Delicious paleo and vegan winter kale salad with pomegranate, roasted squash, and crunchy pecans coated in a zesty roasted garlic dressing. It’s easy, hearty, and a perfect side next to the turkey and mashed potatoes!
I’m a huge fan of salads all year round, and honestly, warm winter salads are always a winner for me. There’s something so hearty and comforting about tender, cooked carbohydrates mixed with healthy greens and veggies, all tossed with a fantastic dressing. This paleo and vegan kale salad is definitely a perfect combo of all my winter favorites with amazing flavors and textures.
Easy & Hearty Salad Recipe
There are some fantastic components to this paleo and vegan winter kale salad recipe that all work beautifully together. It’s an easy massaged kale salad with kabocha squash (can sub with butternut squash), pomegranate seeds, and crunchy toasted pecans. They are tossed together in a zesty and wonderful roasted garlic dijon dressing that you’ll want to put on everything!
How to Make This Winter Kale Salad Recipe
It may seem like there are a lot of steps to this paleo and vegan kale salad, but it’s actually quite easy and you can make it ahead of time!
- Roast the squash and garlic. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and place the cubed squash on a baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Cut the top 1/4 inch of the garlic head, coat with oil, and wrap with aluminum foil. Place on the same baking sheet, then roast for 35-40 minutes until the squash is golden and tender.
- Toast the pecans while the squash and garlic are cooling. Add to a dry skillet over medium heat and toast stirring for 4-5 minutes.
- Make the roasted garlic dijon dressing. Squeeze out the cloves from the roasted garlic into a blender and blend with the rest of the ingredients until smooth and creamy.
- Massage the kale. Combine the kale leaves and 1/2 of the dressing in a large bowl and use your hands to massage for 3-4 minutes, until wilted and shiny.
- Combine everything to make this yummy easy and easy massaged kale salad. Add squash, pomegranate seeds, and toasted pecans to the kale. Drizzle with the rest of the dressing, and toss lightly to coat. Serve!
How to Massage Kale for Salad
If you’ve never made a massaged kale salad before, you are missing out! Even proclaimed kale haters (ahem, my husband) love this salad after it’s been softened and wilted, and coated with a yummy dressing. Here’s how to massage kale for salad so the leaves become much more digestible and taste less “green”:
- Chop the kale by removing the stems and then slicing the leaves thinly. I like to stack the leaves together, roll them up, then slice.
- You need a dressing with oil and acid to help break down the hardy kale leaves. Add half of the dressing to the kale leaves.
- Using your hands, massage the kale leaves with the dressing. This helps infuse the dressing into the kale and soften the leaves. After 3-4 minutes, the kale should be wilted, slightly reduced in size, and have a shine to it.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and toss together!
Substitutions and Notes
- If you are looking for a Whole30 kale salad recipe, it’s really easy to make this compliant! All you have to do is omit the maple syrup in the dressing, or replace it with 2 medjool dates. I do recommend the 2nd option because the slight sweetness really adds an amazing flavor to the dressing!
- I’m a HUGE fan of kabocha squash, but if that’s hard to find, you can use butternut squash, sweet potatoes, or even pumpkin.
- Pecans can be substituted with walnuts, or if you are nut free, pumpkin seeds will work too. You can toast them the same way as the pecans on the stovetop.
- You can make this paleo kale salad recipe ahead of time and it’s actually a great idea to do so if you are making this for Thanksgiving or Christmas! The kale leaves are hardy enough that it’ll keep well in the fridge for a few days. I do recommend keeping the toasted pecans separate and adding them just before serving to maintain that crunchy texture.
- This winter kale salad is best served at room temperature. If you are making it ahead of time, remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.
If you enjoyed this paleo and vegan kale salad, you might also like:
- Thai Kale Salad with Cashew Dressing (Paleo, Whole30, Vegan)
- Whole30 Kale Chicken Caesar Salad + The Best Whole30 Caesar Dressing
- Whole30 Roasted Squash Salad (Paleo, Vegan)
- Harvest Sheet Pan Breakfast Bake (Paleo, Whole30)
- Paleo Instant Pot Butternut Squash Risotto (Whole30, Vegan, AIP)
Paleo & Vegan Winter Kale Salad (Whole30 Option)
- 3 cups peeled and cubed kabocha squash or butternut squash
- 3 tsp avocado oil divided, or your favorite cooking oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 large bunches lacinato kale stems removed and thinly sliced
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place kabocha squash cubes on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tsp of avocado oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out into a single layer.
- Remove the outer layer of the whole heads of garlic. Cut off about 1/4 inch of the tips off the garlic cloves to expose them slightly. Drizzle and coat the garlic head with 1 tsp of avocado oil, and tightly wrap in aluminum foil. Place on the same baking sheet as the squash.
- Roast for 35-40 minutes until the squash is golden and tender. Remove from heat and let cool.
- While the squash and garlic are cooling, add pecans to a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast for 4-5 minutes until golden and fragrant, tossing every minute. Remove from heat.
- Squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves into a blender, and then add the rest of the ingredients for the dressing. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add a little bit of water if the dressing is too thick.
- Place the sliced kale in a large mixing bowl. Add 1/2 of the dressing to the kale and use your hands to massage the kale until the leaves are slight wilted and shiny, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add squash, toasted pecans, and pomegranate seeds to the kale. Drizzle with the rest of the dressing, and toss to coat.
- Serve right away or it can be chilled for up to 3-4 days. Best served at room temperature. If making ahead, keep the pecans separate, then add before serving.
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