Quick & Delicious Kale Salad – My Favorite Thanksgiving Sides, Part II

  • By Jess Dang
  • November 9, 2012

Kale Salad with Apples, Fennel, and Candied Pecans by Cook Smarts

When people plan their Thanksgiving menu, salad often doesn’t make the cut. It’s understandable. I mean when you have 3 types of sweet potato dishes, a deep-fried turkey, and 6 variety of pies, where can you even find room for salad on the table? Salad just seems so everyday and unsubstantial compared to Thanksgiving’s heavy hitters. Why waste a coveted spot on your Thanksgiving line-up for raw greens?

I totally get it, and this has been my Thanksgiving menu philosophy as well . . . that is until last year. I was meeting a friend for lunch at Darwin Cafe and saw that they had a kale salad on their menu. I love kale, but raw kale just didn’t have that much appeal to me. However the accompanying radicchio, lemon, garlic, parmesan, prosciutto, and aged balsamic helped win over my decision that day, and I will never ever forget the experience of eating that salad. I truly believe I reached some sort of culinary enlightenment that day and now understand, even seek to preach, that kale salads belong on Thanksgiving menus.

Kale Salad with Apples, Fennel, and Candied Pecans

The reason is kale salads are not like typical salads. They need time to brine and marinate, like a turkey. They feel substantive and hearty, like a Thanksgiving dish. While a typical dressed salad doesn’t hold up over the many rounds of eating that inevitably happen on Thanksgiving day, a kale salad will. Last year an adaptation of Darwin Cafe’s kale salad ended up on the Thanksgiving table I shared with friends. It provided just the right relief from the richness of everything else without feeling out of place.

Over this last year, I’ve continue to experiment with other versions, and the kale salad recipe below is my gift to your Thanksgiving menu. Tough kale leaves are broken down by a sweet & tart balsamic vinaigrette over the course of an hour (or night) in your fridge. The softened leaves are then complemented with crunchy apples, fennel, and candied pecans. Finally, the best part about the recipe below is that it has a place not only on your Thanksgiving menu but your everyday menu, because you won’t want to wait a full year to enjoy this again.

This is part II in our “My Favorite Thanksgiving Sides” series. Read the first one for miso-butter roasted brussels sprouts here.

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Kale Salad with Apples, Fennel, and Candied Pecans Recipe

Prep time: 10 min

Total time: 10 min

Serves: 6


  • Ingredients for Kale Salad
  • Kale - 1 bunch
  • Balsamic vinegar - 3 tbs.
  • Dijon mustard - 1 tbs.
  • Maple syrup - 1 tbs.
  • Olive oil - 6 tbs.
  • Apples (my favorite are Honey Crisp) - 1 to 2
  • Fennel - 1 bulb
  • Candied pecans (or just regular) - 1 cup
  • Lemon - ½
  • Ingredients for candied pecans (makes 2 cups)
  • Pecans - 2 cups
  • Egg whites - 1
  • Water - 1 tbs.
  • Sugar - ½ cup



Make – Kale Salad
  1. Tear leaves off of kale. Wash, dry, and place in a large bowl that will fit into your fridge
  2. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, syrup, a generous pinch of salt, and olive oil. Toss with your kale leaves and then cover bowl with a lid or plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least an hour (or even overnight, but no longer than a day)
  3. Right before serving, thinly slice fennel and chop apples. Toss marinated kale with fennel, apples, pecans (candied or not), and the juice of half a lemon. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Make – Candied Pecans
  1. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees
  2. Whisk egg white with water and coat the pecans in mixture. Toss pecans in sugar. Spread out onto a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, turning every 20 minutes
  1. Love cheese on your salads? Blue, goat, or parmesan would all be lovely additions to this salad


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