Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans

Fresh kale salad with sliced apples, dried cranberries and pecans in a zippy honey-mustard dressing -

I just walked into my closet, tugged on the little string that dangles from the ceiling for light and counted fourteen pairs of boots. Fourteen pairs. That’s twenty-eight individual boots. Most are black, a few pairs have heels, one pair of riding boots covers my knees, and all but the rain boots are made of leather. Needless to say, I love boots. They are my footwear of choice in the cold weather months and I will never have enough of them. At this rate, they will soon require a closet of their own.

pecans, apples, cranberries and radishes

I harbor the same deep affection for kale salads. Kale salads make me happy. They are a staple in my diet in the same way that boots are a staple in my wardrobe and I will never tire of them. Kale salads, I tell you, are the answer to all sorts of problems.

Too hot outside to cook anything? Kale salad. Tight jeans? Kale salad. Feeling sickly? Kale salad. Hung over? Wanna eat all your troubles away? Kale salad. Don’t know what to bring to a potluck with paleo, gluten-free and vegetarian attendees? Put on your best announcer’s voice and shout, “kaaaale salaaaaaaaad!”

There are a few tricks to making a kale salad taste really great, which I’ve elaborated on here. Every time I’ve heard from a real-life friend or commenter that one of my kale salad recipes turned them on to kale salads in general, I’m thrilled.

This salad is the fourth kale salad to appear on my blog and surely not the last. It’s hearty and holiday worthy, full of crunch from crisp apple, radish and pecans, studded with sweet, ruby red cranberries and tangy crumbled goat cheese, and tossed in a zippy honey mustard dressing. What’s not to love?

Kale salad with honey mustard dressing -

The recipe came from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, from which many more recipes are to come. I would imagine that if you’ve found your way to this food blog, then surely you are familiar with Smitten Kitchen.

Deb’s blog is, simply stated, the best. Honestly, I sometimes wonder why anyone (myself wholly included) bothers with food blogging when Deb has so clearly mastered the medium. Her writing is captivating and witty. Her recipes are unfailingly stellar in both concept and execution. Her photos make you want to quit whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing when you find yourself drooling at her blog and hop into the kitchen immediately.

I had been eagerly awaiting the release of her cookbook for months and now that I have my own copy resting on my coffee table, I can say that it is magnificent. Every recipe has been meticulously tested and illustrated in photographs by Deb herself, and Deb never lets you down. If you like to cook, you are going to want this cookbook. If you’re not sure what to buy as gifts this holiday season, make it this cookbook. Seriously. Did I mention that she has a full vegetarian section and 90 pages of desserts in there?

Kale Salad with Apple, Goat Cheese and Pecans -

I made a few alterations to Deb’s kale salad recipe, given the season and what I had in stock in my pantry. I added a chopped Granny Smith apple and traded dried cranberries for the dried cherries. I also used apple cider vinegar instead of white wine vinegar, though I’m not sure I can really taste the difference in the end result.

I’m making this salad again this evening for girls’ night with Downton Abbey and will be making it again for my family’s Thanksgiving. It’s a winner.

Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans -

Deb's Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans
4.9 from 15 reviews
Recipe type: Salad
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
A hearty, holiday-worthy raw kale salad with chopped Granny Smith apple, cranberries, toasted pecans and goat cheese, tossed in a zippy honey mustard dressing. It's both vegetarian and gluten free.
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 8 ounces kale (I used regular curly green kale, but Deb recommends Cavolo Nero or Lacinato, Dinosaur or Tuscan Kale)
  • 4 to 5 medium radishes
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple
  • 2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1½ teaspoons honey
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread the pecans on a baking tray. Toast them until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes, tossing them once or twice to make sure they bake evenly. Remove the tray from the oven and set them aside to cool.
  2. Pull the kale leaves off from the tough stems and discard the stems. Use a chef’s knife to chop the kale into small, bite-sized pieces. Transfer the kale to a big salad bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.
  3. Thinly slice the radishes (this is easier to do if you first chop off the root end so you can place the base of the radish flat against your cutting board). Add them to the bowl.
  4. Coarsely chop the pecans and cranberries (or cherries) and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple into small, bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl as well. Crumble the goat cheese over the top.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavor, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand.
Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.
Make it vegan: Omit the goat cheese, and use agave nectar instead of the honey for the dressing.
If you love this recipe: Be sure to check out my kale salads roundup here!


  1. says

    Boots, kale salad and Downton Abbey? All of my favorite things, too! I love the sound of this fall-inspired salad and I was just thinking my family’s Thanksgiving menu was a bit carb-heavy. Thanksgiving menu too carby? Kale salad. :)

  2. Grace says

    I love this post for so many reasons. Let me share:

    1. you compared kale salad to boots
    2. you listed so many awesome and comical reasons you love kale salads
    3. i read the “kaaaale salaaaaaaaad!” part in an Oprah voice
    4. Smitten Kitchen was the first food blog I came across
    5. I too love kale salads

    I will be making this!

    • Sandra says

      I’m loving your recipes Kate! I just had the pumpkin alfredo fettucine and your vegetarian chili is now my go-to recipe! For this recipe, I’m thinking of substituting the swiss chard for the kale. What do you think?

      • says

        I’m so glad you’re enjoying my recipes, Sandra! On this salad, I would go with kale if you can find it because kale’s texture is what makes the salad so great.

  3. says

    so gorgeous. love big bowls of this kind of salad. Don’t wonder why you do this when there are others who seem to have mastered it. You have a GREAT space here! Love your photos and sweet words.

  4. says

    Ahh, such wisdom. :) Although I don’t have the boot collection {jealous!} I have to agree about kale salads. Love the “Tight jeans…kale salad.” I have one to add. Too much doughnut making? Definitely, kale salad. — And now all I hear is Oprah after reading the comments! I will be making this today!

    • says

      Ahaha, I think you could balance out those donuts with kale salads, no problem. I stuffed myself silly while on vacation in Belize this summer. I came back and ate a ton of kale… pants still fit!

  5. says

    Add another kale salad junkie to the list–I’d never eaten it before, and now there will be plenty of post-Thanksgiving decompression (of the stomach) happening by way of it. Thank you for sharing this! And yes, Deb is fantastic.

    • says

      I’m loading up on cream and butter until Thanksgiving ends, then bring on the kale salads! I’ll be making this one again and again, for sure.

  6. says

    I can’t wait to get this book and this salad looks delicious. I’ve just made the move to Berlin, and sent all but a few of my boots in boxes, to arrive at a later date. It’s frigid here, and I’ll have to make do with the few pairs I managed to bring on the plane. Hopefully finding kale here will be easier then packing my suitcases was! Once I do, I’ll try this recipe out. And I love your ZipList addition – I’ll have to look into that!

  7. says

    Looks delicious! Can’t wait to try. Jealous of all your boots and that you have access to more than one variety of kale. (I take whatever my lame small town grocery store puts out.) Checked out the link and now I know that I’m supposed to massage the kale. Who knew?

    • says

      Massaging the kale makes all the difference, I swear. At least you can find kale where you are. I’ve heard that it’s impossible to find in Paris, of all places!

  8. says

    I’m hosting a dinner party tonight and I’m so excited to make this and the pumpkin fettuccine you posted the other day! I’ve been looking forward to the pasta all week and I think this will be a perfect accompanying salad. Thanks for the good stuff! :)

  9. says

    Downton! Deb! KALE SALADS! yessss, this post rules, Kate ;) Also, I really like how your name and the name of this wonderous green, leafy food are so similar! And I will add that you did turn me on to kale salads. I will be serving one at my Thanksgiving this year. THANK YOU! hurray!!

    • says

      Ha! I never thought of the Kate/kale similarities. I’m so glad you’ll be serving a kale salad at Thanksgiving… I’m sure you will convert some of your guests into kale lovers. Oh, I can say with certainty now that Downton with a kale salad is a killer combination.

  10. says

    I always wonder the same thing when I visit The Smitten Kitchen – the writing, photos, recipes are so spot on. And Deb is always one step ahead of everyone on recipes. She’s amazing.

    But! I’m glad you are blogging, your space is lovely. And, I’ve never eaten a kale salad [should I be admitting this?] but all your reasons to eat one convinced me. And your pretty photos. So it’s on my grocery list for the week.

  11. Crystal Clark says

    I just stumbled upon your blog. Your photos and food look amazing! I’m definitely bookmarking so I don’t miss anything. :)

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Crystal. I’m glad you found my blog! Please let me know how the recipes turn out if you get a chance to try any of them.

  12. Stephanie Cummins says

    I’m SO going to make this salad for Thanksgiving! I, too love kale salads, and I have been struggling with the decision of what to make this year. Each Thanksgiving I become more and more disappointed with traditional thanksgiving fare, as I continue to grow more accustomed to fresh, raw, healthy food rather than the cheesy, creamy, overprocessed casseroles that are so prevalent in most Oklahoma cuisine from our parent’s generation (sorry mom!). I really wanted to bring something healthy to offset all the other casserole’s around and this one totally fits the bill! And the icing on the cake is that I just received a ton of fresh kale from the Ok food co-op, from which I also have a bunch of organic pecans. I’ve been itching to try my new cranberry pear balsamic vinegar I got on my recent trip to San Diego… do you think it will be good on this salad?

    Speaking of thanksgiving… will you be making it back to Oklahoma for the holidays? I’d love to see you!

    • says

      Hey Steph! Thanks for the great comment, I’m sorry I didn’t answer it sooner. I’m totally with you on the Oklahoma Thanksgiving food. Standard Thanksgiving dishes are nothing to get excited about. I do think that dressing would go well on this salad. Let’s hang out after Thanksgiving. I should be around for a few days! Talk to you soon.

  13. says

    Yes, I keep reassuring my boyfriend Sam that it is, in fact, quite normal for a lady to have a closet full of shoes. He thinks I’m crazy and can’t discern the differences between most of them. Glad to read you have a boot problem, too :) I still don’t have Deb’s cookbook and I don’t know what’s wrong with me! Need to get on it … thanks for the delicious-looking recipe. Can never have enough kale.

  14. kari says

    also made this last night and totally fell in love. i cannot get enough of kale salads either and it is so tempting to add add add to them but when you keep it simple like this i am always happier. i was going to substitute ricotta salata for the goat cheese (i didn’t have any at home… sad for a cheese shop owner) but i actually forgot to add even that and loved the salad just the same! thanks for sharing!

  15. Jaycee says

    This recipe is DA BOMB! Easily one of my new favourite salads. It has been added to the meal rotation! Also loving this site :) Thanks so much for putting all this together!

  16. Dao says

    Just discovered your blog and must say that as soon as I finish this mail I’ll go and prepare some kale salad! :) love the dressing idea..
    I live in Paris and travel a lot to Asia, miss the US a lot, not been there for a while.. so guess that your blog will give me flavours of it before my next trip.. Thanks for that!
    And if you’re interested in twisted Asian modern salads check my FB page (mostly in French though..), cheers

  17. Michelle says

    I made this as one of my vegetarian contributions to my family Thanksgiving. I followed it exactly, except I replaced the dried cranberries with pomegranate. It was so delicious!

    • says

      I’m happy to hear that, Michelle! Thanks for the comment. Pomegranates sound like a beautiful substitution. I made the salad for my family on Thanksgiving and realized that my grandmother had never tried kale before! She liked it.

  18. Yen-Ning says

    We made this for Thanksgiving and it was a hit! We followed the recipe exactly like we always do with Deb’s recipe. :) It is so good! Thank you Kate for sharing this! I put the leftover pecans in my oatmeal with your applesauce for breakfast. Oh, I love your blog. :)

    • says

      I’m delighted to hear it, Yen-Ning! If you haven’t gotten a copy of Deb’s cookbook yet, definitely add it to your Christmas list. :) Really happy to hear that you enjoy my blog, thank you.

  19. Gracie Fred says

    Delicious! Made this tonight for my annual family cookie party. What helps to offset the copious consumption of sugar, butter, and sprinkles? Yup! Kaaaale salad! ;)
    The wow factor for me in the salad–what took it from yum, to omg–was properly toasting the nuts! Wow! I usually cut corners on that step. Never again!
    I made a few changes based on what I had on hand. No radishes or goat cheese, and also substituted fuji apples for granny smith.
    I will be making this salad again, and again! Thanks for sharing friend!! :)

    • says

      Hey friend. :) I’m so glad you enjoyed the salad. I think that kale with that zippy honey mustard dressing would go well with a variety of toppings. Toasted nuts are totally the way to go!

  20. Helen says

    Wow, I never comment on recipes I find online, but this was AMAZING! By far the best salad I’ve ever had, have to agree with the other reviewer on the toasted pecans, they add just the right flavor. I omitted the radishes, but otherwise kept everything the same. So delicious, thank you for sharing!!

  21. says

    I LOVE kale and especially all of the benefits from it. I usually saute my kale in olive oil first makes the texture easier to chow on.Cranberries are a must on salads…it adds just enough sweetness to the saltiness.

    • says

      I think the salad would be really good without any cheese! You could just omit it altogether. If you like gorgonzola cheese, I think that would be good as well.

  22. Natalie says

    OMG this is the second kale salad recipe I’ve tried from this blog and I think I had a new favourite vegetable! This is the perfect blend of crunchy, sweet, tart! Thanks for yet another awesome recipe (that my meat eating husband will even eat!)
    P.S. I did substitute celery for radishes (had to work with what was in the fridge) but I bet the radishes add a great peppery crunch!

  23. Maia says

    I’m trying this recipe with my mom and it’s very good. I told her to put the oven at 350 degrees for the pecans but she put it at 500 degrees and burnt them! Haha

  24. Michael says

    I found your site a few months ago and peruse it often. I’ve finally began making recipes and am LOVING them. This was the first I made and I’ve went back to it several times – my first kale salad and I’m a total convert now. The crunching it with your hands makes it so vibrant and alive. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this but the last time I made it I added a bit of chicken, baked some bread and turned it into chicken salad sandwiches for a picnic. Thank you for the recipes, beautiful photos and for turning this carnivore on to more vegetarian fare.

  25. Cam says

    I love this recipe, however I do have several twists to it that I use to make my ultimate comfort food:
    ingredients – kale, honey crisp apple, dried cranberries, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, raw honey, sea salt. I rub the oil and salt in, then leave it overnight and add the rest of the ingredients just before serving. I have been eating this for the last month almost daily and still can’t get enough! (normally, I get bored of the same dish after 3 servings)…

  26. says

    This recipe is fantastic! I substituted grape tomatoes instead of radishes and did add chicken. Both my husband and I loved the salad! Thank you for the tips on how to use kale (never knew about “massaging” it).

    I’m so glad I found your blog! I’m very excited to try more recipes!

    • says

      Erin, I’m glad you both loved the salad! That massaging trick makes a big difference. I have lots of other kale salads on the blog if you want to try something different next time! :)

  27. says

    Lately I’ve been feeling the need to switch over to healthier lunches, instead of [often cheesy] leftovers from the freezer or night before. I’ve always found kale a little rustic, but I’m about to pin this and am going to give it a shot this week. I also have most of the ingredients so I’m excited it’s not going to double the grocery list!

  28. Cindy Herr says

    I have never eaten kale before in my life but I am trying to make healthy choices so I made this today. It was so good I could have eaten the whole bowl! Thanks for a delicious recipe, I look forward to many more.

  29. says

    Hi Kate…first, a disclaimer: I am in no way domestically competent. You could even call me the anti-Martha. ;) So anything I do whip up needs to be SIMPLE and EFFORTLESS. That is what I discovered in your delicious kale salad recipe! With a few ingredients on hand for a casual potluck I was hosting, I searched Google and this recipe matched them most closely. I made it without radishes or pecans (which I didn’t have on hand), and I forgot to add the goat cheese (whoops!). Even so, the 4-5 people who actually tried salad before it disappeared praised it to the heavens. That dressing is to die for and SO easy!!! I will definitely be serving this again, with the goat cheese and perhaps the radishes (not a big fan of nuts in my salad). Thank you for sharing this…I am a new fan!

    • says

      Sorry about that, Andrew. I just fixed the recipe. I mentioned a couple of times that you can use dried cranberries or dried cherries, and I accidentally specified dried cherries in the method.

  30. Theresa Capri says

    This is an absolutely delicious salad and I make it at least once a week!! The only thing I haven’t put in yet is the radishes, but everything else you have listed. Thanks from the Oregon coast for the great idea of combining delicious ingredients to make this scrumptious salad!!

  31. Deb says

    One of our family brought this for Thanksgiving Dinner and it was absolutely wonderful. I’m making it this weekend. Planning to use the cranberries and put in everything. I’ve never heard of massaging the kale, but looks like that will bring out the best in the kale. Thanks for this recipe.

  32. Sharon says

    I made the kale salad for Christmas dinner. It was awesome! Even those who turned up their noses at the idea of kale loved it.
    I used pension lime infused olive oil and cranberry pear white balsamic vinegar, and honey from my brother-in-laws beehives. I used much less dressing, the recipe made enough for three salads. I used the dressing to massage the kale with and then added the oceans apples etc.
    Wonderful, my husband says make it all the time.
    Thank you!

  33. Janet Miller says

    This looks wonderful! As do your other kale salad recipes. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook was on my Christmas Wish List… I got it! I’ll definitely be making this one (AND some of the other kale salad recipes). By the way, Trader Joe’s sells chopped, roasted pecans… love saving a few steps without compromising a recipe.

  34. carlyn says

    This salad is awesome! I am so happy to learn about black Kale. It is so much tastier than regular kale. Great new healthy lunch idea for me. Thank You!!!

  35. Josie says

    OMG!!! I made this salad today. Had no idea kale could be this delicious. I didn’t have radishes so i substituted in purple onion and it was delicious! Great recipe. So glad I discovered this site today.

  36. says


  37. Ruth Shepherd says

    Fabulous salad that my book club LOVED! However, I substitute celery for the radishes. Can’t imagine it with the radishes. I’ve got Smitten Kitchen, and I haven’t tried anything from that book that we haven’t loved.

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