Easy Massaged Kale Lettuce Wraps

Amie Valpone Kale Lettuce Wraps.jpg

By Amie Valpone

There’s something so simple and comforting about making massaged kale salads. I learned how to “massage kale” about a decade ago when I was having trouble digesting raw kale salads and I was looking for ways to be able to eat one of my favorite leafy green veggies without having digestive symptoms. “Massaging” kale is quite simple. It involves getting your hands a bit dirty with olive oil so be prepared to roll up your sleeves before you dive into making this recipe. All you need to do is drizzle the olive oil over a bowl of finely chopped kale and use your hands to massage the oil into the thick kale leaves until the leaves become tender and turn a dark green color. You’ll notice a change in the consistency and the color of the kale leaves as you massage them, which is how you’ll know the massaging is done and it’s time to move onto massaging other leaves. I believe the key to having a really good massaged kale salad is to use some sort of acid such as freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. I’m using freshly squeezed lemon juice in this recipe to help soften the leaves, add a touch of flavor, and also help the leaves marinate in the oil and acid combination. 

I often use massaged kale to create a big, colorful salad but today I decided to take the massaged kale and toss it into Bibb lettuce leaves along with protein-rich quinoa and walnuts and a handful of my other favorite vegetables such as cherry tomatoes and cucumbers to add a bit of crunch and a touch of sweetness. I finished these lettuce wraps off with a touch of lemon zest and fennel seeds, which add a pop of flavor to every bite. 

If you’re anything like me and you tend to feel better without gluten, dairy, soy and refined-sugar in your lifestyle, I suggest finding creative ways to add more flavor to your food without processed ingredients such as using little flavor boosters such as lemon zest. Lemon zest and fennel seeds are a great place to start because they’re easy to use and incredibly versatile. 

These lettuce wraps are ideal for a quick weekday lunch and also great for dinner when you’re in a pinch and don’t have time to spend hours in your kitchen. I suggest cooking the quinoa the day before and storing it in your refrigerator in a sealed container so you can make this recipe in under 10 minutes with the pre-made quinoa. Enjoy! 

Serves 4


  • 1 head flat (dinosaur) kale, finely chopped and ends removed

  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

  • Juice of 1 large lemon

  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

  • 1 head Bibb lettuce, leaves removed

  • ½ cup cooked quinoa

  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered

  • 1 large cucumber, diced

  • ¼ cup diced red onion

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon zest

  • 1 tsp. whole fennel seeds, optional


  1. Place the chopped kale in a large bowl and drizzle the olive oil on top. Use your hands to gently “massage” the oil into the kale leaves until the leaves are tender and dark green, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and massage for another 30 seconds to coat all the kale leaves until they’re soft and tender. Add a large pinch of sea salt, gently toss and set aside.

  2. Lay the Bibb lettuce leaves on a flat surface. Spoon the cooked quinoa into the center of each of the lettuce leaves and top with the massaged kale, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, walnuts, lemon zest and fennel seeds. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper and serve immediately.

  3. Store leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.