massaged kale salad with marinated goat cheese, fennel, and apples


Massaged Kale Salad with Fennel, Pecans, & Cranberries



A flight medic & educator turned multi-hyphenate creative, traveler, and coach. This blog is dedicated to helping everyone live well, one day at a time.




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This rendition of a massaged kale salad has been on my mind, lately, so here we are.

At first glance of the photos and ingredients, this salad might feel a bit overwhelming. A homemade honey mustard inspired dressing, goat cheese, fennel, pecans, apple, AND dried cranberries?

Trust me when I say that this is the perfect mix of textures and flavors, with a dressing that can easily be made ahead, in a single jar or bowl. It’s herby, refreshing, crunchy, and creamy. Salads are all about balancing the elements of texture and flavor, while not making things too complicated.

It’s a salad, after all, and really isn’t that serious.

Even if you’ve never made a massaged kale salad, before.

The unspoken star here is a marinated goat cheese – which is unnecessary, but lovely if you can find it. What I’ve used here is a Marinated Chèvre from a local to my home state of North Carolina cheese company called Goat Lady Dairy. You could also find something herb infused at your local market, store, or marinate your own.

How do you make this as easy as possible if it’s a weeknight meal on the fly?

Make your dressing and prep all of the ingredients, first. Better yet – if you know you’re going to make this soon, do an ingredient prep with kale earlier in the week and make the dressing up to a few days ahead and store in the refrigerator.

Massaged Kale Salad with Fennel, Apple, and Goat Cheese

Trust me when I say that this is the perfect mix of textures and flavors, with a dressing that can easily be made ahead, in a single jar or bowl. It's herby, refreshing, crunchy, and creamy.

Course Salad
Cuisine American, Fusion, Italian
Keyword lemon, mustard, olive oil, salad, fennel, marinated goat cheese, chevre
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4
Author Marybeth Wells


Salad Components

  • 1 large bunch of fresh kale de-stemmed
  • 1 honeycrisp apple cored, then cubed or sliced
  • 1 small bulb of fennel thinly sliced
  • 3 oz marinated goat cheese crumbled
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup pepitas or pecans (or both) roughly chopped, toasted if you like


  • 1/4 cup olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1-2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt to taste
  • several twists freshly ground black pepper to taste



  1. Start by making your dressing to let the flavors marinate together. If you're eating it right away, you can just set it to the side. If you're making the dressing ahead, store it in the refrigerator.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, maple syrup, dijon mustard, kosher salt, and black pepper until emulsified. The other option is to place dressing ingredients into a small jar and shake until fully combined and emulsified.


  1. To prepare the kale: Use a chef’s knife or your hands to remove the tough ribs from the kale, then discard the ribs. I like to grab around mid stem and then just pull the leaves off of the stem.

  2. Chop the kale leaves into small, bite-sized pieces. Transfer the chopped kale to a big salad bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with clean hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.

  3. Chop the apple into small, bite-sized pieces. Use a chef’s knife or mandoline to slice the fennel as thin as possible. Transfer the prepared apple and fennel to the same big salad bowl.

  4. Crumble the goat cheese over the salad. Roughly chop the cranberries and add them to the bowl.

  5. To toast the pepitas or pecans if you'd like to: In a skillet over medium-low heat, toast the nuts, tossing frequently, until fragrant and starting to make little popping noises, about 3 to 6 minutes. Either allow them to cool, or stick them straight on the salad.

  6. Drizzle dressing over the salad, just enough to lightly coat the kale once tossed (you might have some leftover dressing). Toss the salad well. For best flavor, let the salad rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

  • Because this recipe uses a heartier green like kale, it saves remarkably well for eating leftover. You can make it with whatever greens you like (spinach and arugula would both be delicious), but keep in mind whether you plan to eat any the next day.
  • This dressing will keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, but I’d recommend using it as soon as possible for flavor and so that you don’t forget about it.
  • The prep of kale is something that can be done beforehand. I recommend “ingredient prepping” vs meal prepping – i.e. prepping your ingredients as soon as you bring them home from the store to increase the liklihood that they’re used.

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Hi, I'm Marybeth

A flight medic & educator turned multi-hyphenate creative, traveler, and coach.

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