This garlic kale salad with lemon was inspired by Il Corvo (a restaurant in Seattle). It has pecorino, toasted pepitas, and a garlic confit Green Goddess dressing. Fresh, vibrant, and unlike any other kale salad you've ever had before. Give it a try, it just might become your favorite salad!
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💭 Why you'll love this garlic kale salad
- Simple but packed with flavor: There are a million variations of kale salad, but I am convinced this is a unique garlic kale salad with a twist that is simple but delicious. If you love kale, you'll love this salad.
- Easily customizable: I use pepitas, Pecorino Romano cheese (and lemon and garlic, of course!), but you can substitute with nuts of choice and any hard nutty cheese.
- Ode to Seattle's favorite: It is inspired by one of my favorite Seattle restaurants which unfortunately shut down during the 2020 pandemic.
⭐ Origin Story
Il Corvo used to be one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Seattle, a charming small restaurant located off Pioneer Square that was only open for lunch. I've never had a pasta dish at Il Corvo that I didn't like. But there are two other showstoppers that deserve their own applause - the focaccia (to die for!) and the star of this post, the best kale salad ever, aka the salad for people who hate salads.
📋 Ingredients and notes
To make this lemon garlic kale salad, you'll need Tuscan kale, pepitas, and Pecorino cheese and apple cider vinegar and some lemon juice to massage the kale. To make the green goddess dressing, you'll need parsley, garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and more Pecorino Romano cheese.
- Type of kale used: This salad works great with both curly kale and Lacinato kale (I've used both and love using both in this recipe).
- Substitute pepitas: Pepitas offer a nice nutty flavor, but you can almost any other toasted nuts (e.g., toasted walnuts or pine nuts) or seeds (e.g., squash seeds). I've even used roasted chickpeas occasionally.
- Substitute cheese: Pecorino Romano offers a unique, nutty flavor that complements the salad, but typically uses rennet (I buy a vegetarian version). You can substitute with a vegetarian parmesan of your choice, or even use a soft cheese like goat cheese in this salad. It's truly super versatile.
- Substitute herbs in dressing: I've found parsley goes best with this salad, but you can use almost any herbs you have on hand in the salad.
- Other optional toppings: I've topped this salad with nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes, sun dried tomatoes or even dried cranberries if you want to mix it up a bit.
📖 Make garlic kale salad and green goddess dressing
Start with the garlic confit
Garlic confit is the star of the dressing. Peel fresh garlic, and add olive oil over it in the smallest sauce pan you can find. Then, let it simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad. It's worth the wait!
Alternatively, you can use all the cloves of garlic and more olive oil to get a whole batch of delicious garlic confit in the oven. Add garlic cloves to a small ramekin or bowl, and fill to top with olive oil.
Then roast it in the oven at the lowest temperature your oven will allow (typically around 200F) for 1-2 hours until the garlic is golden brown. You can store this for up to 2 weeks and use it on everything. Seriously, the infused olive oil and the roasted garlic are mind-blowing.
Massage kale for salad
Did you know kale is actually a type of cabbage? Well, as a result, it needs to be chopped pretty finely or shredded.
First, wash the kale thoroughly and dry it with a paper towel. Alternatively, you can use a salad spinner. Then, once it's dry, chop up all the raw kale leaves into bite sized pieces.
Then, add a tablespoon of olive oil and some lemon juice. Slowly massage kale leaves by rubbing as many pieces as you can to soften it. Continue this for at least 2 to 3 minutes. You'll find that the kale leaves will become softer (but not mushy, they'll still remain crunchy). Then, set the kale aside while you prepare the dressing.
Toast the pepitas and shred Pecorino cheese
The idea is to add a bit of crunch to the salad. I typically just dry roast the pepitas on a pan for 2-3 minutes on a medium flame. Then they're good to go.
Shred the Pecorino Romano or whatever hard, nutty cheese you're using for the recipe (or use freshly grated parmesan cheese). This is super important since storebought pre-shredded cheese often have preservatives to prevent them from sticking. In a pinch, you can definitely use them, but it's much more delicious with fresh cheese!
Make the Green Goddess salad salad dressing
Once you poach the garlic, add garlic cloves, parsley, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and pecorino cheese and pulse it all together in a food processor. You'll get a coarse pesto like consistency. Then, add the garlic-infused olive oil to this and pulse until it gets to a nice dressing-like consistency.
Assemble the garlic kale salad
Start with a base of the soft but crunchy chopped kale in a large bowl. Then add the salad dressing (along with a good squeeze of lemon juice if you want) and give it all a good toss. Finally, add the toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and remaining Pecorino cheese (or freshly grated Parmesan cheese) and more salad dressing on top, and you're in action!
You can also add some lemon zest to finish the recipe. Enjoy your garlic kale salad with lemon!
👩🏽🍳 FAQs and Troubleshooting Tips
Kale is one of those greens that tends to just wilt up when you put it in the fridge. I follow a three-step process which drastically improves the life of kale: wash the kale thoroughly and then pat it dry with a clean kitchen towel; lay the towel flat on your counter and dry the kale on that; once it's dry (usually about 30-45 minutes) - wrap a paper towel around the kale, place in an airtight box or bag (like a salad leaf box). Squeeze all the air out, seal and then place back in the fridge.
Confit means to cook something down in fat. When garlic is in season in the summer, I typically make a large batch of this, and then serve it on everything. You can then use the oil for roasting or sautéing like you would normally use olive oil and then, you can also mash up the garlic and use it as a spread or dressing.
Yes, absolutely! Eating kale can be really healthy. It is a superfood, and is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat! You can eat it raw in salads and smoothies, or enjoy cooked kale in a variety of ways. .
As explained in the post above, the best way to do this is by massaging the kale salad with some olive oil and lemon juice. In addition to massaging kale, you can reduce its bitter flavor by pairing it with acidic and sweet ingredients, such as citrus juices or vinegars in a dressing and fruits in a salad.
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
You can make the garlic confit and the green goddess salad dressing ahead of time. The garlic stays fresh in the fridge in an airtight container for up to two weeks (during which you can and should liberally slather it on everything). The dressing stays in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
I don't recommend storing the pre-made salad if you can avoid it. And if you did make extra, then just add an avocado and blend it all up together to make it into a delicious kale pesto instead. I know, genius.
If you like this garlicky kale salad, check out some of my other salad recipes:
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Garlic Kale Salad with Lemon
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
- 8 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup olive oil, or enough to cover garlic cloves in pan
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- ⅓ cup pecorino Romano cheese, grated (divided, set aside 2 tablespoons for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Assemble the Salad
- 10 oz kale, chopped into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, for massaging the kale
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup pepitas
- 2 tablespoons pecorino Romano
- Add 8 to 10 peeled cloves of garlic into a saucepan and add enough olive oil to cover the garlic - typically about ¼ cup. Cook on low flame for about 30 minutes until the garlic is soft (but it should not brown!)Alternatively, you can place the garlic in an oven-safe bowl, fill with olive oil so it covers the garlic and then roast at 250°F for 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, shred 10 oz of kale into bite-sized chunks and place in a mixing bowl. Remove a tablespoon of olive oil from the garlic confit and add to the kale along with lemon juice evenly and massage the kale (softly press down on as many pieces as you can) and set aside
- To make the salad dressing: after 30 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic pieces and transfer to a small blender or food processor. Add olive oil from garlic confit, along with ¼ cup of fresh parsley, ⅓ cup of grated pecorino Romano cheese, and 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Pulse together to form a creamy green salad dressing
- Add ¼ cup of pepitas to a small sauce pan and toast them for about 4-5 minutes until they're crunchy. Toss the kale with the salad dressing and add the remaining pecorino and serve fresh!
- Depending on your pan, you might need to use more than the amount of olive oil suggested in this recipe. If so, use just ¼th cup in the dressing and save the rest to use for cooking as you normally do, except it tastes 10x better!
- You can replace the Pecorino Romano with any sharp hard cheese - but I recommend grating the cheese fresh before serving. Please also make sure to pick up a vegetarian version of this cheese since most varieties (if not labeled vegetarian) are made with animal rennet.
- You can substitute the pepitas with any toasted seed or nut; apple cider vinegar with red wine vinegar.
Note: This garlic kale salad recipe was originally posted on January 28, 2020 and later modified on August 8, 2022 with better step-by-step photos and tips. The recipe is unchanged. Original recipe and photos can be found below.
I've been dying to write this for a year now. Il Corvo is one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Seattle. This charming little restaurant is located off Pioneer Square and is only open for lunch. I've never had a pasta dish at Il Corvo that I didn't like. But there are two other showstoppers that deserve their own applause - the focaccia (to die for!) and the star of this post, the best kale salad ever, aka the salad for people who hate salads.
I used to go to Il Corvo just for the salad. Eventually, as one does, I started noticing the ingredients separate from the salad. I figured they used pecorino cheese right off the bat. The nuts threw me for a loop - originally thought they were pine nuts, but had an "aha moment" and realized they were likely pepitas. I could tell that there was parsley and garlic in the dressing. And then, one day, I overheard that they use garlic confit in their salad dressing! Armed with this knowledge, I was ready to develop my own version!
Disclaimer: This salad is inspired by Il Corvo. Other than the one tidbit about confit garlic, I have no idea what their actual recipe is. That said, it does taste damn delicious, so here we are. Now, onward and upward!