Simple Kale Salad with Garlic, Lemon, and Pecorino

You know that feeling of returning to your very own kitchen after a long time away from home?

Sometimes you’re hungry for something simple, fresh, and homemade, and this simple kale salad really hits the spot.

Vertical image of a white ceramic bowl of kale salad with a smaller bowl of grated cheese in soft focus in the background on a yellow cloth on top of a brown wood surface, printed with orange and white text in the middle and at the bottom of the frame.

Last night, Tim, Rocco, and I returned home after a full week away, driving first to Ohio and then to Chicago to see family, celebrate my birthday, and give Rocco his first experience with a real road trip.

Our boy was born into a far-flung family that has to travel if we want to see each other, so we figured he may as well start learning what that’s like now, in the early days while he’s still an infant.

There were many delicious meals that we enjoyed on this trip. Perfectly grilled chicken and decadent chocolate mousse cake alongside Italian-style green beans and quinoa salad were served at Tim’s sister’s house. In Chicago, my mom made my favorite lemon chicken, and my brother baked me a chocolate birthday cake.

I don’t think I exerted more effort than scooping lovingly prepared food onto my plate throughout the whole vacation, so you can imagine what a luxury that was. And even on our epic 10-hour trip home yesterday, we were armed with a full bag of snacks and stops along the way, where again someone else was making our meal.

Vertical closely cropped image of a wooden salad bowl full of kale salad with grated cheese on top, with wooden tongs.

Now, we’re back. We bought groceries on the way home, and had tomato toasts for lunch.

Since I was still hungry, immediately afterwards I made this kale dish.

Vertical oblique overhead closely cropped image of kale salad in a white bowl, on a brown surface.

It’s not a new salad, and it’s not a salad that’s original to us. But at least in my personal experience, when you return to the kitchen after some time away, it’s the classics rather than the creative experiments that sound the best.

This is the kale salad that I could eat completely by myself, the one that I eat for pure enjoyment, not solely for the nutrients inside.

It’s covered with Pecorino and flavored with raw garlic, and the breadcrumbs throughout give it a nice texture and crunch.

Vertical overhead image of a white bowl of kale salad topped with grated Pecorino on a folded yellow cloth, with a small bowl of grated cheese at the top left of the frame, on a brown wood surface.

Believe me, if you or someone you love is on the kale-salad fence, thinking it sounds like something you’d eat when you’re dieting and that it’s not really good for much else, this is the version to swing you firmly to the pro-kale side.

Sometimes I crave it more than ice cream.

Like today. All I’ve been wanting is a big plate of greens, and Kroger’s $0.99 organic kale sale made it too easy to gather my supplies and make a big bowlful.

Vertical closely cropped image of a white bowl of kale salad with a small white ceramic bowl of grated cheese in the background, on a yellow cloth on top of a brown wood surface.

So behold, the kale recipe I have probably recommended to you in person already, if kale salad has ever come up in conversation.

The instructions below will teach you the way I always make it, which is highly taste dependent and extremely flexible, but always, always, savor-every-bite good.

Try it my way, then make it your own. See how many eyes light up when you serve it, and how many people you can convert to loving it as much as I do.

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Horizontal closely cropped image of kale salad with Pecorino cheese in a large wooden salad bowl, with wooden salad tongs.

Simple Kale Salad with Garlic, Lemon, and Pecorino


  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

When you need a light side dish, this simple kale salad is sure to satisfy. Tossed with lemon and nutty Pecorino, these greens are a win.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/4 French baguette, sliced, toasted, and rough chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 cups thinly sliced kale leaves, ribs removed (about 1 bunch)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, add the chopped toasted bread, garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and pulse until you get the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. In a large bowl, add the kale, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Using your fingertips, gently massage the oil and salt into the kale to soften it. Add the garlic breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino. Drizzle the dressing over the kale, and toss to combine until the salad is thoroughly coated.
  4. Divide among 4 plates and garnish with the remaining Pecorino.

Notes

Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks.

  • Category: Kale
  • Method: No-Cook
  • Cuisine: Vegetarian

Keywords: kale salad, kale, Pecorino, lemon, garlic

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Toast the Bread and Pulse with the Garlic

Slice the bread into a few pieces, and then toast until golden brown. Rough-chop the toasted bread and place it in your food processor with the garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt.

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of breadcrumbs in a food processor.

Pulse the mixture until you get the texture of fine breadcrumbs.

Horizontal overhead image of coarse toasted breadcrumbs in a white ceramic bowl, on a speckled gray surface.
Toasted breadcrumbs will provide extra crunch!

You can use these crumbs as is in the salad or, for more texture and crunch, spray or drizzle them with oil and toast until golden brown.

Step 2 – Massage the Kale and Add the Breadcrumbs and Cheese

In a large bowl, add the kale, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

Horizontal oblique overhead image of olive oil being poured from a bottle over torn kale in the bottom of a wooden salad bowl.

Using your fingertips, gently massage the oil and salt into the leaves to soften them.

A hand massages kale in a large wooden salad bowl on a gray countertop, with a small ceramic bowl of grated cheese in soft focus in the background.

If you use a more tender variety of kale (like Lacinato or Dino), it won’t need as much massaging as standard curly kind. You can learn more about the different varieties and how to grow your own on our sister site, Gardener’s Path.

Horizontal closely cropped overhead image of torn kale in the bottom of a wooden bowl topped with a pile of grated Pecorino cheese, on a gray surface.

Add the garlic breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino.

Step 3 – Make the Lemon Vinaigrette

Horizontal closeup image of a white ceramic bowl with a red rim, with dressing ingredient in the bottom, with olive oil being poured into the bowl in a thin stream from a glass bottle to the left, on a beige wood surface.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino.

Closely cropped overhead horizontal image of pale yellow dressing being whisked in a white ceramic bowl with a red rim, on a light beige wood surface.

Whisk together until emulsified to make the dressing.

Step 4 – Toss with the Vinaigrette

Closely cropped horizontal image of kale topped with grated cheese being tossed with wooden tongs in a wooden bowl, with dressing being poured over the top from a white ceramic bowl with a red glazed rim.

Drizzle the dressing over the leaves and toss it with tongs to combine, until everything is thoroughly coated.

Step 5 – Plate and Garnish

Divide among 4 plates and garnish with the remaining Pecorino. You can also drizzle a few drops of extra virgin olive oil on top and garnish with additional freshly ground pepper.

Since kale doesn’t get overly saturated by dressing, as other softer lettuces do, you can prepare and toss this dish several hours in advance. Just be sure to leave out the crumbs until you’re ready to serve, so they don’t get soggy.

All Hail the Kale

It’s no secret that kale is a bounty of nutrition, but that doesn’t mean it has to taste bland. Zesty lemon and salty Pecorino brighten up the flavors, and the garlicky breadcrumbs add a sharp crunch.

Pack this powerhouse dish with protein to turn it into a main meal, or make some morning-time magic by placing a fried egg on top.

Horizontal closely cropped image of a leafy greens salad with Pecorino cheese in a large wooden salad bowl, with wooden salad tongs.

Out of ideas to meet your veggie quota for the week? These sensational salad recipes are the motivation you need:

Greens and cheese are a pairing I can always get down with. What are your favorite duos?

Goat cheese and arugula? Parmesan and spinach? Gorgonzola and iceberg?

Share your favorite combos in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on August 30, 2015. Last updated: June 14, 2019 at 17:37 pm. With additional writing and editing by Fanny Slater and Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

15 thoughts on “Simple Kale Salad with Garlic, Lemon, and Pecorino”

  1. Way to go on surviving your first road trip! We’ve done a few with Ayla in the past months and they are always quite an adventure. 😉
    This salad looks amazing, girl!! It’s going on my menu for this week, for sure. Thanks for sharing!

    • You came over just as I was editing it! I have such an addiction to blog makeovers. It’s a real struggle. Thanks for noticing this one and liking it. : )

  2. Congrats on surviving the first family road trip! Our first family road trip took place when Calvin was only four days old and we drove on maybe two hours of sleep from Kansas where he was born to our home in Illinois. Calvin slept through the whole thing! Fast forward almost nine months when we drove a little bit further to North Dakota to visit my sister and the poor thing screamed most of the trip. We’ll see how he does next week when we attempt a five hour trip to the north woods of Wisconsin to visit family. I’m sure in a few years when our boys are complaining about being bored we’ll miss these “easier” road trips. 🙂

  3. Whenever I eat anything with bread crumbs or croutons I think, “This is luxury.” Maybe it’s from our intense grain-free days. The benefit is that now anything with bread crumbs in it is immediately transformed for me. Not that I need to be talked into kale salad. 🙂

  4. sounds like a fantastic first road trip for little rocco! and bravo for introducing him to the travel scene. that can’t be easy as new parents. i adore heidi swanson, and i’ve made this kale salad several times as well. the more cheese the better, and hefty doses of olive oil. so satisfying. xo

  5. This salad is just everything that I want. Sometimes I think there’s a temptation to throw everything including the kitchen sink on a salad (I’m totally guilty of this) and the simple deliciousness of a plate of greens gets lost.

    PS I’ve been meaning to tell you that we’re going to be in Chicago for a week or so at the end of Dec if there’s a chance you might be visiting your family then or just if you have any advice about how two people from a relatively mild country can cope with Chicago winter weather…

    • Kathryn! Yes! I am going to email you right now to see if we can work out a meetup. Yay! also yes! about the simple salad. so true!

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