Autumn Kale Salad with Apples, Goat Cheese & Pancetta-Pretzel Croutons

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An Autumn Kale Salad, perfect for fall! This kale salad recipe strikes the perfect balance of good-for-you yet hearty & satisfying: Shredded kale gets tossed with crisp apples, creamy & tangy goat cheese, salty & rich pancetta, & there may or may not be pancetta-pretzel croutons in the equation too. Made in 25 minutes or less with just 8 simple ingredients, Autumn Kale Salad is perfect for an easy weeknight dinner, meal prepped weekday lunches, or to bring as a dish to share for your next girls night or fall gathering.
Tossed Autumn Kale salad in a cream ceramic bowl on a white marble surface. The salad is topped with clusters of sliced honeycrisp apples & croutons, & an extra drizzle of maple balsamic vinaigrette.

This post is sponsored by Roth Cheese. Expertly crafted in Southern Wisconsin, their high-quality cheeses are near & dear to this Cheesehead’s heart. All thoughts & opinions are my own.

I have one question for you today, & that’s this: are you ready for a sucker punch of autumnal flavor?

Because it’s about to go down.

It’s a whole salty, slightly sweet, rich, savory, hearty, totally satisfying but also somehow still very light & fresh situation, & I cannot get over it. This salad is SO good.

(According to Chris, who is reluctant about anything having to do with kale, autumn kale salad is the best recipe to hit PWWB in recent history – it really says a lot coming from him!)

Close up shot of Autumn Kale Salad, tossed & topped with sliced honeycrisp apples, croutons, and crumbled goat cheese.

Autumn Kale Salad Recipe Highlights

The autumn-est of autumn kale salads is complete with…

  • Satisfying & good-for-you kale,
  • Perfectly sweet & crisp apples,
  • Bursts of creamy & tangy crumbled goat cheese gems,
  • Salty & rich pancetta,
  • Which also helps create addictively crispy pancetta-pretzel(!) croutons,
  • All doused in cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette

YES, YES, YES!! Friends, autumn is upon us & this Autumn Kale Salad is gonna rock your world all season long.

Autumn salads do not get better than this! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Autumn Kale Salad, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!

Autumn Kale Salad Ingredients

My favorite part of this autumn kale salad is that it’s relatively simple to make with just a handful of ingredients you’re bound to have on hand this time of year, each offering a key flavor or texture that the salad wouldn’t really be complete without. You know, the whole “greater than the sum of its parts” sorta deal.

The cast of characters includes:

  • Kale: Of course! I like Lacinato kale best (it’s also called Dinosaur), though any variety will work.
  • Apples: A must. This autumn salad wouldn’t be complete without diced apples. Honeycrisp, I 💜 you!
  • Red Onion: Adds a little something extra & helps cut the sweetness.
  • Walnuts: For flavor & crunch.
  • Pancetta: Uncured Italian bacon & can easily be swapped with regular ol’ bacon if that’s what you can easily find.
  • Pretzel Rolls: For pancetta-pretzel croutons!
  • Goat Cheese: The single element that ties all of the components of this salad together! You’ll taste creamy & tangy crumbles of goat cheese in every single bite. Love that!

Aside from some staple spices & a yummy salad dressing of choice (mine is cinnamon balsamic vinaigrette & it’s magical ✨), that’s seriously it. Big, big flavor, very minimal ingredients. Heck yes.

Tell Me More About Pancetta-Pretzel Croutons!

I’m sure the fact that this salad is studded with pancetta-pretzel croutons has something to do with Chris’ fondness for this recipe, because, like, how could it not!

You cube up some soft pretzel rolls & toss them into rendered pancetta (aka, Italian bacon) fat. The croutons toast up to golden & crunchy perfection in just 5-ish minutes (not to mention, your kitchen will smell like heaven). They add so much character to this salad: they’re rich, salty, pretzel-y perfection, which is basically everything I want out of any fall recipe from now on. RIGHT?

Why Goat Cheese?

It’s creamy, tangy, and adds so much flavor to any recipe. I am obsessed with anything having to do with goat cheese, so I am especially thrilled to be working with Roth Cheese this fall! Roth Cheese’s team of expert cheesemakers operates just outside of Madison, WI (makes my Wisconsinite heart pitter-patter!), so you know they know a thing or two when it comes to cheese.

& Their brand new chèvre fresh goat cheese? It is so good. Like, honestly the best chèvre I’ve had! It tastes super fresh & has just the right amount of tanginess – not overpowering, but still there. Plus, aside from the plain goat cheese used here, they have a couple of really fun flavors perfect for fall & holiday entertaining, like honey & blueberry.

You can find Roth Chèvre in Walmart Supercenters nationwide – click here to find the nearest location to you!

Autumn Kale Salad, without dressing, arranged in a bowl. Shredded dinosaur kale is topped with clusters of pancetta, walnuts, sliced red onions, pretzel croutons, diced apples & crumbled goat cheese.
Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

How to Make This Autumn Kale Salad

Simple ingredient list? Check. Simple to prepare? Check. You can throw this autumn kale salad together, from scratch, in about 25 minutes (or even less, if you can multitask a little bit in the kitchen!).

Here’s the rundown:

  1. Cook the pancetta. Toss diced pancetta on into a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer those crispy little gems to a plate & set aside. Keep the rendered fat in the skillet for croutons.
  2. Make pancetta-pretzel croutons. Yep, we’re doing it! Add some cubed pretzel rolls into the same skillet you used to cook the pancetta. Toss quickly to coat them in the pancetta renderings, then toast them up to the perfect level of crispy golden brown goodness.
  3. Whip up a quick vinaigrette. I give my maple balsamic vinaigrette recipe a cozy fall twist by adding a sprinkle of cinnamon & IT IS SO GOOD.
  4. Massage the kale. Add a bunch of shredded kale to a large bowl & drizzle some of the vinaigrette over top. Use your hands to “massage” the dressing into the kale, until the kale wilts down & turns vibrantly green. It sounds ridiculously high-maintenance, & it sort of is – kale is a diva like that, but it makes a tremendous difference in the overall texture of the kale.
  5. Pile it all on & toss, toss, toss. Add the apples, red onions, walnuts, goat cheese, pancetta, & pretzel croutons. Drizzle with some extra vinaigrette, give it a quick toss, & you’re all set.

A couple of moving parts, but a very simple recipe!

If you’re keen on meal prep, you can simplify things even further by shredding the kale & prepping your vinaigrette in advance. Both will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for about 1 week. At dinnertime, all you really have to do is cook up some pancetta & you’ll be good to go!

Autumn Kale salad in a large wooden serving bowl. A woman's hands are reaching into the frame with wooden spoons, tossing the salad. The salad is topped with clusters of sliced honeycrisp apples & croutons. The serving bowl is atop a white marble surface, next to honeycrisp apples & whole walnuts.

Serving Autumn Kale Salad

Because it’s so simple & because it tastes so quintessentially fall, I encourage you to whip up this loaded autumn salad all season long. It’s perfect for…

  • Simple weeknight dinners – hearty enough to stand alone as an entrée salad, or top it with your favorite protein (grilled chicken would be major yums).
  • As a side dish along with your favorite fall recipes.
  • Meal prepped weekday lunches – prep all the components at the beginning of the week, then toss together a salad before you head out the door in the morning.
  • Fall dinner parties – totally girl’s night worthy.
  • Fall potlucks – assemble the salad beforehand, then toss with some vinaigrette just before serving… it’ll be the talk of the town!
  • Thanksgiving – if Thanksgiving were a salad, this would most certainly be it!
Tossed Autumn Kale salad in a large wooden serving bowl sitting. The salad is topped with clusters of sliced honeycrisp apples & croutons. The serving bowl is atop a white marble surface, next to honeycrisp apples & whole walnuts.

I hope you give this Autumn Kale Salad recipe a try very soon – I know it’ll rock your fall-lovin’ socks off! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡

Oh, & next time you’re at Walmart, be sure to grab yourself a log of Roth chèvre (or, ahem, like, an armful) – I know you’ll use it all autumn long!

Tossed Autumn Kale salad in a cream ceramic bowl on a white marble surface. The salad is topped with clusters of sliced honeycrisp apples & croutons, & an extra drizzle of maple balsamic vinaigrette.
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Tossed Autumn Kale salad in a cream ceramic bowl on a white marble surface. The salad is topped with clusters of sliced honeycrisp apples & croutons, & an extra drizzle of maple balsamic vinaigrette.

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples, Goat Cheese & Pancetta-Pretzel Croutons

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: serves 46 1x
  • Category: Main Dishes, Entree Salad & Bowl Recipes
  • Method: No-Cook
  • Cuisine: American

Description

An Autumn Kale Salad, perfect for fall! This easy kale salad recipe strikes the perfect balance of healthy yet hearty & satisfying: massaged kale gets tossed with crisp apples, creamy & tangy goat cheese, salty & rich pancetta, & there may or may not be pancetta-pretzel croutons in the equation too! 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 8 ounces pancetta (or bacon), diced
  • 2 pretzel rolls (about 2 ounces each), diced into 1-inch cubes
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large bunch kale, destemmed & finely shredded
  • 2 medium apples (I like Honeycrisp), diced or sliced
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 4 ounces Roth Plain Chèvre Goat Cheese, crumbled
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

for the cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette:

  • ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Cook the pancetta: Add the pancetta to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has rendered its fat & becomes crispy, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pancetta to a plate or bowl & set aside.  
  2. Make the pancetta-pretzel croutons: Working quickly, add the pretzel cubes to the skillet with the rendered pancetta fat. Carefully toss to coat. Season with the garlic powder and a pinch of salt, then toss to coat again. Let the pretzel croutons brown & crisp on all sides, stirring occasionally to prevent them from browning too far. It’s important to kind of let the pretzel croutons do their thing, since direct contact with the skillet is what creates the beautiful browning you want on a crouton, but keep a watchful eye on them since you don’t want them to burn. 
  3. Make the cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette: Meanwhile, as the pancetta & croutons cook, prep the cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette. Add all listed ingredients to a jar. Seal & shake to combine. Alternatively, if you’d like a creamier vinaigrette, add all ingredients to a blender or food processor & pulse to combine. Set aside, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 
  4. Massage the kale: Add the shredded kale to a large bowl. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette over top. Using your hands, work the vinaigrette into the kale, until the kale softens slightly & becomes vibrantly green. 
  5. Assemble the salad: To the large bowl with the shredded kale, add the apples, red onion, walnuts, goat cheese, pancetta & pretzel croutons. Drizzle more vinaigrette over top and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Keywords: Autumn Kale Salad, kale salad recipe, massaged kale salad, kale apple salad, kale apple goat cheese salad, fall salad recipe, thanksgiving salad, kale goat cheese salad, cinnamon maple balsamic vinaigrette

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 12.3.20
    Lindsey said:

    This salad was delicious. I made it as a casual lunch entree for guests. I think i served it as an entree again, I’d add an additional protein like grilled (or even rotisserie) chicken but it was delicious and hearty enough. I especially enjoyed the vinaigrette recipe and will probably make again to try with other salads – I saw it’s also in a similar grain bowl on PWWB which I think we will have to try!

  2. 11.10.20
    Britt said:

    MAKE. THIS. NOW. !!!!! I made this for my parents the other weekend, knowing my Dad hates salad, he finished the salad before he finished the chicken! The croutons are the bomb,a and super easy to make. This is also quite possibly the most delicious salad dressing I have ever made in my kitchen. I topped it with chicken I had marinated in the PWWB all purpose marinated, it was perfect! I love this recipe because it was super easy to prep during nap time and so filling and flavorful for dinner.

    • 6.12.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Britt!! We are so glad to hear that this salad was able to convert your Dad into a salad lover 🤣 & the PWWB all-purpose marinated chicken would be the perfect addition – thank you so much for sharing!!

  3. 11.12.19
    Jessica R said:

    Most of the time when I know I have a salad for lunch, I am not too excited about it. Except this. I ate it four days in a row and made many a coworker jealous. Great for meal prep, super filling, and quick to toss together!

    • 1.17.20
      jess said:

      Haha, I LOVE this!!! So glad you enjoyed this salad as much as we do! xx

  4. 11.12.19
    Jenna Kendzierski said:

    We’ve made this once every week for the past month because it‘s so tasty and just the perfect hearty Fall (or whenever!) dinner.

    • 11.12.19
      jess said:

      I love it!! Aren’t the pretzel croutons everything?? So glad you love it, Jenna, thanks for commenting! xx