This Festive Kale Salad features a fresh lemony dressing, dried cranberries and delicious pecan parmesan. It’s my favorite kale salad recipe ever, and it’s perfect for a holiday dinner! Gluten free, vegan & oil free.

looking down on festive kale salad in white bowl

This salad may be just perfect for the holidays, but it’s actually my favorite kale salad to eat year round. There is just no other kale salad that compares! The fresh lemony dressing…the delicious, flavorful pecan parmesan…the dried cranberries…. This salad is made with simple ingredients but is big on flavor!

Starting with fresh, quality ingredients is so important for this kale salad recipe. It will take about 30 minutes to prepare, and most of that time is spent de-stemming, chopped and washing your kale. After that, the recipe is a breeze!

If you’re making this for a holiday dinner or other event, you can make it earlier in the day and it will save until dinner. It can be eaten the next day as well, but I wouldn’t recommend serving it the next day if you can help it. It’s definitely best the day you make it.

close up photo of festive kale salad

Can I use bagged, pre-chopped kale for kale salad?

As easy as that would be, NO, I would not use the pre-chopped, bagged kale for salad. The kale in those bags has not usually been de-stemmed, and you don’t want those tough raw stems in your salad. Trust me, it will ruin kale salad for you! If you can find pre-chopped, de-stemmed kale in a bag, go for it, but you will still have to chop it smaller.

How to de-stem and chop kale:

Here’s what I do.

Start with fresh, unwashed kale. With each leaf, cut out the center tough rib. I use a knife to slice around it on each side. You can also use your hands and tear it from the rib, but I tend to lose more usable kale this way.

Then, finely chop your kale. The smaller, the better. Large pieces of kale are difficult to chew; it will taste much better chopped very small. Wash and spin the kale dry, then place in a large bowl. (I use my handy-duty salad spinner for this.)

I prefer to use tuscan/lacinato kale for this particular kale salad recipe. You can use the other varieties as well, such as curly kale. I would recommend the best quality, organic kale you can find for the best results.

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kale being cut for kale salad

What is the salad dressing made of?

The dressing for this kale salad is light and simple. It consists of fresh lemon juice, dijon mustard, maple syrup, garlic and a little salt. I just add all the ingredients to a jar with a lid and shake, shake, shake until it’s combined. SO easy!

What is pecan parmesan and how do I make it?

Pecan parmesan does not have real cheese in it, of course (this is a vegan blog after all!). It’s simple, but SO tasty. It’s raw pecans, nutritional yeast and salt that has been processed a little bit to create a coarse crumb texture, similar to parmesan cheese but with a bit more texture left. I prefer using my food processor to make it, but it would probably work with a blender, or if you don’t have either of those you could probably put the nuts in a large bag and crush them with a heavy object, then mix with the nutritional yeast and salt.

lemon dressing for festive kale salad

How do you massage kale for kale salad?

Massaging kale always sounds like such a funny phrase to me. But don’t skip this step, it will make a world of difference for the taste and texture of your kale salad. Massaging the kale, or working it with your hands a little bit, takes a bit of the rough edge off of the kale, and makes it much easier to chew when it’s raw. It makes the kale just slightly tender.

So, to massage the kale, for this particular recipe, pour the dressing over the greens in a large bowl. Start working the kale with your hands; crunch the kale with your hands in a massaging fashion. You don’t want to do this for too long, just until the leaves turn a darker green and the volume of greens is reduced by about half. Maybe 30 seconds or so.

bowl of massaged kale for kale salad

After massaging with the dressing, all that’s left to do is top with the delicious pecan parmesan and dried cranberries. Serve immediately, or save in the refrigerator for up to one day. Enjoy!

Want more vegan salad recipes?

Vegan Caesar Salad

Vegan Ranch Dressing

Watermelon Avocado Arugula Salad

Vegan Coleslaw

spoon scooping out some festive kale salad from bowl

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Adapted from Oh She Glows.

spoon scooping out some festive kale salad from bowl
5 stars (9 ratings)

Festive Kale Salad

This Festive Kale Salad features a fresh lemony dressing, dried cranberries and delicious pecan parmesan. It's my favorite kale salad recipe ever, and it's perfect for a holiday dinner! Gluten free, vegan & oil free.
Prep: 30 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 servings


  • 2 large bunches kale (about 9 cups chopped)
  • 1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries

Lemon Dressing

  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Pecan Parmesan


  • Prepare the kale: Remove the stems from the kale. I use a knife, but you can also use your hands. Finely chop the kale leaves. Wash the kale and then spin it dry, using a salad spinner.
  • Make the dressing: In a small jar with a lid, combine all the dressing ingredients. Put the lid on, and shake until combined. You could also whisk the ingredients in a small bowl.
  • Massage the salad: Add the washed, chopped kale to a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top and gently massage it into the kale. The leaves will turn a darker green and soften slightly. Stop when the volume of greens is reduced by about half.
  • Make the Pecan Parmesan: Add the pecans, nutritional yeast and salt to a food processor. Pulse until it's a coarse crumb texture, withe some pecan pieces left. You don't want it to be a fine powder; you want some texture left. It won't take long.
  • Put the salad together: Sprinkle the pecan parmesan over the massaged greens, and then add the dried cranberries. Serve and enjoy!
  • This salad will save for about 1 day in the refrigerator, but not longer than that. It's best the day you make it! It will serve 4-6 as a small side salad, and 2 as a main dish salad. Double if needed for large get togethers or holidays.


  1.  I prefer to use lacinato/dinosaur kale, but other varieties will work. The smaller you chop the kale, the better!
  2. Other good additions to this salad: chopped apples, chickpeas and/or sliced red onions.
  3. If you make the salad ahead of time, store it covered in refrigerator. For best results, keep the pecan parmesan and cranberries separate until ready to serve.


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 341kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 524mg | Potassium: 960mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 15074IU | Vitamin C: 190mg | Calcium: 257mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Nora Taylor
Did you make this recipe?Mention @nora_cooks_vegan_ or tag #noracooks!

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  1. This is the best salad I have ever eaten. I am vegan and hate salads. Nora, I love this salad. Would love more Nora approved salad recipes.

    1. I am thrilled that you love the salad, Claire! Thank you for sharing your wonderful feedback! I hope you’ll check out some of the other salads I have on my site! Happy cooking!

  2. This salad tastes really great, the only problem personally is that prepping the kale takes a really long time. But if you don’t mind that it’s a great recipe!

  3. I made this 4 days ago to test out for a Thanksgiving side dish. It is delicious!! I have made it two more times since to have for lunch! Even my picky 9 year son asked for thirds!!
    The Lemon dressing is SO good and pairs so well with the kale, Parmesan, and cranberries.
    Your recipes are always my first stop when I’m looking for something. Thank you!!

    1. This makes me so happy, Jeanie! Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback and review! I hope it’s a hit for the holidays 🙂

  4. The best kale salad I’ve ever had, hands down! Just had it for the first time yesterday and I’m making it again today. As always, Nora’s recipes are the best!!

  5. Omg everything about this is delicious! The dressing is so bright and refreshing , pairs perfectly with the kale!i added apples /onions  last minute and it was delicious! I had everything on hand except the dried cranberries so I substituted dried cherries ,
     Your recipes never disappoint!

  6. This salad is AMAZING!! Delicious. Simple. Beautiful. Can make ahead. We made it for Christmas, but have been making it regularly year-round.

    My 13-yr-old son LOVES it (so do I)!! In fact, I’m eating some right now with kale from our garden which my son picked, washed, and de-stemmed while I was working, so that he could have it for lunch!!

  7. Fantastic!
    I made it last night and everyone loved it so much that I made it again today for lunch. Thank you as always

  8. This salad looks really good! I almost don’t want to make it because it looks too good. I know my wife would probably take a few pictures before eating it haha great recipe!

  9. Seriously your recipes are amazing!! You make being vegan fun and easy and healthy too! My husband and I loved this salad and we just agreed that we haven’t found a recipe of yours that we didn’t love! Thank you!

    1. so excited to make this tonight! do you think i could substitute agave for the maple syrup successfully? thanks for the recipe! 

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