow mustard, or honey mustard (just don’t add the extra honey if you choose this one).
- Honey – The floral sweetness of honey blends beautifully with the pungency of dijon.
- Substitutions: You can also use maple syrup, agave nectar, or brown rice syrup instead.
- White Balsamic Vinegar – This golden-hued liquid is more delicately flavored than it’s better known dark sister.
- Substitute: Apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar are great options if you can’t find white balsamic.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – If you have it, now’s the time to bust out that bottle of cold-pressed, fruity or peppery finishing oil for this warm kale salad recipe.
- Substitute: Walnut oil is also a tasty option!
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – For a hint of heat to pique the interest of your tastebuds. Feel free to omit it if you have a sensitive palate.
- Substitute: You can also use a touch of cayenne pepper instead.
- Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper – For basic seasoning.
While my family loves this easy wilted kale salad as is, there’s ALWAYS room to make a salad recipe your own. Here are a few variations to consider:
- Dairy-Free – Use vegan cheese or swap in a nice dusting of nutritional yeast flakes in place of the parmesan.
- Vegetarian – Omit the bacon or swap in a vegetarian alternative. Make sure to read your cheese labels, as many are made using animal byproducts.
- Vegan – Use dairy-free cheese and vegetarian bacon to make this a plant-based pleasure.
- Nut-Free – Use toasted seeds in place of the walnuts, or omit them altogether.
- Optional Add-ins: Sliced mushrooms, diced tomatoes, pomegranate arils, and micro-greens can all be added to bulk up this dinner salad with kale even further.
How to make kale salad warm
Making this warm kale salad recipe at home is easier than you think! Here’s how you’ll do it:
Make the Vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the dressing. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Set the vinaigrette aside.
- Optional – Crisp Bacon: Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp and then transfer to a plate, reserving 3 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in the pan and discarding the rest. Set the bacon aside to drain.
Saute Shallots: Turn heat up to medium high and add the shallots to the skillet with the bacon drippings. Fry until golden in color, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Cook Kale: Reduce the heat under the pan to medium. Add the kale to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing constantly, until the kale is warm to the touch and deep green in color, but not yet wilted, about 2-3 minutes.
Add Flavor: Add the garlic and roasted red peppers to the pan. Continue to sauté until fragrant, about an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Assemble: Transfer the warm kale salad to serving bowl. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette dressing to just moisten the kale leaves. Top with walnuts, grated parmesan and the crispy fried bacon and crispy shallots.
- Serve: Immediately serve the kale salad warm with the remaining dressing on the side. Enjoy!
Expert tips for the best wilted kale salad
- Cut back on prep work. I used pre-washed, de-stemmed, bagged kale to make life easy. This can be found along with the other bagged lettuce in your produce aisle. If you are using full heads of kale, you will need about 2 large bunches for this recipe for wilted kale salad.
- Waste not, want not. Keep those delicious bacon drippings!! I place mine in a container (e.g. mason jar) with a tight-fitting lid and keep it stored in the refrigerator where it can safely last for at least 6 months. Use it in place of butter or oil for additional flavor for sautéing veggies, making croutons, brushing your waffle iron, or anywhere else you’d like a little smoky goodness.
FAQs: cooking kale for salad
How to make kale salad tender and soft?
While some people may find kale unappealing and unpalatable due to its coarse texture, it is very easy to tenderize and soften kale for this sautéed kale salad.
Here are my favorite, foolproof ways to soften kale:
- De-stem. Always remove the coarse center stems from raw kale before using in salads.
- Give ‘em some love. Sprinkle kale leaves with salt and massage the salt into the leaves. Massaging the kale will essentially wilt and tenderize them.
- Cook ‘em up! Quickly sauté the kale in a skillet over medium heat until the leaves are deep green in color and not quite wilted. (Cooking kale for salad in this manner is what we do in the recipe below.) You can also steam or boil the kale leaves until softened.
How to make kale salad taste less bitter?
While kale is a sturdy, earthy, leafy green and *can* taste bitter, there are plenty of ways to counterbalance the bitterness! Many of the same methods for tenderizing kale listed above also work to make kale taste less bitter:
- Cook them. Quickly blanch, steam, boil, braise or quickly sauté the kale leaves. Cooking the kale leaves slightly helps remove some of the bitterness, which will make your salad overall more balanced in flavor.
- Add other flavors. Counterbalance the bitterness by adding sweet or spicy ingredients. Adding strong, contrasting but complimentary flavors to kale helps balance out the bitterness.
- Use an acid such as citrus juice or vinegar to warm kale salad recipes. Not only will acids help brighten up the bitterness of greens, it will also provide a delicious contrast in flavor!
- Add salt. While salt is a flavor enhancer for all foods, it also serves to slightly tame the bitterness of kale.
How to prepare kale for salad?
The first thing you want to do when preparing or cooking kale for salad is to remove the coarse, tough center stem from the raw kale and discard it. To do this, fold the kale leaf over the stem, then use the sharp tip of your knife to slice the stem out.
Next, depending on the size and type of kale you selected, you should prep kale for salads by either chopping the leaves into bite-sized pieces or thinly slice the leaves into ribbons before using.
Is kale good for you?
Kale is considered a superfood, and for good reason — it actually packs more of a nutritional punch than spinach! First, kale is a wonderful source of antioxidants. This wilted kale salad is also rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and calcium, and has a variety cancer-fighting substances such as carotenoids and sulforaphane.
Serving sautéed kale salad
I like to serve this kale salad warm, either as a side for hearty entrées like Honey Mustard Chicken, Florentine Chicken, Chimichurri Steaks, Baked Salmon, and even restaurant-style Tuna Salad, or as a main course with a side of crusty bread and softened butter. YUM! One recipe will yield 3 dinner-sized portions or 6 side salads.
It’s the perfect antidote to all of the rich foods that are typically served around the fall and winter holidays. It is also lovely for whenever your body is craving a big heaping plate of veggies (am I the only one that happens to??).
I find that making this hot kale salad is simple enough for *most* work-from-home days, but it also packs up nicely for lunch. Just give her a quick zap in the microwave when you’re ready to eat it to remove any chill from the fridge.
Storing this warm kale salad recipe
- Unlike other salads that can wilt after dressing, this bad boy is built for it. Any leftover cooked kale salad will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- To serve after refrigeration, give it a quick sauté in a dry pan or zap it in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to warm it up a tad.
Alright, buddies, I hope you love this sautéed kale salad as much as we do! Easy to make and full of flavor, it’s the perfect side dish or light lunch that will keep you coming back for more.
It goes without saying, but I be-leaf in you and your ability to make all kinds of yums for you and your family. I bet you’re already kale-ing it! Until next time, I’m sending you all the chill vibes for a veggie-ful week ahead! Enjoy!
More hearty winter salads!
Are you looking for more delicious winter salads to eat for dinner? If you love this wilted kale salad recipe, try these family favorites next:
- Winter Citrus Salad
- Wild Rice Salad
- Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad
- Butternut Squash Salad
- Thai Spaghetti Salad
- Roasted Cauliflower Salad
- Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
How to make the best Wilted Warm Kale Salad recipe at home👇
Kale Warm Salad
- 1 Small Bowl (for the honey dijon vinaigrette dressing)
- 1 large skillet (for cooking kale and other components of the salad)
Warm Kale Salad:
- 12 strips Bacon - diced
- 4 large Shallots – peeled, sliced into thin rings, and separated
- 3 whole Roasted Red Peppers – medium diced
- 2 large Cloves Garlic - minced
- 12 packed Cups Fresh Kale – washed, dried, stems removed & chopped
- ½ Cup Walnuts - roasted and salted
- ½ Cup Parmesan Cheese – grated
- Salt and Pepper - to taste
- Optional Mix-ins: Sliced Mushrooms, Halved Cherry Tomatoes, Pomegranate Arils, Microgreens
- Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl or container with a tight fitting lid, combine the dijon mustard, honey, balsamic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Whisk or shake vigorously until completely emulsified and combined. Taste and adjust the dressing for seasoning as you see fit - adding more honey for sweetness, vinegar for tang, oil for richness, and salt for overall flavor. Set aside.
- Crisp the Bacon - optional: Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook to desired crispiness and transfer to a paper towel lined plate, reserving 3 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in the pan and discarding the rest. Set the bacon aside. (SEE NOTES)
- Cook Shallots: Turn heat up to medium-high. Add the shallots to the skillet with the bacon drippings. Fry, stirring constantly, until golden in color, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the paper towel-lined plate with the bacon. Season the shallots with salt and pepper. Set the plate aside.
- Cook Kale: Reduce the heat to medium and add the kale to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper - to taste. Sauté, tossing gently, until the kale is warm and deep green in color, but not yet wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and roasted red peppers to the skillet with the kale. Continue to sauté and toss until the garlic is fragrant, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Taste the kale and adjust for seasoning.
- Assemble the salad: Transfer the warm kale salad to a large salad bowl. Toss with just enough of the vinaigrette to moisten the kale leaves. Top with the crisp bacon and shallots, roasted walnuts, and parmesan cheese.
- Serve warm with the remaining dressing on the side. Enjoy!
- Kale: I used pre-washed, de-stemmed, bagged Kale. This can be found along with the other bagged lettuce in your produce isle. If you are using the heads of kale, you will need about 2 large bunches.
- Bacon Fat: I never discard my bacon drippings. I place mine in a container with a tight fitting lid and keep it stored in the refrigerator. Use it in place of butter or oil when sautéing for additional flavor.
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