Lemony Kale Salad with Olives, Golden Raisins, Parmesan, and Sunflower Seeds

This kale salad is studded with Castelvetrano olives, golden raisins, parm and toasted sunflower seeds to make a side salad full of flavor or texture. Dressed with a super simple lemony dressing sweetened with just a touch of honey, it is as easy to make as it is delicious.

Salads might seem simple or basic but this one hits all the flavor notes: the kale is bitter, the honey in the dressing and the jammy golden raisins are sweet while the lemony dressing is full of sourness and acidity, the olives and parmesan are salty, and the toasted sunflower seeds and parmesan bring some savory umami notes. A touch of crushed red pepper flakes bring a bit of heat. There are also layers of fruity notes from the lemon juice, raisins, olive oil, and the Castelvetrano olives which are briny but mild as they are less cured than other types of olive.

Altogether, this ain’t your average side salad! It is so flavorful and packed with generous amounts of all the add-ins which make it exciting to eat. This salad also goes with so many dishes from pasta to good ole’ meat and potatoes to fish. It holds its own but is also neutral enough to go with different flavor profiles. Although this is my go-to side salad, I also use it as a main for a killer lunch (in which case adding chickpeas, white beans, and quinoa is a way I like to make it more filling) or dinner (I usually add protein like chicken, steak, or salmon as well as some beans to make this a dinner salad).

I have noticed a lot of restaurants serving kale salads just chop up the greens and serve them, so the leaves are tough and fibrous. I still love me some raw kale but IMO to make the best kale salad, massaging the kale is key. This tenderizes it so it is more palatable. The process is simple but does take some time. First, the kale leaves are removed from the stems. Then it is chopped or torn into bit sized pieces. A bit of the dressing is added, which makes it easier to massage and helps it break down faster. Finally, you use your hands to really get in there and massage the kale by squeezing it and rubbing it between your fingers. Over a couple of minutes, the kale transforms into the perfect, bold salad base. After you have massaged it enough, half the dressing is added and it is placed in the fridge, covered, for about an hour. The acid in the dressing further tenderizes the kale and lightly marinates it. You will be shocked how the kale sops up and absorbs all the dressing while it sits. The other half of the dressing is then added, to taste, prior to serving.

A few things to note: you can massage the kale to taste – meaning try it as you go until you get the texture you like. If I am serving this for guests, I usually break it down pretty good because I am not sure how they prefer their greens or if they like kale (hint: this salad can sway kale haters because the massaging and marinating alter the traits people tend to dislike about this leafy green). Likewise, the marination step is optional. I like how it tenderizes the kale and I feel like it adds some flavor, however you can totally massage, dress, and serve if you prefer. Just know that you CAN take this process too far – you do not want slimy kale or kale that is totally void of texture, so use your eyes and your taste buds as a guide. Do not massage to a pulp then marinate where it will be broken down further, make sure it has a bit of crispness and texture then marinate and you will be on your way to kale salad heaven.

Servings: about 4 as a side salad

Time: quick to make, but an hour or so to marinate (see note)


  • 1 bunch of kale (I used green curly kale; about 1 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup of sliced Castelvetrano olives
  • 1/3 cup of golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • scant 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated on a micro plane
  • salt
  • crushed red pepper flakes


  1. To make the dressing, combine the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, honey, 2 pinches of salt, and 2 pinches of crushed red pepper flakes in a jar with a lid. Shake until dressing is emulsified. Alternatively, whisk or blend in a blender until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasoning – it should be very lemony but with a hit of sweetness to balance the bitterness of the kale. Keep in mind the olives and parm are salty when adding salt to taste.
  2. Remove kale leaves from stems and tear or chop into small, bite sized pieces.
  3. Place kale in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of the dressing. Massage kale until soft, bright green, and fragrant but still crisp, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Pour half of the dressing over the kale. Add the olives and raisins and toss.
  5. Place salad into the fridge, covered, for about an hour to marinate and further tenderize the kale.
  6. After the hour is up, pull kale from the fridge and toss. Add the sunflower seeds and parmesan. Taste the salad and add more dressing as needed; you will notice much of it has been absorbed into the kale. IMO this salad needs more dressing than other greens because kale is so hardy – I add nearly all of the leftover dressing back in.
  7. Serve with crushed red pepper flakes and any extra dressing on the side. Optionally, serve with additional chopped olives, raisins, sunflower seeds, and parmesan on top for presentation.


  • Any type of kale works for this salad but I prefer green or purple curly kale to dinosaur because in my experience you get more greens for your dollar since there is more surface area.
  • Castelvetrano olives are deliciously fruity and lightly briny. They have a much fresher, more delicate, and less salty flavor than, say, a Kalamata. If you cannot find them, a good quality black olive is the closest sub followed by a green olive with a lower sodium content.
  • The marination step is optional – it does add some seasoning and further tenderizes the kale, but if you have massaged your kale to your liking you can also just add all the goodies, dress, and serve.
  • This salad will keep for 2 days in the fridge, but is best when eaten within a few hours. The kale does not wilt like regular greens, but the flavors become muddled over time. To avoid this, you can prep the base and skip the marination step until the day you actually plan to serve it.

2 thoughts on “Lemony Kale Salad with Olives, Golden Raisins, Parmesan, and Sunflower Seeds

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