The days are longer and the weather is warming. A simple salad for lunch or dinner feels very spring-like, but what if you're not quite ready to give up the cozy oven-roasted flavors? A bit of coziness is still in order, after all, to keep the chilly spring rains at bay. This wonderfully easy kale salad with roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips is my answer. Baby kale, toasted walnuts, lightly spiced sweet potatoes, my favorite miso dressing... It's vibrant yet comfortably warming, perfect for when the sun is bright but you're still wearing your chunky knit sweaters.
This is another recipe from my days in a test kitchen. It was technically a "one and done" recipe, meaning I did my first round of development and immediately got a thumbs up from the boss. But the inspiration was a foggy memory of a take-out salad that the food editor ate in New York in the '80s. It was a very vague assignment, and I always thought the recipe lacked charm. Naturally I've tweaked the recipe quite a bit. Now it's a well-rounded comfy favorite for early spring and early fall!
If you're interested in more of the story, or what it's like to work in a test kitchen, head over to my Substack! That's where I share more gossip and behind the scenes tidbits.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips
Tossing sweet potatoes and parsnips in the oven to roast is an easy way to coax out maximum flavor, while also freeing yourself up to prep the rest of the salad. Not only does the natural sweetness of the root veggies balance the light bitterness of kale, but their fluffy, creamy texture acts as a foil to the crispy crunch of the leaves. Think croutons, but tender!
If you have a convection oven or air fryer you can get a crispier external texture, more like a baked sweet potato fry. I don't have that luxury, so this recipe happily accepts the natural, softer texture of a baked sweet potato or baked parsnip. There's no sense in over-complicating things.
Baby Kale and Fresh Herbs
As much as I like a massaged kale salad, I have a serious soft spot for baby kale. It's tender and sweeter, like any "baby" version of a hearty green. Because of that, I find it very versatile for off-the-cuff, speedy cooking. It cooks faster, needs less prep for salads, and can be stuffed in a sandwich the same as baby spinach or baby arugula.
Adding a generous amount of fresh cilantro and scallion takes this salad from average to amazing. The brightness of herbs and savoriness of alliums will always make your salad better, no matter what flavor profile you're aiming for. Some folks find scallions too assertive. If that's true for you, sub a whole lot of chopped chives.
Maple-Sherry Miso Vinaigrette
This is one of my favorite salad dressings. The cozy, almost nutty notes of sherry vinegar are perfectly complemented by the distinct flavor of maple syrup. Garlic adds a nice earthy savoriness, but quickly pickling it in the vinegar tames its fiery raw bite. Miso, one of the best dressing ingredients ever, adds a bit more nuttiness, some subtle sweetness, and a salty-umami note that balances all the other flavors. I recommend making a larger batch to use throughout the week.
"Are these roasted vegetables crispy like fries?"
They are not. As mentioned above, the easiest way to get crispiness from low-starch veggies like sweet potatoes is with a convection oven or an air fryer. (In case you didn't know, an air fryer is basically a small convection oven). The extra air moving over the veggies helps get rid of moisture and creates a crispier texture. There are methods for maximizing crispiness in a standard oven, but for a recipe this simple it just feels like putting a hat on a hat.
"I'd like to add some protein. What do you suggest?"
I love topping this with eggs-- soft boiled or fried. You can also add cubes of simply seasoned tofu, shredded chicken, simple beans, or even just cheese! Goat cheese would be my first choice, but blue cheese would work wonderfully with the sweetness of the roasted sweet potato and parsnip.
"What if I hate cilantro?"
Try swapping in parsley, chervil, or tarragon. Any tender herb will work, since the flavors of the dressing are completely welcoming and flexible!
"Can I use adult kale instead of baby kale in this salad?"
Yes! It will take more prep, but you certainly can. Wash and dry your leaves, then remove the tough stems. Chop or tear into bite-sized pieces. In a medium to large bowl, toss the chopped kale with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt. Massage until the overall volume has substantially decreased and the leaves are tender (eat a piece to check). Dress according to the recipe.
Looking for more salad recipes? Give these a browse:
Shaved Carrot Salad with Olives and Fresh Herbs
Charred Broccoli Salad with Miso Vinaigrette
Cilantro-Lime Bean Salad with Fresh Corn and Avocado
Watermelon Tomato Salad with Basil, Mint, and Feta
Warm Smashed Chickpea Salad with Miso-Lemon Dressing
Lemony White Bean and Avocado Salad with Fresh Dill
Avocado and Arugula Grain Salad with Jalapeño Vinaigrette
Lemony Arugula Parsley Salad with Toasted Seeds
Chopped Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Zucchini and Herb Salad with Shaved Parmesan
Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled, halved crosswise and cut into 1-inch thick wedges
- 1 medium parsnip, peeled halved crosswise and cut into 1-inch thick wedges
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika or smoked paprika
- 1 small garlic clove, grated
- 4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- 1½ teaspoons white miso
- ½ teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 2½ ounces baby kale , About half a standard grocery store plastic box
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
- ½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- Step 1Preheat your oven to 425℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes and parsnips with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Distribute evenly on the baking sheet and roast until tender and lightly browned on the edges, about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir the veggies, then increase the oven to 475℉ (don't wait for the oven to come up to temperature, just pop the sheet back in). Continue roasting until dark brown spots appear and the surface is slightly crisp, another 10 minutes or so. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, and the paprika. **If any wedges are darkening faster than the rest, take them off the tray before they burn.
- Step 2While the potatoes are roasting, mix the garlic with the vinegar in a small bowl. Let sit 10 minutes to mellow the garlic's bite. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, miso, maple syrup, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Set aside.
- Step 3When ready to serve, toss together the baby kale, scallions, cilantro, and half the walnuts. Toss with about half the dressing, then taste and add more dressing until you are satisfied. Pile the kale onto plates and top with the roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips. Garnish with the remaining walnuts.
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