kale quinoa apple salad

Kale, quinoa and apple salad

13 September 2013

Today’s salad may strike you as so 2010 (kale! quinoa!). But trends aside, this salad works great as a potluck offering: sturdy kale holds up well over several hours, the light nuttiness of quinoa complements the dark earthiness of the greens, and a fresh fall apple adds a sweet crunch to balance kale’s slight bitterness. And unlike most salads, leftovers will still be good the next day.

Sometimes food trends serve the useful purpose of convincing people to ingest something they might not otherwise. It’s human psychology: we feel virtuous for our Certifiably Nutritious choice, and we look extra smart to others too. Even those who may sneak a king-sized Snickers bar in private might just, at a potluck, try some of that kale and see what all the fuss is about.

Kale is the Cinderella vegetable, making the improbable ascent from salad-bar-ornament obscurity to nutritional superstar of the food world. But its credentials are legit. As Jo Robinson points out in Eating on the Wild Side, a shocking amount of nutritive value has been bred out of most of the fruits and vegetables we eat today in favor of looks, sweetness, seedlessness and other convenience characteristics. Kale is one of the few supermarket-produce items that is still very similar to its wild ancestors.

Like spinanch, kale is a versatile vegetable, good in salads, soups, or just sauteed on its own. And even kids can get behind kale chips.

Quinoa is less recognizable than kale. There are so many grains – barley, millet, farro, amaranth – that many may eat quinoa without being able to name it. And even if they could name it (kwi-no-ah?), they may not know how to pronounce it (keen-wah). But, prepared correctly, quinoa is easy to like.

A staple in Andean cultures, quinoa has been boosted in the United States by the gluten-free crowd as a high-protein alternative grain. Technically not a grain, quinoa is the seed of a cultivated relative of lambs quarters, a wild green, like dandelion, that most of us today would consider a weed. And whereas rice needs beans to make a complete protein, quinoa is a complete protein on its own.

Kale has a dry, papery leaf that softens up when dressed. Curly kale (the salad-bar-decoration type), with its large, wavy-edged leaves, is most common, but it is also easy these days to find the more compact, darker-green Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur or lacinato kale. I usually buy Tuscan kale, as its leaves are a bit more tender, and like to sliver it thinly so I don’t have to bother cutting out the stems.

slivered kale

I find it hard to tell you with a straight face to massage your kale. Just give it a rigorous toss, and it’ll soften up nicely. Like me, I know a lot of you guys keep a jar of my balsamic vinaigrette on hand, so I use it here.

well-dressed kale

I don’t like mushy quinoa, so I use less water for cooking than most recipes suggest. It usually works perfectly, but this time I scorched the bottom. I thought about hiding it from you, but fake perfection is so not me. And really the scorched quinoa wasn’t even noticeable in the end.

quinoa kale

It’s sad to see summer fruit go, but it’s exciting to see fresh apples come in.

sliced apple kale quinoa

Feta. Of course. But vegans can happily add nuts instead.

feta kale apple

And, not that it needs to be said, crumbled bacon would be awesome here.

kale quinoa apple salad

Kale, Quinoa and Apple Salad
This salad works great as a potluck offering: sturdy kale holds up well over several hours, the light nuttiness of quinoa complements the dark earthiness of the greens, and a fresh fall apple adds a sweet crunch to balance kale’s slight bitterness. And unlike most salads, leftovers will still be good the next day.


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 bunch kale (ideally the dark green Tuscan/lacinato/dinosaur type)
  • 1 crisp apple
  • 1 shallot, minced (optional)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 cup nuts (optional)
  • Balsamic vinaigrette


  1. Most quinoa sold these days is pre-rinsed to get rid of the bitter saponin coating. But to be safe, you can rinse quinoa in a mesh colander for a minute or two under running water. Place drained quinoa in medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil and turn to a very low simmer. Cook 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for five minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. While quinoa cooks, wash, dry and slice kale thinly crosswise. You can cut off the stems from the leaves if you don’t mind the extra step. Put kale in a large salad bowl.
  3. Dress kale with balsamic vinaigrette, a little more generously than you would normally. Kale softens nicely with a little workout, so use tongs or salad servers to mix kale well, tossing and turning the leaves.
  4. You may mix the quinoa with the kale while warm, which will further wilt the kale. Or wait for the quinoa to cool and then mix in. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and vinaigrette as needed.
  5. Slice apple thinly (peeling optional), cutting slices in half or thirds if you prefer smaller pieces.
  6. Add apples, feta and nuts (if using) to the kale and quinoa. Mix gently and serve.


  • Vegan option: omit feta. Nuts would be nice addition.
  • Bacon option: of course.
  • To make ahead of time: cook quinoa, wash and slice kale, make balsamic vinaigrette. Then before serving you can just toss with dressing, apple, feta and nuts, if using.
  • This is a sturdy salad; leftovers are good for the next couple of days.
  • Another option to soften kale: use clean hands to squeeze and toss chopped kale before dressing it.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

jamie @ arugulaholic 16 September 2013 at 7:32 am

I actually purposely scorch quinoa and other grains for my clients for added flavor and texture…especially when you’re cooking in healthy food perimeters. No black of course. Thanks for the inspiration- this is right up their (and my) alley!


cg 23 September 2013 at 12:05 pm

hi jamie – how great, next time i can say, “i meant to do that!” a hot tip from my savvy personal chef friend. =)


Brooke 22 September 2013 at 7:22 pm

Another delicious recipe. I crumbled goat cheese because I did not have feta on hand and added slivered almonds. You were so right about it being even better the second day. Love it. Keep ’em coming CG.


cg 23 September 2013 at 12:03 pm

hi brooke – excited that you tried it and enjoyed it! thanks. =)


Hannah 6 May 2014 at 9:05 am

I just made this and it is SO good! Your balsamic vinaigrette is so delicious! I added blackberries cause I had them. and I did bite the bullet and gave the kale a good massage. I’m going to add bacon next time. Because if there’s one thing that will make this salad better, it would be bacon!


cg 12 May 2014 at 9:50 am

hi hannah – i’m sure your kale appreciated the massage! 😉 and bacon is always a good idea. thanks so much for sharing here!


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