How and Why to Massage Your Kale

One of the great things about kale is that it is locally available almost all year round.  Our CSA runs from April through December and kale is offered pretty much every week during that time.  Kale is a member of the cabbage family and is extremely cold-tolerant.  In our area, it can be harvested long after snow cover and, in fact, it becomes sweeter and more tender after a few good freezes.  So we are just entering prime time kale season!  


Nutritionally, kale is a super star vegetable.  It is an excellent source of vitamins C and E and the antioxidant beta carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.  It has one of the highest amounts of protein that you will find in a vegetable, which makes it filling even though it has only 50 calories per 1 cup serving.  Kale is also a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, and folate.  All of these vitamins and minerals help us strengthen our immune system and protect against heart disease and cancer.  


raw kale


I also love the fact that kale is so versatile in the kitchen.  I have featured kale in many of my recipes and posts in the past and today I want to share a basic recipe for massaged kale salad that can be topped with so many different options and eaten as a side dish, a snack, or turned into a meal itself. 


So why do I want you to give your kale a massage?  Well, this is a great way to turn raw kale into a more palatable and more easily digestible version of the super vegetable.  The massage begins to break down the tough kale leaves into a softer, more salad-like green so that you can get all of the benefits of a raw food but in an easier way for your body to manage.  You can think of the massage as doing some of the work for your digestive system ahead of time.  This makes your body’s job easier after you eat your delicious kale salad!


One other reason I love massaged kale as a salad green is that it holds up so much better than a more delicate salad mix.  I can dress and massage my kale greens on Monday and store the extra in the fridge for lunches or dinners for the next several days.  


Even if you’ve tried kale in the past, especially raw kale, and been turned off by the strong and somewhat bitter flavor, you should give this recipe a try and I think you’ll be happily surprised at the transformation of flavor and texture that the kale goes through after receiving a quick 5-minute massage!


Below is the basic form of a massaged kale salad and I’ve also included one other version to give you an idea of how versatile this green can be in the kitchen.  Get creative!  The possibilities are endless!  And be sure to share your ideas of how to top your massaged kale salad in our comments section.  We love to hear about your recipe innovations!


basic massaged kale salad



1 bunch kale

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

1/4-1/2 teaspoon coarse salt


Remove the tough stems from one bunch of kale.  Tear leaves into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  Drizzle your favorite healthy oil (olive oil or avocado oil are my favorites) over the leaves.  Add an acidic medium, such as lemon juice or vinegar (and/or kombucha, as shown in the recipe below – 2 week old kombucha is the best because it has started to turn a bit vinegary at this point).  The acid in citrus juice or vinegar helps to boost the absorption of iron and calcium from the kale and also breaks down the kale leaves during the massage. 

Sprinkle with coarse salt.  Roll up your sleeves and use your hands to massage the kale greens until they start to break down and become tender and a darker green color – the leaves should look wilted, almost like lightly sautéed kale greens would look.  

At this point, you can add any additional toppings or vinaigrette or just eat it plain as a kale salad.  Enjoy!


Massaged Kale Salad with Kombucha Vinaigrette
  1. 8 cups kale, tough stems removed and leaves torn into smaller pieces
  2. Optional toppings: toasted walnuts, crumbled feta or goat cheese
For Vinaigrette
  1. 1 ½ teaspoons maple syrup
  2. 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  3. 3 tablespoons ginger-flavored kombucha
  4. 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  5. ¾ teaspoon salt
  6. ¼ cup olive oil
  1. To make vinaigrette, whisk together maple syrup, mustard, kombucha, vinegar, and salt. (The kombucha will make the mixture bubbly and that is totally fine!) Continue whisking while adding the olive oil. Taste for flavor and adjust as necessary.
  2. To massage the kale, place kale pieces in a large bowl. Generously drizzle vinaigrette all over the kale. Roll up your sleeves and use your hands to massage the kale greens until they start to break down and become tender and a darker green color, almost like sautéed kale greens would look.
  3. Add optional toppings and toss together with greens. Serve with additional vinaigrette, if desired. Enjoy!
  1. Makes: 6-8 side dish servings
Life From Scratch


To dress up your fall salad even further, try topping your massaged kale salad from above with the following recipe for a one-pan roasted meal:


Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apple and Salami
  1. 2 lbs Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and cut in half
  2. 2 small red onions, cut in half and sliced thickly
  3. 1 lb baby potatoes, halved or quartered, depending on the size of the potato
  4. ½ lb salami, sliced into strips
  5. ¼ cup olive oil
  6. salt and pepper, to taste
  7. 1 large apple, sliced and then cut into bite-size pieces
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine Brussels sprouts, onion, potatoes, and salami on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove pan from oven, add the chopped apple, and stir to combine. Return pan to oven and continue baking for another 10 minutes, or until veggies are tender.
  4. If desired, serve over massaged kale greens topped with toasted walnuts and crumbled feta or goat cheese. Enjoy!
  1. Makes: 6 servings
Life From Scratch