Kale Orzo Salad
Published Jan 04, 2024
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Forget every kale salad you’ve met before this one. Packed with crunchy veggies and toasted almonds, with tender bites of orzo pasta, and all tossed in creamy maple tahini dressing – this Kale Orzo Salad is the only one you’ll ever need.
This truly is a game-changing kale salad. Even the kale-salad-doubters will be converted by the balance in this version that includes tender pasta, super crunchy red cabbage and toasted almonds. But that creamy maple tahini dressing truly is the best kale salad dressing around.
You can use this kale salad as a side dish to anything you’re planning for dinner, but it’s especially great with roasted salmon, shredded rotisserie chicken, tender steak, or crispy roasted chickpeas.
Ingredients for Kale Orzo Salad
- Curly Kale – This is the variety of kale sold most often in bunches in the produce aisle. The curly leaves give the salad volume and hold the dressing well. However, you can use absolutely any type of kale or other lettuce and this salad will still be great.
- Red Cabbage – The cabbage is a real show-stopper in this salad because it adds so much crunch. I love red cabbage here for the color, but green cabbage would work just as well. Be sure to chop it small so you get some in every bite.
- Orzo – Tiny rice-shaped orzo pasta adds tender chew and heartiness to the salad. Any pasta shape will work, but I love that orzo is so small that you get some in every bite. See below for more tips on cooking with orzo.
- Almonds – Use any shape – sliced or slivered almonds or buy whole almonds and chop them up yourself. I like to toast them for extra crunch (instructions included in the recipe card below), but you can use them raw if you prefer.
- Parmesan Cheese – Salty parmesan cheese gives the entire salad a rich, nutty flavor that just goes so well with the other ingredients.
The BEST Kale Salad Dressing
Maple Tahini Dressing is the perfect dressing for kale salad. The maple syrup gives it just enough sweetness to balance the bitter notes of the kale while the tahini makes it super creamy and rich. All you need to make this dressing is olive oil, white wine vinegar, tahini, maple syrup, and salt.
What is tahini, you might be wondering? Well, I’m glad you asked!
What is Tahini?
Tahini is a creamy condiment made when hulled sesame seeds are ground until they form a smooth paste. It is the ingredient that gives hummus its unique nutty flavor.
Stir tahini well before using it because it can separate as it sits. You can find it at almost any grocery store these days, often near the nut butters or in the international aisle. I love Soom brand.
If you absolutely can’t find tahini, almond butter or peanut butter can make decent substitutes. Add a little at a time and mix the dressing as you go since these nut butters can be thicker than tahini.
What is Orzo?
Orzo is rice-shaped pasta. It cooks quickly and is usually measured by volume (like rice). Cook it the same way you would any pasta, in a large pot of salted boiling water.
TIP FOR COOKING ORZO: Keep a close eye on it and check it when you get within a minute of the lowest recommended cook time on the package. Because orzo is so small, it can overcook quickly.
- Make it vegan – Just skip the parmesan cheese (or use your favorite vegan substitute), and you’re done!
- Make it gluten-free – Use basmati rice, lentils, or quinoa instead of orzo. Or just skip the orzo – it’s great without it.
- Add protein – For a no-cook protein boost, stir in a drained and rinsed can of white beans or chickpeas or add shredded rotisserie chicken. Any cooked proteins (steak, salmon, chicken) are also great on top.
- Add veggies – The sky is the limit on veggies you can add to this salad. Try cherry tomatoes, red onion, chopped red pepper, shredded carrots, chopped cucumbers, or roasted beets.
- Add fruit – Crisp apple or dried fruit, especially dried cranberries would be a great addition.
Yes. Prep all of the ingredients ahead, but wait to toss it together until just before serving. While it’s best served right away, the leftovers are still delicious if stored in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.
Absolutely. You can easily skip the nuts because you get a lot of crunch from the cabbage. If you do want a substitute, try crispy chickpeas or pumpkin seeds (if those are safe for you to eat).
This salad should be served at room temperature or chilled. Be sure to let the orzo cool down slightly by running it under cool tap water.
Totally! Spinach or any other greens would be great in place of the kale. You might need less of the dressing because other leafy greens aren’t quite as hearty as kale.
Kale Orzo Salad
- Large Saucepan
- Half Sheet Pan
- Cutting Board
- Sharp Knife
- 1 bunch curly leaf kale
- 1/2 small head red cabbage
- 3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
- 1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water (for the orzo) to a boil.
- While the water is coming to a boil, remove the tough stems from the kale and slice the core out of the cabbage. Finely chop the kale leaves and red cabbage.
- By this point the water for the orzo should be boiling. Cook the orzo according to package directions.
- Spread the almonds out on a small rimmed baking sheet. Bake, shaking the pan halfway through cooking, until the almonds are toasted and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Combine the olive oil, vinegar, tahini, maple syrup, and salt in a lidded jar and shake until smooth. (Note: Tahini dressings have a tendency to separate, so just keep shaking until it’s smooth and even.)
- When the orzo is done, drain and rinse it with cool water.
- In a large salad bowl, combine the kale, cabbage, orzo, almonds, cheese, and dressing.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.