Harvest Apple Kale Salad With Balsamic Dressing – This yummy fall kale salad has sweet apples, crunchy nuts, and a tangy balsamic dressing that’s perfect to tie everything together. Don’t miss our “secret” tricks for the best kale salad! (Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly)
What to eat when your brain says “FALL ALL THE THINGS!” but the weather laughs in your face with its 90-110+ temperatures?
This Harvest Apple Kale Salad feels and tastes like fall and works whether your weather is crisp and cozy or still clinging onto summer. It makes a dynamite lunch, dinner, or side dish, and we’ve been eating it on repeat.
With greens, plenty of crunch, fall-inspired goodies, and a seriously amazing balsamic dressing, this fall kale salad is one you’ll want to eat all season long.
Here’s what you need to get started (+my secret for the BEST kale salads)…
HERE’S WHAT GOES INTO MY HARVEST APPLE KALE SALAD:
KALE. For convenience, I usually buy pre-chopped kale (like this), since it’s still super affordable and most of the work is done for me.
BROWN OR WILD RICE. I love adding brown rice or wild rice to my kale salads to add more fiber and fill them out a bit more but feel free to leave it out if you’re avoiding grains. (Pro tip: try this frozen steamed brown rice! It’s such a cinch to use!)
SLICED OR CHOPPED APPLES. Once we’ve got our kale/rice base, we’re ready to bring in those yummy harvest flavors. I add sliced or chopped apples (sliced looks prettier, chopped is a little easier to eat). Honeycrisp apples are my one true love, but Fuji or Pink Lady are other tasty options to try.
PECANS + PUMPKIN SEEDS. Next, we keep those fall harvest vibes going by adding toasted pecans and pumpkin seeds to our apple kale salad. I love using the mix of the two since they each bring something different to the flavor party, but feel free to use all pecans or all pumpkin seeds if that’s easier for you!
BACON (OR NOT IF YOU WANT IT VEGAN). If you *want,* you can add a smoky, salty, savory element by adding a little bacon. It’s not absolutely essential, but I really love how it pairs with the apples, nuts and dressing. Vegan? Leave it out! The rest of the recipe is 100% vegan-approved.
DRIED CRANBERRIES. For another layer of harvest flavor, I add dried cranberries. Their subtle sweetness and texture add so much to a salad like this. Lately, I’ve been digging these apple juice-sweetened dried cranberries (I get them cheaper at Sprouts), but use whatever is easiest for you to find. If you like, you can also swap in dried cherries!
A LITTLE RED ONION. Then, to add another savory element, I add a *teeny* bit of finely minced red onion. If red onion’s not your jam, feel free to leave it out or swap it for sliced green onions for something milder.
A GORGEOUS BALSAMIC DRESSING. Lastly, to finish this salad off and tie all those harvest-inspired flavors together, I add my favorite balsamic salad dressing. This simple dressing is made from kitchen staples like balsamic vinegar (I love this one best!), olive oil, pure maple syrup, a little dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. It’s tangy, it’s a little sweet, and it’s perfect with this harvest apple kale salad.
Now that we have ingredients out of the way, I’ll share my “secret” for the best kale salad…
THE MAGIC SECRET TO REALLY GREAT KALE SALADS IS…
MASSAGING THE KALE!
I know that sounds high maintenance, but it only takes 30-60 seconds and makes a HUGE difference. It’ll take your chopped kale from a bit dry and fibrous to tender and flavorful (without getting even a little soggy). Plus, it reduces the volume by about half, which makes it easier to eat and manage in the bowl.
HERE’S HOW I MASSAGE KALE:
- Place chopped kale in a large bowl (make sure any tough stems have been removed)
- Pour in 1-3 Tbsp. of your salad dressing.
- Use your hands to rub the dressing into the kale, squeezing handfuls into your fists, and rubbing the dressing in with your fingertips.
- Continue massaging the kale for 30-60 seconds, or until it’s about 1/2 it’s original volume. (Feel free to add more dressing, as needed to make this easy!)
- Wash your hands, add your other salad ingredients + enjoy a CRAZY great kale salad!
FAQ + TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST HARVEST APPLE KALE SALAD:
CAN I MAKE THIS APPLE KALE SALAD IN ADVANCE? If you plan to make this more than a day in advance, I recommend storing most of the components separately to assemble closer to when you plan to serve it. You can massage the kale and toss it with the brown rice a few days in advance, the dressing will keep for a week in the fridge, the bacon can be cooked in advance, nuts can be toasted in advance, etc.
TRY SHORTCUTS FOR YOUR RICE! I prefer brown and wild rice for my harvest kale salad recipe, but both can take a little longer to cook. I love this Instant Pot method for brown rice. It’s easy and you can freeze leftovers in easily-usable portions for recipes like this. Or, you can pick up frozen brown rice that’s already cooked. You just microwave it for about 3 minutes, and it’s done!
VEGAN? PALEO? READ THIS! My harvest apple kale salad recipe is super flexible, so you can easily leave the bacon out to keep it vegan or skip the rice to keep it paleo. The dressing and other ingredients work for either diet!
MORE MIX-INS TO TRY! If you’re looking to play around with this salad, there are LOTS of other yummy things you can toss in. Some of our favorites are…
- Avocado (who is surprised I listed this first?)
- Feta or vegan feta cheese
- Candied nuts instead of toasted
- Cooked quinoa instead of wild or brown rice
- A little cooked and cubed or shredded chicken
LOVE THIS YUMMY KALE SALAD? YOU MIGHT ALSO LOVE:
- Wild Rice Kale Salad
- Thai Quinoa Crunch Salad With Peanut Dressing
- Asian Kale Crunch Salad
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- Powerhouse Quinoa Salad
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HELPFUL TOOLS + INGREDIENTS FOR THIS RECIPE: