This marinated kale caprese salad is a simple take on a classic appetizer with a boost of nutrition. Massaging the kale with olive oil and balsamic vinegar provides delicious flavor and tenderizes it so it’s easily chewable. It’s great on its own or as a base for a dinner salad.
I’ve yet to meet someone who isn’t dairy-intolerant or anti-tomatoes that doesn’t like caprese salad. You get the juiciness from the tomatoes, creamy soft fresh mozzarella, and a big burst of flavor from basil. Add a little salt, pepper, or balsamic vinegar (if you like) and you have all of the makings of a fabulous, easy salad.
Except for the fact that, if I’m being honest, devouring caprese salad isn’t quite the same thing as enjoying a salad salad. You know, ones with leafy greens beyond a few basil leaves? And isn’t comprised 50% of cheese?
So I present to you marinated kale caprese salad, which addresses the two points above in a way that ensures you’ll be enjoying the same great flavors of a traditional caprese salad, with the added benefit of a ton of vitamins and nutrients that kale is known for (specifically vitamins A, C and K).
Reasons to Love This Recipe
- As written it functions well as a side dish, salad, or appetizer option, but works as a wonderful main dish salad base if you add grilled chicken or your favorite protein.
- Massaging raw kale with both olive oil and balsamic vinegar imparts great flavor as it tenderizes.
- Because kale is hearty, this kale caprese salad gets even better with time as leftover portions refrigerate.
- Kale: One bunch of raw curly kale is used here, but buying pre-packaged kale leaves will save on prep time. Kale can be tough and chewy when left raw, however massaging and/or marinating the kale leaves works to break down and soften the leaves and reduce its bitterness.
- Tomatoes: On the vine, beefsteak, and heirloom varieties are all juicy choices for slicing into wedges for this caprese kale tomato salad. Cherry tomatoes, cut in half, also work.
- Mozzarella: Fresh mozzarella is a caprese classic. You can slice up a ball of fresh mozzarella, or you can use bite-sized fresh mozzarella pearls (my preference).
- Olive oil: Extra-virgin olive oil softens up the kale leaves, but also imparts a delicious flavor. I would not substitute in another oil.
- Slice the kale leaves away from the stems and cut into smaller, relatively bite-sized pieces. Add to a bowl and drizzle in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Using your hands, rub the liquids into all of the kale leaves for several minutes, “massaging” them.
- Once massaged, you’ll notice the leaves will have darkened, wilted, and shrunken in size. Let the kale rest for at least 30 minutes. The balsamic vinegar and olive oil will serve as a simple dressing here.
- Meanwhile, slice tomatoes into wedges and gently toss in a bowl with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Let them sit for 20 minutes to marinate, stirring them up several times throughout.
- Chiffonade the basil by cutting it into thin strips soon before plating and serving. I like to keep the strips a bit wide in this kale caprese salad for there to be a strong basil presence.
- Once the kale and tomatoes have rested for the appropriate times, plate the salad starting with the kale, then adding the marinated tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Add a little extra drizzle of balsamic vinegar and season with salt and freshly ground pepper before serving.
Baby kale is a lot more tender than regular raw kale, and can be eaten straight-up without massaging. However in a simple salad like this, I think you’d miss the flavor and “dressing” regular kale develops from being massaged with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I’d opt not to use baby kale here.
One of the benefits of a marinated salad with hearty greens like this is that leftover portions seem to get even better as they sit in the refrigerator. The kale is intended to wilt and soften, after all. I’ve enjoyed this salad for multiple days after making and it’s held up perfectly.
This works by itself as a starter, but one of my favorite ways to serve it is as a base salad for grilled chicken. The photo below shows the addition of a simply marinated (olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, oregano, etc.) grilled boneless skinless chicken thigh and *wow* was it good.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Marinated Kale Caprese Salad
For the kale:
- 1 bunch of curly kale, center stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
For the tomatoes:
- 1 pound tomatoes about 5 medium, sliced into wedges
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
- Pinch of ground black pepper or to taste
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls
- 8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
- Balsamic vinegar for drizzling (optional)
- Add kale leaves to a large mixing bowl and pour in ¼ cup of the olive oil and 2 Tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar. Using your hands, massage the liquids into the kale leaves for several minutes, working the kale down until the kale tenderizes and becomes less bitter. You can taste test to see when it's to your liking. Let kale sit for 30 minutes, or longer.
- While the kale is sitting, add tomato wedges to a bowl and pour in ¼ cup olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss the tomato slices in the oil. Let tomatoes marinate for 20 minutes or longer, tossing them every so often.
- To serve, add the massaged kale to a plate and top with tomatoes, mozzarella, and strips of basil. Season with additional salt and pepper to your liking, as well as a drizzle of balsamic vinegar if desired. Refrigerate leftover portions.
- As the greens are hearty and benefit from a longer “marinating” time, this kale caprese salad is a good choice for making ahead of time. Store in the refrigerator.
- To make quick work of slicing basil into strips, first stack the basil leaves on top of one another. While holding them tightly together, roll from their long side into a thin roll. Using a sharp knife, perpendicularly slice small sections of the roll, unrolling once done to yield thin strips of basil.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer