Lacinato (aka tuscan, dinosaur) kale is softened with the creamy lemon garlic dressing and topped with vegan pecan parmesan and dried cranberries. This chopped kale salad is whole food plant-based, oil-free and a recipe you'll keep coming back to again and again.
This kale salad is popular throughout the year, but especially in the fall and winter, when tuscan kale is in season.
This recipe is gluten-free, oil-free and whole food plant based.
🧄 Ingredient notes
- Lacinato kale - This type of kale is also called tuscan kale or dinosaur kale. It is a very dark green color and the leaves are flat and long, like swiss chard. They are not ruffled like their more common "cousin", curly green kale. You can find it at well-stocked grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, Central Market or HEB. Trader Joe's carries pre-washed and cut tuscan kale in a bag, although you'll still need to cut it down into smaller pieces. Do try to find lacinato kale for this recipe, as it works especially well with the dressing and pecan parmesan.
- White cannellini beans - Instead of oil in the dressing, we're using white cannellini beans to give the dressing body and thickness.
- Nutritional yeast - Lovingly referred to as "nooch", nutritional yeast gives the pecan parmesan a slightly cheesy flavor. Fortified nutritional yeast is a good source of B12. Some prefer the flavor of unfortified nutritional yeast instead, so if you've only had fortified and didn't care for it, try the unfortified nooch and see if you like it better.
📋 Substitutions and variations
Here are some suitable substitutions for the ingredients in this kale salad recipe:
- Lacinato kale - instead of lacinato kale (which is also called tuscan or dinosaur kale), you can use curly green kale or curly purple kale instead. Do try and source the lacinato kale, though - it's best, flavor-wise!
- Dried cranberries - instead of dried cranberries, you could use dried cherries (may need to chop them, since they can be a bit big) or raisins.
- Pecans - instead of pecans, you can use walnuts, pepitas or almonds.
- Nutritional yeast - if you don't want to use nooch, omit it. The pecan parm will lack the cheesy flavor, but it will still function in the salad just fine.
- White cannellini beans - Instead of canned white cannellini beans, you can use other cooked white beans. I find canned cannellini beans more tender than navy beans, but you can use them as a substitute. If you use oil in your cooking, you can use olive oil instead.
- Fresh lemon juice - Do try to use fresh lemon juice, but if you can't, bottled lemon juice will work. If using bottled, try to find one that is "not from concentrate" - it will taste better.
- Maple syrup - Instead of maple syrup, use agave nectar or honey (if you eat honey - keep in mind this would not be considered vegan).
- Garlic clove - Instead of a whole garlic clove, you can use minced or crushed garlic (1 teaspoon).
- Nut-free - make this nut-free by using pepitas instead of pecans
- SOS-free - make this SOS-free by omitting the salt in the parm and dressing. You may also prefer to reduce or omit the maple syrup in the dressing or replace it with a pitted date.
Switch things up with these variation ideas!
- Kale Pasta Salad - double the dressing recipe and add in cooked pasta to convert this into a kale orzo pasta salad.
- Extra cheesy - sprinkle extra nutritional yeast on top or in the pecan parmesan to make it extra cheesy.
- Kale Apple Salad - add thinly sliced apple to the salad for a refreshing crunch
Love Chick-fil-a's kale crunch salad? See this copycat Chick-fil-a kale crunch salad (oil-free!) on my website!
Here are the step-by-step photos on how to make this kale chopped salad with pecan parmesan and creamy lemon garlic salad dressing.
Dry roast shelled pecans in small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 1-3 minutes. Be careful because they go from fragrant to burnt very quickly. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Once the pecans have cooled a bit (they can still be warm, but not piping hot), transfer them to a food processor, along with the nutritional yeast and pinch of sea salt.
Process until the pecans are a little bigger than breadcrumbs. Do not over-process (we don't want pecan butter). Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired.
In a blender (a small blender works best), add maple syrup, lemon juice, white beans (or olive oil), water, peeled garlic clove, sea salt and black pepper. Blend until completely smooth and there are no pieces of garlic or beans left. If you only have a large blender, it may be best to double or triple the dressing recipe. You can also use a small food processor as an option for making the dressing.
How do you cut Tuscan kale for salad? Remove the stems from your lacinato kale by cutting the stems out with the tip of your knife or using your hands to strip the leaves off. (Don't throw away the stems. Finely chop them and put them in a plastic baggie in the freezer. Next time you make soup, throw them in!)
Using a large knife, thinly slice the kale into strips ¼ to ½ inch wide. Then, chop them into smaller strips, so they are not super long in the salad.
Alternate method: To save time chopping, you can roughly chop or tear the kale into large pieces and blitz them in a food processor to get pieces about ½ inch wide.
In a large salad bowl, add your chopped kale, dried cranberries and pecan parmesan. If you want, you can reserve a little parmesan to sprinkle on top of each serving.
Pour dressing onto chopped kale salad. Toss to combine and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the dressing to tenderize and soften the kale before serving.
This recipe was adapted from Oh She Glows into an oil-free recipe.
🧯 Food safety
- Wash hands with soap and water before cooking
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove
⭐️ Expert tips
- Save time cutting the kale by buying the pre-washed, chopped tuscan kale from Trader Joe's. Then, blitz it in a food processor until it's in smaller pieces. You want the pieces to be no larger than ½ inch wide.
- Don't over-process the pecans! It's better to have slightly larger pieces than for it to go too far and become chunky pecan butter.
- Double or triple this recipe next time, if you like it! It keeps well. Keep the ingredients stored separately in the refrigerator and you can enjoy the salad throughout the week. Making a larger batch of dressing is easier to blend, too.
- High speed blender - use a small blender jar, if you have one, since it's a small batch of salad dressing. You can also use a mini food processor for this.
- Mini food processor - use a mini food processor for making the pecan parmesan. You can also use a standard-sized food processor, too.
🥡 Make ahead and storage tips
Store the wet ingredients (dressing) separately from the dry ingredients (kale, cranberries and pecan parm) in the fridge, and recombine when ready. The kale is good for up to 5 days. The pecan parmesan is good refrigerated for up to 10 days.
You can freeze the pecan parmesan for up to 3 months in an airtight container.
You probably didn't blend the dressing long enough. Or, the beans were not tender. The white beans must be blended thoroughly into the dressing. I find that white cannellini beans in a can are more tender than other white beans, like navy beans. Next time, blend the dressing longer and use tender, cooked white beans.
Yes! You can eat kale raw in a salad. Kale can be a bit tough or bitter at times, so it's best to 1) cut the kale pieces small, 2) pair it will a sweet dressing that has lemon juice or another acid to soften the kale and 3) allow the kale to marinate in the dressing for 5-10 minutes before serving to tenderize it.
Chopped kale can be added to soup, stew, curry, stir-fries, rice dishes and salad. You can also saute chopped kale in a little water or vegetable broth for a healthy side of greens.
Yes! Tuscan kale can be eaten raw. I recommend slicing it thinly or chopping it into small pieces (about ½ inch wide), as it can be a little tough. Pairing it with a sweet lemon dressing helps counteract the bitterness and also helps tenderize and soften the kale.
Yes, Tuscan kale has long leaves that are very dark green, thin and mostly flat, like swiss chard. They are not curly and ruffled like common green kale. Tuscan kale is also called lacinato kale and dinosaur kale.
Tuscan kale has a stronger flavor than curly green kale. Both work well in salads, but curly kale has a milder flavor and works better in most combinations.
Vegan parmesan, at least homemade varieties, taste cheesy, salty and usually nutty, since they are prepared using nuts like almonds or pecans.
💜 More recipes you'll love
If you love this kale chopped salad recipe, check out these delicious plant-based side dish recipes!
Kale Chopped Salad with Creamy Lemon Garlic Dressing (vegan, oil-free)
- 6 cups tuscan kale stems removed and finely chopped or shredded, about 142g or 5 oz.
- ¼ cup dried cranberries about 44g or 1.5 oz.
Make the Pecan Parmesan
- Dry roast shelled pecans in small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 1-3 minutes. Be careful because they go from fragrant to burnt very quickly. Remove from heat and allow to cool.⅔ cup shelled pecans
- Once the pecans have cooled a bit (they can still be warm, but not piping hot), transfer them to a food processor, along with the nutritional yeast and pinch of sea salt. Process until the pecans are a little bigger than breadcrumbs. Do not over-process (we don't want pecan butter). Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired.1 teaspoon nutritional yeast, pinch sea salt
Make the Creamy Lemon Garlic Dressing
- In a blender (a small blender works best), add maple syrup, lemon juice, white beans (or olive oil), water, peeled garlic clove, sea salt and black pepper. Blend until completely smooth and there are no pieces of garlic or beans left. If you only have a large blender, it may be best to double or triple the dressing recipe. You can also use a small food processor as an option for making the dressing.2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons cooked white beans, 1 tablespoon water, 1 clove garlic, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine the Salad
- In a large salad bowl, place your chopped kale, dried cranberries and pecan parmesan.6 cups tuscan kale, ¼ cup dried cranberries
- Pour dressing onto chopped kale salad. Toss to combine and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the dressing to tenderize and soften the kale before serving.