Kale, apple, and pomegranate salad with spicy maple pecans (4+ servings)

I have a pal who thinks she hates kale, once describing it as tasting like shattered dreams. Every time she pronounces "kale," she spits the word out of her mouth with disgust, wrinkling her nose and glaring at me with disapproval.

(If looks could kale.)

And no, before you criticize, I'm not a kale chauvinist; I mean I love it, but I'm not one to get in your face about it. It's healthy, satisfying, and versatile, and it makes me happy. It's my kale-iwick, you might say. 

(I also enjoy terrible puns.)

But I'd like to think that this salad could turn even my dubious pal into a fan. It's topped with tangy cranberries, sweet apples, salty feta, and toasty-spicy pecans, so what's not to like? The kale is only a conduit for those embellishments anyway.

So this one goes out to my skeptical friend. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. Then kale me... maybe? 

Click here for printable version.

Adapted from VegetarianTimes.com

You will need:

Spicy maple pecans

  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground chipotle or cayenne pepper to taste

Vinaigrette (Note: I like my salads lightly dressed, so you might find you need more vinaigrette than I prefer. You can always double the quantities below and then save any remaining dressing for another purpose later.)

  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • a dash of onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • 1 12-oz. bunch curly kale, washed, de-stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 large firm apple, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (If you live in the Triangle and can get some of Prodigal Farms' goat feta, I highly recommend it!)


  1. First, make the pecans so they have a bit of time to cool. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss pecans in a small bowl with syrup, oil, salt, and chipotle or cayenne (or hot sauce, even). Spread the pecans on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the pecans smell good and toasty. Set aside to cool.
  2. Use a small jar to shake up the vinaigrette ingredients. Take it easy on the salt since the feta will make the salad salty on its own. Set the vinaigrette aside.
  3. Place kale in a large serving bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over top and use your hands to massage (yes, kale likes to be pampered) the dressing into the greens briefly. Then add the apple, pomegranate seeds, feta, and pecans and toss gently to combine.

This salad keeps well in the fridge for a couple days!

Quinoa, kale, and parsley salad with lentils, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts (4 servings)

Wait. Wait a second. Was the Vegan Month of Food (affectionately known as Vegan MoFo) always in September? I thought it was October! I swear it was always October. It doesn't matter much either way, seeing as I totally forgot about it until a couple days ago. Two out-of-state weddings plus a new job have made the last six weeks very, very busy for this humble food blogger. But it's great to be back, whether this is the vegans' month for celebrating or not!

I'm not vegan myself, but I do cook vegan meals anywhere from two to five times a week and I'm always searching for new recipes to test out. When I saw this audaciously-hued salad on Kale Me Maybe last week, I knew I had to have it. The ruby red and emerald green colors sold me first, but then I read the list of show-stopping superfoods and was absolutely convinced I had to prioritize this one. What's not to like?

I kept all of Carina's original ingredients but doubled the recipe, although I changed up some of the ingredients' proportions. I tend to like my salads dressed lightly, so I used a lot less dressing than the original recipe suggested. Of course, it's all up to personal preference! If you're a fan of tangy-sweet flavor combinations and chewy-crunchy texture pairings, you will not be disappointed by this one -- I promise!

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa
  • 1/2 cup dry brown lentils
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from half a lemon


  1. In separate saucepans, cook the quinoa and lentils in broth or water, according to package directions. Be sure to not overcook either. Once they're each just tender (my quinoa took about 20 minutes and the lentils took 40), set them aside to cool.
  2. In the meantime, rinse, de-stem, and dry the kale and parsley. Measure out 2 cups of kale and 1 cup of parsley leaves and place them in a large serving bowl. Use a pair of kitchen shears to finely mince both the kale and parsley. 
  3. Once the quinoa has cooled, toss it with the kale and parsley. Then, add in the lentils, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, oil, and lemon juice, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature as a main dish or side.

Vegan baked lentils and brown rice (4-5 servings)

I have an old, brown blanket that I love to snuggle under to read or watch TV. It's seen better days; the fluffy, plush surface on one side is starting to wear a little thin, and the stuffing on the other side is beginning to pop out. The blanket isn't much to look at. You'd never see it in a West Elm catalog or at Crate and Barrel. But I love that blanket. It's warm and soft, and I know it's going to make me feel good whenever I drape it over myself on a chilly evening, no matter how stressful the previous hours have been.

This dish is the food equivalent of that blanket. It's not particularly pretty or trendy or stylish, but it's filled with the predictable sort of comfort I crave at the end of a long day. Its rich, earthy colors and simple flavors fill me up and let me know I'm home.

Plus, it's so simple to make. I love "dump-and-bake" recipes, as unattractive as that name sounds. It's basically just a veganized version of this Food.com recipe. I hesitate to call it a casserole, because to me, casseroles involve more layers and textures, but I suppose it's a very simple sort of casserole. Whatever you call it, it's an easy, soothing, healthful meal, and I think you're going to love it.

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup green lentils, dry

  • 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, dry

  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews, toasted

  • handful of dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes (opt.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder

  • 2 2/3 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 1/4 cups white wine


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Place all ingredients in a 1 1/2-quart ungreased casserole dish and mix gently.
  3. Bake, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

And that's it! It bakes for a long time, but the prep couldn't be much easier. I think I might add chopped celery and carrots next time and maybe some mushrooms for a little more depth. I love that the simplest foods are often the best!

Maple-lime sweet potato and black bean tacos (4 servings)

In my estimation, there are three levels of vegan cooking. Level I means simply leaving out the animal products without replacing them -- skipping the layer of cheese on top of a casserole, for example. There are times when this is perfectly workable and when the eater wouldn't even know anything was missing. However, there are other occasions where the final product is missing the richness or depth that the original ingredients contributed. Next, Level II vegan cooking involves making easy substitutes -- changing out oil for butter, soy sauce for Worcestershire, or non-dairy sour cream for the regular stuff. Again, this works well most of the time, and it's certainly easy. Level III is a little more complicated and requires replacing animal ingredients with creative substitutes that match the flavor, complexity, and texture of the originals.

When I cook vegan meals (and I do so three or four dinners per week, usually), I'm normally at a Level II. I'm trying to find more interesting ingredient substitutes though. Today's taco recipe is somewhere between Level II and Level III; it replaces the honey from these honey-lime sweet potato, corn, and black bean tacos with maple syrup (another lovely fall flavor) and makes up for the missing cheese with a dairy-free spicy sauce. I love sweet potatoes and could tell their roasted sweetness would be nicely offset by the acidity of the lime, but I knew leaving out the cheese would remove the rich, creamy accent flavoring. A quick search led me to this smooth and spicy chipotle sauce, which ended up being the perfect complement to the tacos.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (You don't have to bother with peeling them.)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 lime
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 14.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 small flour tortillas, warmed

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds (whole, sliced, or slivered -- doesn't matter), soaked for several hours
  • 1/4 cup canola or similarly neutral-tasting oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice


  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
  2. Once you've diced the potatoes, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with the olive oil and toss gently. Sprinkle the potatoes with cumin, paprika, coriander, the zest of the lime (save the lime for juice later), and red pepper flakes to taste. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss gently again, and then spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, place drained black beans in a small stockpot over medium-low heat. Add in the onion powder (Feel free to use fresh, diced onion if your insides are tougher than mine!), garlic, maple syrup, and oregano, along with the juice from the lime. Stir and cover. Allow the beans to simmer gently while the sweet potatoes roast.
  4. While the sweet potatoes and beans are doin' their thang, make the chipotle sauce. Drain the almonds. (If you forgot to soak the almonds, don't worry. I'm guessing your sauce will just come out a little less smooth.) Using a blender or food processor (or an immersion blender and wide-mouthed, tall jar), blend all the sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Once the sweet potatoes are tender inside and slightly crispy outside, remove the pan from the oven. Top each tortilla with a spoonful of black beans, a scattering of sweet potato cubes, a drizzle of sauce, and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with hot sauce on the side, if preferred.

A quick anecdote about a mistake that turned into a proud moment: When I was blending the sauce, I started out with 3/4 cup water, which made the sauce way too thin. I mean, it was practically broth. I went through a panicked conversation in my head about what I could use as a thickener -- "Yogurt? Nope, won't work for a vegan recipe. Cream? Still nope. Cooked rice? Don't have any. Cornstarch? Seems weird here. Cooked, mashed vegetables? No -- oh, wait! Sweet potatoes!" They had just finished roasting, so I tossed in a couple cubes at a time, blending them into the sauce, until it had reached a thicker consistency. The potatoes gave the sauce a little extra flavor, too! Hooray for thinking on my feet!

CookingClassy's original taco recipe called for corn, but I decided to leave it out to save some calories. I'm sure it would taste great, but I was trying to cut corners, admittedly. Next time, I might cut the sweet potatoes down to one pound, as I had just enough beans for eight tacos but probably a cup of leftover potatoes. Hey, they'll make a nice side dish for something later in the week!

P.S. The leftover sauce is great on top of a vegan taco salad! Start with a bed of mixed greens and shredded carrots, crisp up some Yves veggie ground round in a skillet and add it to the greens; then add a few dollops of salsa and a drizzle of the chipotle sauce. Guacamole, beans, and diced tomato would also be great additions to this salad!

Kale salad with warm maple dressing (3-4 servings)

Kale is the James Franco of salad greens. First of all, both kale and James Franco began their careers with a small but dedicated underground following and later enjoyed a quick rise to fame. Public interest in both peaked about a year ago, although both continue to have a ubiquitous presence on Pinterest. (In fact, did you know that at any given time, the number of pinned James Franco selfies equals the exact number of pinned recipes for kale chips?*) Finally, like actor/writer/student/artist/director/mime/seamstress/Senator James Franco, kale can do just about anything. Whether you boil it, bake it, juice it, braise it, roast it, or serve it raw, kale can stand up to the pressure of your demands and come out the other side looking great.

Like James Franco, kale's merit is often overlooked because of its pretentious attitude and tendency to snap at interviewers.

This salad showcases raw kale's crispy yet supple texture, balancing its slightly bitter taste with a light, sweet dressing. It's perfect for a fall supper -- filling and healthy and infused with the autumnal flavors of maple and smoke. It's easy to put together on a weeknight. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I hate wilted, slimy spinach. Kale holds up well to the warm dressing and keeps nicely for leftovers the next day, providing you keep the toppings separate from the rest of the salad.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch kale (I prefer Lacinato/dinosaur kale because it's easiest to wash), de-stemmed (watch a tutorial here), rinsed, patted dry, and torn into bite-sized pieces 
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I don't want to hear about any of this Mrs. Fancypants' Pancake-Flavored Syrup Concoction, people. Only the real stuff will do.)
  • dash of onion powder
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/8 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes without oil (if you can find the smoked variety, your salad will improve tenfold)
  • 1/4 cup shredded or diced smoked cheese (Whole Foods' perpetually helpful vendeur de fromage suggested a lovely naturally-smoked Gouda)


  1. After your kale is de-stemmed, rinsed, dried, and torn, toss it into a big serving bowl and give it a massage. (No, really! Squeeze and knead the leaves a couple times to break them down and make them less bitter.)
  2. Pour the vinegar, oil, maple syrup, onion powder, and salt and pepper into a microwaveable mug or measuring cup. Microwave it in 30-second increments until it's warm but not super hot. Stir the dressing with a fork or small whisk until it's basically uniform, but don't worry too much if you can't get it all mixed together.
  3. Pour about half the dressing over the kale and toss to combine. If you need more dressing to cover the leaves, go ahead, but you probably won't use all of it because it's thin.
  4. Place equal portions of the kale on dinner plates and top each serving with pecans, tomatoes, and cheese. Serve immediately. 


*Really, really not true.