This vegan kale quinoa salad is as delicious as it is nutritious. In our house, we call it greenoa (pronounced green-waah like keen-waah). And it makes an appearance for work-lunch-meal-prep regularly. To turn this side salad into a substantial plant-based main, I add chickpeas, avocado and a preserved lemon dressing.
But I also provide alternative toppings 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!
Kale quinoa salad ingredients
The kale and quinoa salad is a mix of:
- cooked quinoa
- raw kale leaves (stripped from the stem)
- lots of basil or other soft, fresh herbs
- raw almonds
- spring onions
- lemon (juice and zest)
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and black pepper
This is the basic kale quinoa salad recipe – or rather greenoa recipe. It is, of course, a very flexible plant-based salad base. And you can adjust quantities to suit your preference. My preferred ratio of kale to quinoa is heavy on the quinoa, but you do you! All the different parts of the recipe scale well too, so adjust the quantities as you please.
I love a preserved lemon dressing with the kale and quinoa salad. But you can opt for just a splash of balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.
You can really get creative with the green quinoa salad toppings. Make a large batch of the quinoa and kale salad and try different toppings every day for quick and easy work lunches.
How to cook quinoa perfectly for salad
I cook quinoa according to Samin Nosrat’s tried and tested method for steaming grains (and pseudo-grains like quinoa) from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. The quinoa is light and fluffy, not stodgy and overcooked. But don’t worry, you don’t need a steamer or anything fancy.
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 of uncooked quinoa.
Achieve perfectly cooked quinoa in three easy steps:
- Bring your water to a boil, season it with salt, and add the quinoa.
- Reduce it to a very gentle simmer, cover, and leave to cook 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.
Never stir the quinoa after step 1. Just fluff it with a fork before serving.
Perfect quinoa every time – thanks, Samin!
Kale and almond pesto-ish
Kale can have a slightly bitter taste. While the bitter taste does not bother me – I actually appreciate the earthiness – not everyone enjoys it. A friend once compared that earthy taste to ‘falling face-first into a garden bed’. So to avoid dinner guests feeling as though they took a tumble in the veggie patch, it is best to always prepare kale properly.
The most common way to reduce the toughness and bitterness of kale leaves is to gently massage them with olive oil and salt. They then need to rest for 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours).
When I’m in no mood to wait for the kale massage to do its magic, I simply blitz the leaves with fresh herbs and nuts for a pesto-ish mix. Toughness is no longer a concern. Then, I add lemon (juice and zest), chopped spring onions, salt and olive oil. Goodbye, bitterness. Quick and easy with no need to rest – perfect for a weeknight dinner.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can still massage the leaves by hand and chop the rest of the ingredients with a knife.
You can substitute the kale and almond pesto with any shop-bought pesto or try this vegan basil pesto.
How to make kale pesto-ish without a food processor
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. Finely chop the basil and almonds, and mix together with the rest of the pesto-ish ingredients. Continue with the recipe as set out below.
Once you have the kale massaging technique under control, you can substitute massaged raw kale in most salads! Massaged kale is delicious with butter beans and preserved lemon dressing.
To assemble the basic kale and quinoa salad, stir the kale and almond pesto-ish through the cooked quinoa. Enjoy it as is, or continue to add toppings and the preserved lemon dressing.
Preserved lemon juice salad dressing
Preserved lemons are undeniably lemony but also pleasingly savoury –thanks to the salt preservation and a four week (minimum) maturation. If you are unfamiliar with preserved lemons, how to make preserved lemons has all the information you need.
But if you don’t have four weeks to make preserved lemons, I have a quick stovetop preserved lemon substitute recipe (and more alternatives) that will do the trick.
I use the preserved lemon liquid that remains once the lemons are finished – this liquid gold is too often discarded. Or, when there is only one lemon left, I make preserved lemon purée by blending the remaining lemon with the salty preserved lemon juice. This purée also works perfectly in this salad dressing.
If you don’t have preserved lemons, you can substitute lemon juice, zest and salt as indicated in the recipe notes.
Your kale and quinoa salad questions answered
How do you make kale less bitter for salad?
Massage kale with olive oil and salt to reduce bitterness and increase tenderness. Rest it for 30 minutes to 24 hours. Or, for grain salads, blitz kale leaves in a food processor with fresh herbs, like basil. Add salt, lemon juice and olive oil. Stir the kale mix through cooked grains.
Which kale is best for salad?
I prefer Tuscan kale, but curly kale is widely available and therefore often my default. You can use either. Just massage the kale or blitz it in a food processor as I do here, and the kale will be tender and tasty.
More questions? Post them in the comments below and I will track down the answers for you!
Serving suggestions & substitutes
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. Or top the green quinoa mix with chickpeas, avocado and a preserved lemon dressing – as I do here. But the possibilities are endless.
Why not try one of these quinoa salad toppings?
- oven-roasted pumpkin cubes, cooked brown lentils, dried cranberries
- harissa roasted sweet potato cubes, chickpeas, baby spinach
- sauteed asparagus, (vegan) feta or goat’s cheese, toasted sunflower seeds
- (jarred) roasted red peppers, olives, (vegan) feta
- tomato, pomegranate and sumac onions (or black lime onions)
Regardless of your choice of toppings or salad dressing, this kale quinoa salad is the stuff of plant-based meal prepping dreams!
Kale Quinoa Salad Recipe
- I use a food processor to turn the kale leaves into a pesto. But I suggest alternatives in the notes below if you do not have one.
- 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 tin (400 grams) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
Kale & Almond Pesto
- 2 cups tightly packed kale leaves without stems (170 grams)
- 2 large handfuls of fresh basil, tough stems removed (60 grams)
- ½ cup raw almonds (100 grams)
- 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
Preserved Lemon Salad Dressing:
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons preserved lemon juice or pureé, see notes (or use 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of zest & 1 teaspoon salt)
- 1 small clove of garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Use a saucepan for which you have a lid – I use a 2-litre stainless steel pot (2 quarts) – and bring two cups of water to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir through 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a 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 (15 to 20 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.)
- Get started with the rest of the ingredients 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 and 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 1/4 cup of olive oil and chopped spring onions.
- Whisk together the salad dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Add more salt to taste.
- Stir the kale pesto mix through the fluffed quinoa. Finish with salt to taste and a generous grind of black pepper. This is green kale quinoa (or greenoa). You can stop here or continue to add the optional salad toppings.
- Place the kale pesto quinoa 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. Mix everything together now or with everyone seated at the table.
- 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.
- See how to make preserved lemons for notes on making preserved lemon purée.
- 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.
MADE THIS RECIPE?
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