As the holiday season draws near, we’re looking forward to the influx of dinners spent with family and friends. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas - and all the other holidays at this time of year - there’s always a good excuse to get together, crack open a bottle of wine, and spend the evening in good company.
We’re big fans of potluck style meals when it comes to gatherings like these. Not only because it makes it much easier on the host, but also because it’s fun to try a little bit of everyone’s dish. There’s always something (or someone) that’ll surprise you. Selfishly, potluck style meals also guarantee we’ll have something vegetarian friendly. So if you see us heading over to someone’s place for a dinner celebration, there’s a good chance we’re toting along a big bowl of this Festive Kale Salad. It has so many textures and flavors that it’s always a hit with guests. I mean, who can say no to crunchy maple glazed pecans, roasted squash and golden brown croutons? We wish we had a dollar for every time someone said “I can’t believe how much I’m loving this kale”, in between giant forkfuls of salad.
What we also love about this dish is that it’s pretty low maintenance when it comes to putting it together. The kale actually gets better once it sits in the dressing for a while, so you won’t need to worry about dressing your salad just before dinner starts. Massaging the dressing into the kale - with your hands - actually helps coat the leaves best. But if you’re put off by being this “hands on”, you can use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix the dressing and kale together. The kale is very sturdy, so do take the time to ensure the leaves are well coated. That’s the secret to getting them soft and silky.
There are a few other components to this salad, like candying the pecans (much easier than it sounds), baking the croutons and roasting the squash. To make it easy to follow along, the ingredients are separated into different components in the recipe. Don’t get discouraged by what might look like a long list! Many ingredients are repeated, and once you make this salad once, we promise you’ll want to make it again.
For the squash, our favorite one to use in this salad is delicata squash. It’s skin is delicate and edible which means no peeling before baking (hurray!). But if you wish, you can substitute with another type of squash instead. Just make sure to peel it, if needed, and adjust the cook time until they’re fork tender. We like to make our own maple glazed pecans from scratch, primarily because we don’t know where to buy good ones at the store - but also because they’re a cinch to make. You could substitute with store bought ones if you prefer.
The massaged kale is very sturdy, so you can pack up any leftover salad for lunches over the next couple of days. We often do this when we make a batch for weeknight dinner for the two of us. The croutons are the only things that can go soft after a day or two in the fridge, so we usually leave them out of leftovers or put fresh ones on top.
So there you have it: another plant-based meal idea to add to your holiday list! When paired with our Vegan Meatballs and Mushroom Gravy (pictured above), it really shows how you don’t need meat for an epic holiday feast!
Festive Kale Salad with Roasted Squash
- 1 lb delicata squash, cut into half moons (about ⅓-inch / 0.75 cm thick)
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter (or coconut oil, see note 1)
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 cup pecans
- 2 cups sourdough bread, cubed (gluten-free if needed)
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 2 bunches lacinato kale, destemmed and thinly sliced
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- Preheat: Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Roast squash: Scatter squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and ⅛ teaspoon of the pepper. Bake on the upper rack, until golden brown and tender, about 30 minutes.
- Make pecans: Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in maple syrup. Once the mixture starts to bubble, remove from heat. Add pecans, stir until coated. Transfer pecans (and any liquid) to a second parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on the bottom rack until pecans are fragrant, about 8 minutes (watch carefully to avoid burning!). Sprinkle with ⅛ teaspoon of the salt. Transfer the parchment paper and pecans to a plate. Transfer to the fridge to cool.
- Make croutons: Add bread to a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, toss to coat. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, ⅛ teaspoons of the salt, and ⅛ teaspoons of the pepper. Toss to coat. Bake on the bottom rack until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Make dressing: To a small jar add, red wine vinegar, remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, dijon mustard, remaining ¾ teaspoons of salt and remaining ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Seal jar with lid and shake to mix.
- Assemble: Add kale to a large bowl. Pour dressing over top. Use your hands (or stirring spoon) to thoroughly coat the kale with dressing. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to soften. Add dried cranberries, roasted squash, candied pecans, and croutons. Toss and serve.
- Butter or Coconut Oil: You can use regular butter or a storebought vegan butter substitute. If using coconut oil, use refined (deodorized) coconut oil to minimize coconut flavor.
- Make ahead tips: You can prep most of the salad components the day before, and assemble just before serving. We often do this when bringing the salad over to someone's place during the holidays. Make the squash, candied pecans, and croutons in advance. Store separately in airtight containers (squash should be refrigerated, pecans and croutons can sit on the counter). We like to wash, pat dry, and slice the kale too (store it in a freezer bag or resealable container). On the day of, before assembling, add the squash to a 350°F (177°C) oven until warm, about 5 minutes. During the holidays, oven space is usually tight, so you can be flexible on the temperature, just adjust bake time accordingly. Then assemble as directed.