Recipe Review

I Tried Baked Salad and Will Be Making It on Repeat All Fall Long

published Oct 18, 2022
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Credit: Kelli Foster

You know how sometimes you see a recipe or hear about a super-smart hack (think: degreasing soup with an icy ladle, or this clever trick for Cinnabon-style cinnamon rolls), and immediately think to yourself, Oh, wow! Yes! Why have I not been doing this forever?

That was my initial reaction as soon as I came across the baked kale salad with crispy quinoa from Justine Snacks while scrolling through my Instagram feed. Picture this: A big bowl piled high with glossy, tender ribbons of warm green cabbage and kale, silky strands of tender red onion, and a generous shower of crispy quinoa. It’s a total stunner.

I love a good, wholesome salad for lunch, but once it’s sweater weather I also crave something warm and cozy. Baked salad felt like the perfect solution. Although, I have to say, what really drew me in was the dressing: an herb-infused agrodolce (an Italian condiment made with honey and vinegar that’s the most perfect balance of sweet and tart). Lately I’ve been obsessed with warm salad dressing and making infused olive oil for salads, so I was excited to see if the agrodolce in this recipe would transform a simple salad into a luxurious meal. Here’s what I thought after trying baked salad for myself.

How To Make Baked Salad

While a pot of quinoa cooks on the stovetop, you’ll core and thinly slice a small head of green cabbage and kale leaves, then place each on separate baking sheets. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper; spread in an even layer; and bake until tender and crispy around the edges. Spread the quinoa in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, mix with a spoonful of chili oil, and bake until golden and crispy, stirring once halfway through.

Meanwhile, you’ll prepare the agrodolce by heating olive oil with fresh sage leaves and a rosemary sprig in a skillet over medium heat. Add a mix of honey and water, followed by red wine vinegar. The mixture will froth a little, and thicken slightly as it simmers for a few minutes. You’ll remove the herbs and pour the dressing over a bowl of sliced red onion to mellow the bite.

Just before serving, drizzle the agrodolce and onion over the cabbage and kale, and toss to combine. Divide the greens among bowls, top with crispy quinoa, and serve.

Credit: Kelli Foster

My Honest Review of Baked Kale Salad

I’ve now lost count of how many times I’ve made this salad, and over the past couple of weeks I’ve gushed about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. (And now I get to gush about it to all of you lovely folks!) My level of excitement for this salad is extraordinarily high; everything about it is just so satisfying.

The humble mix of vegetables and pantry ingredients results in a beautiful balance of fresh, sweet, savory, tangy, spicy notes. But it’s the warmth and mix of textures that really make it feel so impressive, and like something you’d order at a restaurant. I’m excited to have friends over for lunch or dinner just so I can make this for them.

As someone who adores crunchy things, I need to take a moment to sing the praises of crispy quinoa. I’ve been making it for years and it happens to be one of my favorite salad toppers. It’s especially perfect here, as it’s such a sharp contrast with the warm, wilted greens.

I also love how versatile it can be. Red cabbage would make an easy substitute for the green cabbage, and radicchio could also be really nice. I can’t wait to toss in some roasted butternut or delicata squash. Roasted sweet potato, cauliflower, and beets would make nice toppers. And it would be so good topped with salmon or some shredded rotisserie chicken to bulk it up into a meal. 

It’s not a quick, throw-together salad, but I don’t consider that a drawback at all because this salad delivers. Plus, there’s nothing tricky about making it.

Credit: Kelli Foster

3 Tips for Making Baked Kale Salad

  1. You’ll need 1 medium-large bunch lactino kale. The recipe calls for 12 kale leaves — a medium to large bunch will be just right.
  2. The quinoa can be made in advance. Two options here: You can either cook the quinoa on the stovetop or in your Instant Pot the day before (I think day-old quinoa crisps even better) or cook and bake the quinoa in advance. Crispy quinoa will keep for at least several days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
  3. Don’t be shy with the olive oil. The recipe doesn’t specify the amount of olive oil. A safe bet is 2 tablespoons for the cabbage and 1 to 2 tablespoons for the kale.