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The Kale Salad

February 21, 2024

A lemony, garlic-kissed dressing is massaged into mounds of chopped Tuscan kale in this perfect, simple kale salad recipe. Parmesan and a dusting of panko give it a salty crunch that seals the deal.


Kale Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing with crispy panko in a bowl

Our Ultimate, Simplest, Lemon-iest, Best-Ever Kale Salad Recipe AKA The Kale Salad.

In Natalie’s family, this salad is infamous. In the family text thread, it’s called simply “the kale salad” because everyone knows exactly what that means—it is the only kale salad anyone wants on the table. While kale salad recipes have been trending for so long we’re pretty sure they’re here to stay—and we have definitely made our fair share of them—this particular kale salad recipe is the one that we return to again and again. It’s the most pure, the most simple, and, well, honestly it’s just the best kale salad recipe there is (as Natalie’s family would undoubtedly agree!). We started making a version of it years ago after falling hard for the kale salad with lemon dressing from Joshua McFadden’s gorgeous Six Seasons cookbook, and it sort of morphed into our own version over the years, with little swaps and adjustments here and there.

parsley, kale, olive oil, parmesan, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper

Want to Make the Best Kale Salad? Then You’ll Need to Make the Best Kale Salad Dressing.

Thankfully, the best kale salad dressing is also incredibly simple and requires exactly zero weird, fussy or fancy ingredients. Kale and lemon are a match made in heaven—we’ll talk more about that later, when we walk you through exactly how to prep kale for salad, but for now just trust us—so this dressing recipe starts with lots and lots of fresh lemon juice. We love a good citrusy salad, like our Christmas Salad that celebrates oranges. Good olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh garlic bring balance, sharpness and plenty of savory goodness to the mix, and stirring the Parmesan right into the dressing gives it a lovely slight creaminess that’s reminiscent of Caesar dressing. The tart lemon dressing with the slightly bitter Tuscan kale mean that this kale salad recipe is particularly welcome on holidays where the rest of the food is often rich, like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Even the texture—toothsome, a bit crunchy—is a delight. The salad, massaged with such a bracing, bold dressing is a literal palate cleanser after you’ve hit your max with stuffing and mashed potatoes and other gravy-laden starches.

kale in a bowl
panko and olive oil in a pan

7 Simple Ingredients = Perfect, Lemony Kale Salad Recipe

Kale is a member of the brassica family of plants, which means its in the same family as cabbage, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower and means that it’s extremely good for you. Even among the largely superfood-y brassicas, kale reigns as a particularly healthy green. There are lots of varieties of kale—curly kale is probably the most common, but you’ve likely heard of and seen Tuscan kale (also known as cavolo nero or black kale), and it’s our kale of choice for this kale salad recipe. A bit more tender than curly kale, but not quite as quick-to-wilt as Russian red kale, Tuscan kale hits the just-right spot for this lemony kale salad. In addition to seasoning this salad with a little salt and fresh pepper, you’ll need:

  • Tuscan kale

  • Fresh lemon juice

  • Parmesan cheese

  • Olive oil

  • Fresh garlic

  • Panko

  • Fresh parsley

lemon juice, parmesan, olive oil and salt and pepper in a bowl. for salad dressing
Lemon Parmesan Dressing in a bowl

How to Prepare Kale for Salad (and How to Make Kale Less Bitter)

Alright! We’re really in the thick of it now. You know you’ll need Tuscan kale for this kale salad recipe. You went to the store, you bought all the stuff. And now you’re staring at those three bunches of kale feeling, well, a little intimidated perhaps. ‘How do I prep kale?’ you ask yourself. And ‘Will anyone eat this salad?’. And, in order to make sure that they do eat (and, most importantly, enjoy!) the salad, you might also be wondering ‘how can I make kale less bitter for salad?’. Well, preparing kale is easy to do and our way of doing it will ensure that that salad isn’t overwhelmingly bitter. Here’s what you need to know about preparing kale for kale salad:

  1. Wash the kale thoroughly. If you can, we recommend buying organic kale, because it’s often on the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list of produce most likely to carry pesticide residue. Also, organic kale is so easy to find and often quite affordable. That said, it’s still a leafy green and should get a very good wash to rinse off any dirty or grit.

  2. Remove the stems. So, honestly, when we’re feeling really lazy, we skip this step. But the stems are assertively crunchy, and the kale salad will be much more uniform, pretty and tender if you take a minute to cut the stems out.

  3. Chop the kale! Pretty self-explanatory.

  4. Massage the kale! Why? A massaged kale salad is a tender kale salad, particularly if you massage the kale with lemon juice—as we do here—because that acidity of the lemon juice will break down the kale and make it more tender. Still toothsome, but not laborious to chew. Tart fresh lemon juice also counterbalances the bitterness that kale can have, so massaging it with lemon serves two purposes!

Kale Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing, parsley in a bowl
Kale Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing, parsley tossed together in a bowl

How to Make Kale Salad

We promised you the simplest, best kale salad recipe ever and, although we’ve taken a sort of long-winded way, we’re finally here! You know how to make the dressing, you’ve selected, rinsed and prepped your kale, you’re super hungry—you’re ready to make kale salad! Here’s how easy it really is:

  1. Prep and massage the kale.

  2. Whip up the lemony dressing.

  3. Toast the panko in a bit of olive oil for a few minutes until it is crisp and golden brown.

  4. Toss the kale salad! In a big bowl, toss everything together—the massaged kale, the lemon-garlic dressing, parsley, Parmesan, and some of the panko.

  5. Serve the salad! Garnish it with a little more panko and Parmesan, and gobble it up!

Kale Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing, parsley and panko

Tools You’ll Need to Make Kale Salad:

More Kale Salad Recipes, Because You’re on a Roll

Kale Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing with crispy panko in a bowl
Kale Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing, parsley and panko

A Lemony, Garlicky, Parmesan-y Kale Salad Recipe to Make Again and Again

Try our kale salad recipe, and let us know how you like it, OK? Share a photo and tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper so that we can see your stuff! Happy eating!

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The Kale Salad

  • Serves: 6
  • Prep Time:  15 min
  • Cook Time:  5 min
  • Calories: 387


  • 6 cups packed stemmed and roughly chopped Italian kale (2-3 bunches)
  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice, plus more for kale (from 3-4 lemons)
  • 1¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves


  1. In a large bowl, add the chopped kale and drizzle with a squeeze of lemon juice. Using your hands, massage the kale until tender and glossy, about 3 minutes.

  2. In a small bowl whisk together the remaining ⅓ cup lemon juice, 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese, ½ cup of the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper until fully combined.

  3. In a small skillet set over medium heat, add in the remaining ¼ cup olive oil along with the panko. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, toss the panko until coated in olive oil. Cook, stirring often until the panko is a deep golden brown, about 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl.

  4. In a large serving bowl, toss the kale with the parsley, dressing, and ½ of the toasted breadcrumbs. Top the salad with the remaining ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and the remaining toasted breadcrumbs and serve.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories387
  • Protein11 g
  • Carbohydrates21 g
  • Total Fat30 g
  • Dietary Fiber2 g
  • Cholesterol14 mg
  • sodium521 mg
  • Total Sugars1 g

The Kale Salad

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

  • Jay

    This looks delicious! Since parmesan cheese is higher in sodium, could people on a low salt diet use mozzarella or a different cheese with less sodium?

    Mozzarella wouldn't' work you would need to replace with a hard cheese similar to parmesan. Something like Romano. Hope you enjoy Jay!

  • Margaret

    This is the best kale salad! A friend made it for us a few years ago and it has since become a classic within my immediate and extended family. It is probably one of my most frequently shared recipes!

    Thanks Margaret! We are so happy you love it! This makes it to most of our holidays.

  • jodi

    Soooo delish!

    Thanks Jodi!

  • Emily

    Made it for a dinner party and was sooo easy and delish!! Highly rec and will def make again!

    Thanks Emily, love to hear you'll make it again!

  • Erica

    Made this for the first time a couple nights ago. Making it again tonight. It's truly THE BEST kale salad, can't wait to share it with friends and family!

    Thank you Erica, we are so glad you love it! It's our FAVORITE!

  • Ashley

    I made this for Thanksgiving this year and people LOVED it. I have probably made it 30x since and legitimately think its the best Kale salad, maybe best salad ever. I love that it works in any season pretty much with any main dish too!

    Wow! Thank you so much Ashley, we love to hear you made is so many times! This is our favorite salad too!