The best tasting recipe for a quick and easy baby kale salad! Tossed in a simple tahini dressing and topped with roasted BBQ chickpeas and apple slices, it’s a complete plant-based meal with little effort.
Five months into starting this website, I made a “pumped up” kale salad with hummus dressing.
Somewhere in that post, I said something along the lines of “eat a kale salad, you’re worth it”.
Shortly after, I visited some college friends and a friend of a friend at a party had read that blog post. She made fun of me for that line and 9 years later, that’s still stuck with me.
Every time I make a kale salad, I think of her, get slightly angry and annoyed but move on.
My intent with saying that was to inspire people to take care of their health as just two years prior to that I was in much poorer physical shape.
However, I took the initiative with my own diet and exercise and changed things around.
I was running 5ks and 10ks, doing vigorous strength workouts and had finally dropped the stubborn extra 10 pounds.
I’ve eaten a lot of kale salads in the last 9 years.
Baby kale greens are one of my favorites though and I think I’ve finally perfected the best baby kale salad with this one.
This recipe is a simple, satisfying plant-based meal that I go back to time and time again when I want something healthy, nutritious and light.
And the creamy tahini dressing is something I make over and over to use on everything from salads to pasta to even as sauce on tofu or meat. It’s a great versatile recipe to keep in your back pocket.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS BABY KALE SALAD
Ingredients for the baby kale salad:
- baby kale greens
- a can of chickpeas
- an apple
The chickpeas provide some protein, fiber and staying power to the salad to make this more of a meal than a side. I also love the crunch they bring to the recipe.
The apple slices are my favorite way to balance out the savory tahini dressing and BBQ roasted chickpeas with a touch of tart sweetness.
Pick your favorite apple but I love a good Honeycrisp, Fuji or Pink Lady apple for this kale salad.
Ingredients for the tahini dressing:
- tahini (make sure it’s stirred well and creamy!)
- lemon zest
- lemon juice
- nutritional yeast
- red pepper flakes
- salt & pepper
The dressing is easily made in a small bowl, whisking vigorously until it’s smooth.
Alternatively, you can add all the ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
I’ll sometimes make a double batch of the dressing in my Vitamix and save some for another use later in the week.
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST BABY KALE SALAD
Place the baby kale greens in a large bowl.
Next, get the roasted the chickpeas going by placing drained and rinsed chickpeas on a baking sheet. Roast them at 400°F for 10 minutes, shaking the pan a couple times so they don’t stick.
Remove them from the oven, toss with the avocado oil and BBQ sauce and return them to the oven for another 12-15 minutes until they start to crisp up. Shake the pan a few times again while cooking.
Turn the oven off, leave the door ajar a little and let the chickpeas cool in the oven on the baking sheet. This helps them get even more crispy.
If you don’t want to use chickpeas, air fryer tofu is another great option to top the salad with. It’s super crispy just like the chickpeas and a great vegetarian protein source as well.
While the chickpeas cool, make the tahini dressing using the ingredients and method described above.
Pour the dressing on the baby kale greens in the bowl and toss until well combined.
Add the roasted chickpeas and sliced apples to the bowl and serve.
Sometimes, if it’s the season, I’ll add some roasted squash seeds as well!
HOW TO ROAST CHICKPEAS FOR THE SALAD
I use my recipe for roasted BBQ chickpeas to top this baby kale salad.
Using my method for how to roast chickpeas (described above), results in perfectly crispy, crunchy beans.
If you prefer plain roasted chickpeas to the BBQ flavoring, you can use the base roasted chickpea recipe that just uses oil, salt and pepper instead of BBQ sauce.
The BBQ sauce lends some extra depth of flavor however to the salad and goes really well with the tahini dressing and sweet tart apple slices.
As an alternative to chickpeas, roasted sunchokes would be perfect in this salad as well. They’ve got the same crispy, crunchy factor and offer a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber.
BABY KALE VS. KALE GREENS
Baby kale is just what the name suggests: it’s the tender, young leaves of the kale plant.
Instead of finding it in bunches like curly kale, Tuscan (lacinto/dinosaur) kale or red kale, it’s usually sold in a plastic salad greens container like you’d find baby spinach in.
Because it’s so tender, baby kale doesn’t need to be massaged like you would with raw curly kale to help break it down before eating in a salad.
All this makes it a great nutritious base for a salad. You get a subtle, less intense kale flavor with all the nutrition of a dark leafy green.
Even people who don’t normally enjoy raw mature kale, tend to like the milder flavor of baby kale greens in their salads.
So, don’t dismiss it if you’re not typically a kale lover, it may surprise you!
TIPS, TRICKS & VARIATIONS TO THIS KALE SALAD RECIPE
- For an even quicker preparation – make the dressing ahead of time. Keep it in the refrigerator until needed. Make sure to shake or whisk before using.
- Try a variety of different roasted chickpeas – you can try this spicy cinnamon roasted chickpea recipe or any other combination of spices you like (there’s even a good recipe for knock off cinnamon toast crunch roasted chickpeas!). Use the same method to ensure crispy chickpeas!
- Use a different variety of kale – if all you have is a bunch of curly kale, lacinto (Tuscan) kale or red kale you can still make this salad. Remove the raw kale from the tough ribs. Thinly slice it and massage the leaves with a touch of olive oil and salt using your hands before dressing it with the creamy tahini dressing.
- Switch up the fruit – Sliced pears or figs for fall, any stone fruit for summer or even dried cranberries, cherries or raisins can replace the apples in this recipe. Use what you have on hand or prefer.
Kale often gets badgered in the health food world as an overrated, not very enjoyable food but, I disagree.
It’s all in the preparation.
Knowing how to prepare each type of kale makes all the difference in the resulting flavor and outcome of the recipe.
While mature bunches of kale are usually best enjoyed in a cooked preparation (like this Creamy Pumpkin Garlic Pasta with Tuscan Kale or, this Kale Feta Egg Bake), baby kale is literally perfect for salad recipes like this.
Kale has been called the “queen” in the world of dark leafy greens and my hope with this baby kale salad is that you can now reap all its nutritional benefits in a truly enjoyable way.
And, for what it’s worth, I still stand by what I said 9 years ago: eat a kale salad – you (and your health!) are worth it!
MORE SALAD RECIPES YOU MAY ENJOY:
The Best Baby Kale Salad
- 5 ounces baby kale greens
- 1 apple thinly sliced
- 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
For the tahini dressing
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- zest of 1/2 a lemon
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 clove garlic minced
- pinch red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup water
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Pat chickpeas dry on a towel then place on a baking sheet (*see note). Roast for 10 minutes then remove from oven, toss with avocado oil and BBQ sauce and return to oven for 12-15 minutes. Toss/stir the chickpeas once or twice while roasting so they don’t stick to the baking sheet. Turn off heat, leave the chickpeas in the oven with the door slightly ajar for 10-15 minutes. They will crisp up as they cool in the oven.
- Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing by combining all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk until fully combined and smooth.
- Place the baby kale greens in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over top and toss until all the greens are coated in the dressing.
- Serve with the roasted chickpeas and apple slices on top.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.