This kale, quinoa and chickpea salad is as delicious as it is nutritious. In our house, we call it greenoa (pronounced green-waah like keen-waah). And it makes a regular appearance during meal prep for delicious work lunches.
To turn the hearty kale salad into a substantial plant-based main dish, I add chickpeas and avocado. I also love to drizzle the finished salad with a zesty dressing.
But I also provide alternative salad variations towards the end of the blog post. Go ahead and make this kale quinoa salad your own with what you already have around the house!
Why you’ll love kale & quinoa salad
This kale quinoa salad is a wholesome and filling meal. But there are many more reasons to love this greenoa:
- It’s plant-based and nutrient-packed: This salad is full of plant-based proteins, fibre and healthy fats. It is naturally dairy-free, plant-based and gluten-free.
- It’s versatile: The basic kale quinoa salad is vegan and gluten-free as written. But you can top it with whatever you have in your fridge – bell peppers, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or even some vegan cheese.
- It’s easy to make: You can make the kale quinoa salad in advance and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. And you can easily make a double batch to meal prep for the week.
Kale salad ingredients and substitutes
This wholesome kale, quinoa and chickpea salad is a delicious mix of protein-rich ingredients and vibrant flavours.
It requires a few simple ingredients:
- Quinoa: I use red quinoa for its nutty flavour and dark colour. But you can use white quinoa or tri colour quinoa if that’s what you have.
- Kale: Use fresh, crisp kale for best results. If you don’t have a food processor to work the kale, you can massage the kale with olive oil and salt to soften and remove any bitterness.
- Almonds: I like to add chopped almonds to the pesto for extra texture. But you can also sprinkle the salad with sliced almonds or replace them with walnuts or cashews.
- Lemon: I use both lemon juice and zest for flavour. But you can substitute the lemon juice with white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Or add some preserved lemon for extra flavour.
- Olive oil: I use extra virgin olive oil for its punchy flavour. But you can also use avocado oil or a neutral oil like sunflower or grape seed oil.
- Salt: I use sea salt for the quinoa and pesto. But you can also use kosher salt or table salt to taste.
- Pepper: Use freshly ground black pepper for flavour. You can also add a touch of garlic powder, red pepper flakes, or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes for more heat.
Bulk the kale quinoa salad up with (optional) salad toppings:
- Red onion: I like the sweetness and crunch of thinly sliced red onion. But you can also use shallots, green onions, or a milder onion like spring onion.
- Avocado: I add a ripe avocado for its creamy texture.
- Chickpeas: I use canned chickpeas for convenience. But you can also use cooked chickpeas, or roasted crispy chickpeas for a crunchy texture.
- Parsley: Fresh flat-leaf parsley ads a herby flavour. But you can also use fresh mint, or a combination of both.
Quinoa kale salad variations & serving suggestions
Kale quinoa salad is the perfect base for a bowl or work lunch. It stays good in the fridge for a few days. So make a large batch and pack it for work lunches – just add some fresh veg or leftovers.
- Pumpkin seed pesto: Swap the almonds for pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds if you need a nut-free salad. And top the salad with toasted pumpkin seeds. Or try shop-bought basil pesto or this vegan basil pesto.
- Dried cranberries and walnuts: Swap the almonds for walnuts and add dried cranberries for a sweet and nutty flavour.
- Roasted veggies: Roasted butternut squash and roasted sweet potato work especially well. But you can also try some roasted red bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes.
- Tuscan kale: Swap the curly kale for Tuscan kale (lacinato kale or dinosaur kale) for a more robust flavour. You can also use a mix of both.
- Greek salad: Add some crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese with olives for a delicious Greek-style salad. Serve with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing.
Regardless of your choice of toppings or salad dressing, this kale quinoa salad is the stuff of plant-based meal-prepping dreams!
How to make kale quinoa salad
This kale, quinoa and chickpea salad is a perfect meal prep option for busy weeks. It’s a great way to guarantee you get your greens in.
Step 1: Cook the quinoa
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.
Once the water is boiling, stir through ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of raw quinoa.
Cover the pot and turn down the heat to achieve a light simmer. Cook quinoa until the water is absorbed and the germ (the tiny spiral) separates and curls around the seed.
Remove the pan from the heat. Let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
Then fluff the quinoa with a fork and set aside.
For quinoa, the perfect liquid-to-grain ratio is 2 parts water to every part of quinoa. So, 2 cups of water (or stock) for every 1 cup dry quinoa.
Step 2: Make the kale pesto
Roughly chop the kale and basil leaves, and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the almonds, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper, and blitz until you have a rough paste.
If you don’t have a food processor, see the notes for instructions on massaging the kale in a large bowl instead.
Stir through the ¼ cup of olive oil and chopped spring onions.
No food processor? No problem!
Place roughly chopped kale leaves in a large bowl, and add a tablespoon of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves for a minute.
Set the kale aside to soften for at least 30 minutes.
Mix in finely chopped basil, almonds and the rest of the pesto ingredients. Continue with the kale quinoa salad recipe as set out below.
Step 3: Assemble the kale quinoa salad base
Place the fluffy quinoa in a large salad bowl (or individual small bowls). And toss with the kale pesto.
Finish with salt to taste and a generous grind of black pepper.
Step 4: Add salad toppings
Drain the onions and add them to the kale quinoa salad. Top with chickpeas, chopped parsley and sliced avocado. Drizzle with the preserved lemon dressing – if using.
Serve the kale quinoa chickpea and avocado salad warm or at room temperature. To store leftovers or meal prep salad, let the salad cool completely and refrigerate in an airtight container.
Frequently asked questions
Kale is a hearty and nutritious green, but it can have a bitter taste if it isn’t cooked or dressed properly. For the best-tasting kale, massage it with olive oil and lemon juice, cook it in a stir fry or soup, or combine it with salty and acidic ingredients.
If you don’t massage raw kale for salads, it can be tough to chew and the flavour can be overpoweringly bitter. Massaging helps to break down the fibres in the kale and make it more tender and palatable. You can also finely chop the kale in a food processor to reduce bitterness.
To cut kale in a food processor, start by removing the tough stems. Then, add the kale leaves to the food processor and pulse until it is chopped to the desired size. Dress with olive oil and season with salt.
The best way to massage kale is to add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the kale in a large bowl. Then massage it with your hands for several minutes until the leaves are wilted and glossy. Rest the massaged kale for 30 minutes to 24 hours for optimal flavour.
Salad dressings that taste great with kale salad
- Preserved lemon vinaigrette
- Maple tahini salad dressing
- Chilli lime vinaigrette
- Easy hummus dressing
- Harissa vinaigrette
And if you’re in no mood to make a homemade salad dressing, simply drizzle the kale, quinoa and chickpea salad with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Let me know in the comments how you chose to serve your quinoa salad!
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa, I like red quinoah
- ½ teaspoon salt
Avocado & Chickpea Salad (Optional Variation)
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1 large avocado
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- small bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
Kale & Almond Pesto
- 2 cups tightly packed kale leaves, destemmed
- 2 large handfuls of fresh basil, tough stems removed
- ½ cup raw almonds
- 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons juice and 1 teaspoon zest
- 1 teaspoon salt
- generous grind of black pepper
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 spring onions, green and white part sliced
To Serve (optional)
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir through ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of raw quinoa. Cover the pot and turn down the heat to achieve a light simmer. Cook, with the lid on, until the liquid is absorbed – about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the quinoa to sit, covered, for another 10 minutes. Gently fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork and set aside until needed. (Or cook the quinoa according to packet instructions.)
- While the quinoa cooks, place the sliced red onion slivers in a bowl filled with water. Leave them to soak while you continue with the instructions.
- Roughly chop the kale and basil leaves, and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the almonds, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper, and blitz until you have a rough paste. If you don’t have a food processor, see the notes for instructions on massaging the kale. Stir through the ¼ cup of olive oil and chopped spring onions.
- Stir the kale pesto mix through the fluffed quinoa. Finish with salt to taste and a generous grind of black pepper.
- Place the kale quinoa mix in a large serving bowl (or individual small bowls). Drain the onions and add them to the kale quinoa salad. Top with chickpeas, chopped parsley and sliced avocado, arranged in sections if you wish. Drizzle with the preserved lemon dressing – if using.
- If you do not have a food processor, you can massage the kale (to soften it) and chop your ingredients by hand.
- To massage kale: Place roughly chopped kale leaves in a large bowl, and add a tablespoon of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves for a minute. Set the kale aside to soften for at least 15 minutes. Finely chop the basil and almonds, and mix together with the rest of the pesto ingredients. Continue with the recipe as set out.
- I like to serve this quinoa, kale, and chickpea salad with a zesty preserved lemon dressing. But if you’re not in the mood to make a dressing, an extra squeeze of lemon juice works well. See the blog post for more salad dressing ideas.
- The basic kale quinoa salad keeps well in the fridge for 3 days. If you add the optional salad toppings, remove the avocado before storing – it will turn brown in the fridge.