Packed with nutrition and freshness, this easy Lemon Kale Caesar Salad features savory chicken, fresh romaine lettuce, raw kale, and Parmesan panko crumbs tossed in a homemade Caesar dressing.
A Supercharged Salad with Chicken and Kale!
I know it doesn’t feel like it to a lot of us, but you guys, Spring is just around the corner!
Okay, maybe that’s a little bit… optimistic. But, if you’re already counting the days until everything turns green and fragrant again, this salad might just help you channel those springtime vibes! With tender, juicy chicken breast, crisp romaine lettuce, crunchy kale, and a light lemony dressing, this salad is the freshest lunch (or light dinner!) around.
Plus, lemon kale Caesar salad is a powerful nutrition boost! Nutrient-dense kale is having quite a moment in the health food world, and when you pair it with lean protein and a citrusy vinaigrette, your whole body will thank you! 🙏
What’s in this Kale Caesar Salad?
You might see this salad popping up on restaurant menus, (Hi-ya Chick-Fil-A!)and for good reason! The combination of chicken and kale in a fresh lemon vinaigrette hits all the right notes! My simple, homemade version gets added crunch from Parmesan panko crumbs with a blast of garlic and lemon zest. Here’s the skinny:
For the Chicken
- Chicken Breasts: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are easy to work with. I prefer smaller ones, about ⅓-inch thick. You can pound them to the right thickness, if necessary.
- Pickle Juice: ½ cup dill pickle juice is the secret ingredient to this recipe! Pickle juice is full of tangy, garlicky flavor that’s perfect with chicken.
- Milk: A little milk adds creaminess to the marinade.
- Salt and Pepper: To taste.
- Garlic Powder and Paprika: For earthy, pungent taste and additional color.
For the Lemon Caesar Dressing
- Olive Oil: Use good-quality extra virgin olive oil labeled “first cold pressing” for the best flavor.
- Lemon Juice: Fresh lemon juice is the star of the show!
- Dijon Mustard: For depth and character, some creamy, wine-like Dijon is perfect. It also helps emulsify the dressing.
- Vinegar: For this recipe, I find that white wine vinegar is just right! However, you could substitute rice wine vinegar, if you prefer, or champagne vinegar.
- Sugar: A bit of granulated sugar balances the sour ingredients. You could also use honey or maple syrup.
- Garlic Powder: You could also mince or press fresh garlic, but garlic powder is easy and tastes great in this vinaigrette.
- Lemon Zest: Lemon zest should only include the yellow part of the lemon rind – no white pith.
- Italian Seasoning: Prepared Italian Seasoning blend is a quick way to add concentrated herbal notes and fragrance.
- Salt and Pepper: To taste.
For the Lemon Parmesan Panko Crumbs
- Olive Oil: For sautéing.
- Garlic: Mince or press a clove of fresh garlic for the crumbs.
- Panko: Use regular panko crumbs, or pork rind panko crumbs.
- Parmesan: Freshly grated cheese is best, but you could also use pre-grated refrigerated Parmesan or Parmesan in a jar. Look for options without preservatives or anti-caking agents.
- Lemon Zest: A little zest makes these cringe irresistible.
- Salt and Pepper: To taste.
For the Salad
- Romaine Lettuce: Wash and chop the romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces.
- Kale: I use curly kale, but you can use any variety. Tear it away from the tough stem, and into bite-sized pieces.
- Parmesan: Use freshly shaved parmesan cheese, if you can. If not, sprinkle grated parm.
- Lemons: Cut the lemons into wedges, for serving.
How to Make Lemon Kale Caesar Salad
You’ll love how easy it is to make this healthy dish. Each item is super simple, and the combined medley of flavors is just delicious.
Make the Chicken
- Marinate the Chicken. Place the chicken breasts in a zip-top bag, and pour in the pickle juice and the milk. Seal the bag, and massage the marinade all around the chicken breasts. Chill for 2 hours.
- Bake the Chicken. After 2 hours, take the chicken breasts out of the fridge, and put them in a baking dish. Throw away the bag and marinade. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, and bake at 425˚F for 22 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers at 165˚F.
- Rest, and Cube. Transfer the baked chicken to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes. Then cut it into 1-inch cubes, and set them aside.
Make the Vinaigrette
- Mix the Ingredients. While the chicken is cooking, combine all of the ingredients for the Lemon Caesar Dressing in a jar with a lid, and shake the jar vigorously to combine. You could also whisk the ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
- Chill. Refrigerate the dressing until you’re ready to use it.
Make the Panko Crumbs
- Saute the Garlic and Crumbs. Heat a swirl of olive oil in a skillet, and heat it up over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and let it cook for about 15 seconds. Then add in the panko crumbs (or pork rind crumbs) and sauté for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Let Stand. Take the skillet off of the heat, and scoop the crumbs onto a plate. Let them stand for a couple of minutes to crisp up.
- Add Cheese, Lemon Zest, and Seasonings. Add the grated parmesan cheese and lemon zest to the crumbs and toss to combine. Taste the crumb mixture for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed.
Assemble the Salad
- Arrange the Greens, Chicken, Cheese, and Lemon Wedges on a Plate. On a large plate or platter, evenly distribute the romaine lettuce and curly kale. Scatter the chicken cubes and shaved parmesan over the top. Place the lemon wedges around the edges of the plate.
- Add Dressing and Crumb Topping. Shake (or whisk) the lemon vinaigrette one more time, and then pour it over the salad, to taste. Sprinkle the salad with Panko crumbs, and serve immediately.
Easy Tips and Hacks
I hope you’re excited to try making lemon kale caesar salad at home! Trust me, if you try it, you will adore it. The addictive balance of savory chicken and parmesan with tangy lemon and a bold vinaigrette has to be tasted to be believed! But before you start chopping and sauteing, let me share a couple of my favorite tips!
- Massage the Kale: If you’re not a fan of raw kale, try the “massage” technique! Before adding the kale to your salad, gently crumple and crush the leaves with your fingers, and then rinse well in cold water. The massage releases some of the bitterness in the kale, and the cold water rinses it away. Dry the kale with a salad spinner or paper towels before using.
- Use Croutons: For extra oomph, try using homemade garlic croutons instead of crumbs. Just toast your favorite bread until crispy, and then rub vigorously with a cut garlic clove. Butter the bread well, and cut into cubes. You could also use your favorite store-bought croutons.
- Make It Easy: Use a store-bought Caesar dressing instead of the vinaigrette, for an ultra-easy meal.
What Goes with Kale Caesar Salad?
So what should you serve alongside this amazing salad? It’s really a perfect light meal on its own, but if you want to add a side dish or two, here are some easy ideas for inspiration.
- Go Green! Add a bowl or cup of creamy, homemade Asparagus Soup to the menu. You’ll love this cozy cafe-style pairing.
- Dinner Rolls: Soft, traditional Kifli (Macedonian Dinner Rolls with Feta) are addictively delicious! You’ll love these simple, sesame-topped rolls, especially with a crisp and crunchy salad.
- Fries: Okay, I confess: Salad and fries are my guilty pleasure! I love a good fresh salad, and while fries might not be the healthiest side dish, they do add a hot, tasty, and oh-so-craveable element to the meal. Try these lighter Air Fryer Frozen French Fries – they’re great!
How to Store Leftovers
- If you have to store your leftover salad, I recommend storing it without the dressing. Dressing tends to break down the salad greens and wilt them. However, even dressed leftovers will last for up to 24 hours in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Salad without the dressing should last for up to two days.
Lemon Kale Caesar Salad
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¾ cup panko crumbs or pork rind crumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Put the chicken breasts in a ziploc bag; pour in the pickle juice and milk.
- Close the bag and massage the liquid all around the chicken breasts; refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Remove chicken breasts from the fridge; discard marinade.
- Preheat oven to 425˚F.
- Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
- Transfer chicken breasts to a baking dish and cook in the preheated oven for 22 minutes, or until internal temperature registers at 165˚F.
- Remove from oven and transfer to a cutting board; let rest for 10 minutes before cutting.
- Cut into 1-inch cubes and set aside.
- In the meantime, prepare the Dressing.
- Combine all the ingredients for the Lemon Caesar Dressing in a jar with a lid OR in a mixing bowl; shake the jar, (or whisk the ingredients in the mixing bowl) until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook for 15 seconds, or until fragrant.
- Stir in the panko crumbs (you can also use pork rind crumbs).
- Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a plate or bowl; let stand 2 minutes.
- Add grated parmesan cheese and lemon zest to the crumbs; toss to combine.
- Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust. Set aside.
- Arrange the romaine lettuce and curly kale on a large salad plate.
- Scatter the chicken cubes on top of the greens.
- Add freshly shaved parmesan cheese on top of the salad.
- Place lemon wedges on the edges of the salad plate.
- Shake or whisk the lemon dressing, and then pour it over the salad.
- Top with prepared Panko crumbs.
Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.