Take advantage of fall produce with this Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad! This recipe features figs, squash, apples, and a homemade maple-thyme vinaigrette to tie it all together.Jump to Recipe
Fall in Love with this Salad!
Whoever said salads were boring, never tried this Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad. In fact, this salad is anything but boring. This recipe features three seasonal ingredients on top of a bed of delicious red Russian kale. The sweet autumn flavors of the roasted butternut squash, figs, and crisp apples are heightened by the Sweet and Spicy Pecans from Santé Nuts.
And we can’t forget the maple-thyme vinaigrette that compliments all of the unique flavors of the salad! The vinaigrette is so easy to make and impossible to resist- just like this whole recipe! I guarantee this Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad will be your new go to recipe for fall.
The Kind of Kale Matters
Did you know that there are over twenty different kinds of kale? The most common types are curly and baby kale. These are most likely what you’ve seen at the grocery store or have used before. But there’s a whole selection to choose from, and the variety you use does make a difference.
- Curly Kale: As mentioned, this is one of the most common types of kale. Curly kale is best when cooked down, as it is quite fibrous.
- Tuscan Kale: Also known as Dinosaur Kale, this variety is known for its deep green color. It’s delicious both cooked and uncooked. Furthermore, it’s often found in soups.
- Red Russian Kale: Similar to curly kale, this kale is infamous for its red or purple colored stems. It’s often the best pick for salad recipes.
- Baby Kale: You may have guessed by the name that this variety is- in fact- a younger version of kale. So, its flavor isn’t quite as developed and it cooks down much faster.
While there’s so many other varieties we could go into, these four are the most popular of the kale family. For this Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad recipe, we will be using red kale. Once prepared properly, it has the ideal texture to support a large salad. As well, it takes on a beautiful flavor from the vinaigrette!
How to Prepare Kale
Kale is very fibrous, and red Russian kale is no exception. There are a few steps you can utilize to prepare the kale so that it softens, and ultimately has the texture you desire. Start by washing the kale and patting it dry with a paper towel. Next, remove the leaves from the stems using a sharp knife. Set the stems to the side and use the knife to cut the kale into small pieces.
Finally, there are a few ways you can soften the kale. First, you can add the chopped kale to a bowl with a little bit of olive oil. Use your hands to massage the kale for three minutes. The kneading motion helps to break down the fibers and tenderize the vegetable. Add a pinch of salt at the end to bring out the flavor.
The second option is my preferred method. I like to make my vinaigrette in the salad bowl and add the kale directly to it. I use the salad tongs to massage the kale and allow the vinaigrette to soften the greens for me. This also helps to impart a lot of that beautiful flavor from the vinaigrette into the kale itself.
Three Important Ingredients
This salad recipe is full of beautiful ingredients. A few of them, like the kale, pecans and produce, have already been highlighted above. But there are a few other ingredients that I haven’t mentioned yet…
- Quinoa: I’m a huge fan of adding quinoa to salads, especially during the fall and winter. This gluten-free grain makes the salad more filling. Plus, I love the combination of kale and quinoa!
- Dried Cranberries: This dried fruit adds the perfect sweet and tangy flavor. Not only does it pair beautifully with the kale, but it’s also a nice textural component to the crisp apple and roasted butternut squash.
- Goat Cheese: Fruit, pecans and goat cheese are the trifecta of the salad! The creaminess and tart flavor of the goat cheese works on so many levels and compliments each ingredient beautifully.
Here’s a quick tip: Use broth when cooking your quinoa instead of water. Cooking the quinoa in broth will not only adds more flavor but also more nutrients. This will ultimately make the salad more filling.
How to Cook Butternut Squash
One of the key components of this salad is the roasted butternut squash. This seasonal produce is a great addition to our fall salad! It’s roasted in fresh thyme; which, brings out the thyme-maple vinaigrette. Furthermore, its sweet flavor is balanced by the tartiness of the goat cheese and slight bitter taste that the kale has to it.
So, how do we cook butternut squash? First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a large baking tray with parchment paper. For the squash, you can use half of a fresh butternut squash or opt for pre-cubed frozen butternut squash. If you use the fresh produce, start by peeling it and then cut it into bite-sized cubed. Add the cubed butternut squash to a bowl and toss with two teaspoons olive oil, three to four sprigs of fresh thyme, one teaspoon maple syrup, and one teaspoon salt and pepper.
Toss to combine the cubed butternut squash and the seasonings. Then, spread an even layer across the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes. The squash should be soft but not overcooked or mushy. You want it just soft enough to eat without being mushy. Allow the roasted squash to cool for at least 15 minutes.
This salad wouldn’t be complete without the pecans! I’m a firm believe that all salads taste better with nuts, especially when they’re from Santé Nuts. Santé Nuts is a family-owned company thats crafts crave-worthy snacks. All their nuts are hand roasted and seasoned, making each batch one at a time. They have a wide variety of flavors, from sweet to savory, and feature almonds, pecans and walnuts.
I paired their award-winning Sweet & Spicy Pecans with this kale salad. These crunchy, candied pecans have a slight hint of heat that balances out the sweet flavors of the salad. The overall flavors of the salad, from the roasted squash to the homemade vinaigrette, is more sweet than savory. Although not overwhelming sweet, the pecans do add a that small amount of spice that this autumn salad needs.
There are a number of other pecans from Santé Nuts to try out, such as their Candied Pecans or the Bourbon Pecans. Try out my Radicchio Salad with Pecans if you’re looking to use the candied pecans! And lucky for you, I have a discount code that will get you 15% off your order from Santé Nuts. Just use the code ‘BOTTOMLESSPIT’ for 15% off your order from the Santé Nuts website. The nuts are truly delicious in any recipe!
How to Make the Maple Vinaigrette
There’s one final component to our Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad that we can’t forget about… the homemade vinaigrette! This simple ingredients vinaigrette is better than any store-bought brand, not to mention it has half the ingredients. This vinaigrette comes together in less than five minutes and yields a well balanced flavor profile.
First, start by adding a fourth cup of olive oil to a mason jar or directly to the salad bowl. The olive oil acts as our neutral oil and is one of the healthiest oils we can use as the base of the vinaigrette. Next, drizzle in three tablespoons of maple syrup, and two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. The maple syrup acts as our sweetener here and provides a rich, sweet flavor. The apple cider vinegar balances the sweetness, while providing that acidity the vinaigrette needs. This strong flavor picks up on notes from the goat cheese too!
Finally, it’s time for the seasonings! Combine two teaspoons of fresh thyme with half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sprinkle into the vinaigrette, then whisk together. It’s as easy as that! I like to make mine in the salad bowl so that I can add the kale directly to the bowl and use the vinaigrette to soften it. If you’re worried about overdressing the kale, make the vinaigrette in a mason jar and then add half to the salad bowl. That way, you can still use the vinaigrette to soften the kale but don’t have to worry about the kale being overly dressed.
Thyme to Make this Salad
At long last, it is finally time to make this salad! I like to start by prepping the butternut squash and quinoa, as those are the only ingredients that will have to cook and cool. Once the squash is in the oven and the quinoa is cooking, I make the vinaigrette. I like to make it in a mason jar and add half to my salad bowl. Prep the kale by washing and cutting it before adding it to the salad bowl. Use the salad tongs to massage the kale in order to soften it. Allow it to sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
Carefully slice one apple into thin, even pieces. I like to use Fuji or Honeycrisp apples here, as they are crisp and juicy. Then, wash and slice three to four Black Mission figs into quarter sized pieces. Once the quinoa has cooked and cooled, add one cup to the kale. Add a fourth cup of dried cranberries and use the tongs to toss together to combine. Transfer to a large serving plate if desired and add the pecans, roasted butternut squash, sliced apples and figs. Finally, add the crumbled goat cheese and dress with the rest of the vinaigrette.
This Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad makes for the perfect main course for lunch, dinner or as a side dish for gatherings. If you’re looking to add a little protein to the salad to make it a complete meal, I would suggest adding grilled chicken breasts or a salmon fillet. Roast either with a bit of fresh thyme to tie into the salad. Then, you’re ready to enjoy!
Autumn Kale and Pecan SaladCourse: Appetizers, Sides, Lunch, Main, Salads, DinnerDifficulty: Easy
If you love all the seasonal produce of fall, then this Autumn Kale and Pecan Salad is for you!
- For the Salad
1 bunch of red kale, washed
1 cup quinoa, cooked
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup Sweet & Spicy Pecans from Santé Nuts
1 cup of butternut squash, cubed and roasted
1 Honeycrisp apple, sliced
3-4 Black Mission figs, cut into quarter slices
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
- For the Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme sprig
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
- See above for tips on how to best prepare the quinoa and cook the butternut squash.
- Make the vinaigrette in a mason jar. Whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup and seasonings. Pour half of the vinaigrette into the salad bowl and reserve the rest for later.
- Wash the kale and pat dry with paper towels. Remove the leaves from the stems before using a knife to roughly chop the leaves.
- Add the kale to the salad bowl and use the salad tongs to massage the kale. The vinaigrette will help soften the kale.
- Add the cooked quinoa and dried cranberries to the salad bowl. Toss to combine, then transfer to a large serving plate if desired.
- Top with the pecans, roasted butternut squash, sliced apples and figs.
- Garnish with crumbled goat cheese and the rest of the vinaigrette. Toss to combine, then serve and enjoy.
- Store in an air-tight container up to three days.