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Baby Kale and Corn Salad with Buttermilk Herb Dressing

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The best salad you’ll have this season, from a top museum café.

kale salad with corn and tomatoes and croutons

Kale Salad Recipe Background: The Smithsonian NMAAHC Café

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. is home to a breathtaking array of exhibits, artifacts, and research documenting African American life, history, and culture. It is also home to the highly-respected Sweet Home Café. This truly delicious Baby Kale Salad with Buttermilk Herb Dressing comes from the café cookbook.

The café menu, informed by scholar and food historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris, reflects a deeply thoughtful culinary journey. The menu showcases the history and culture of African American people over the centuries. The café currently remains closed for Covid-19, but you can cook up many of the recipes right at home with the official cookbook — a good bet even when the restaurant is open, since the line often stretches well into the museum’s lobby.

You’ll also like: Green Chile Cornbread and Classic Key Lime Pie

kale salad ingredients on marble

Why This Is the Best Kale Salad You’ve Ever Had

I love this kale salad so much because it is so distinctly un-kale salad like. When I think of kale salad, I think of gnawing on rubbery, ascetic greens tossed in a wellness-y vinaigrette, maybe with an avocado or some sprouts if you’re lucky.

Not this. Baby kale is much more tender than full-grown lacinato or curly kale. And the addition of so many goodies — from pan-toasted corn to black eyed peas to tomatoes, scallions, and cornbread croutons — make it substantial and, dare I say, fun. This all gets tossed in a savory buttermilk dressing that tastes a lot richer than it actually is. (Did I mention the cornbread croutons?)

kale salad with corn and tomatoes and croutons

A Few Notes on Kale Salad with Buttermilk Herb Dressing

  • This kale salad recipe requires 1 cup of cubed cornbread. You’ll want to make a whole loaf of cornbread to serve with the salad and the rest of a meal. Just lop off a square and use it for the croutons. If you aren’t using cornbread, substitute with regular croutons.
  • I find that this recipes makes a generous amount of dressing. You may not use all of it.
  • Generally, salad should not be dressed until right before serving, so the greens do not wilt. Kale is a sturdier green, however, so it can withstand being dressed further in advance. Just keep it in the fridge until you serve it, since it is a dairy-based dressing.

Sweet Home Café cookbook cover kale saladLet us know how the kale salad turned out! share in the comments, below.

kale salad with corn and tomatoes and croutons

Baby Kale Salad With Buttermilk Dressing

A fresh, hearty salad full of satisfying flavor and texture, adapted from the Sweet Home Café at the NMAAHC.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Keywords:: cornbread, kale, kale salad, salad, southern
Servings: 6 to 8 people


For the Croutons

  • 1 cup cornbread, cut into 1/2" cubes

For the Buttermilk Dressing

  • 2/3 cup buttermilk (I used low-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon good mayonnaise, such as Duke's or Hellmann's
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 1 tablespoon jucie)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 scallions, sliced very thin
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 turns of fresh black pepper

For the Salad

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup toasted corn kernels
  • 12 ounces or so (up to 1 pound) baby kale
  • 1/2 cup cooked black-eyed peas, drained
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved


For the Croutons

  • Preheat the oven to 275°F. Spread the cornbread on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden and crisp. Let fully cool.

For the Dressing

  • Combine all the dressing ingredients into a bowl and whisk until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Salad

  • In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the corn. Cook, stirring frequently, until the corn kernels begin to brown and char, about two to three minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  • In a large salad bowl, toss the kale, peas, and tomatoes. Add most of the dressing and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more dressing if desired. Scatter croutons over the top. Serve immediately.



  • Charlotte

    5 stars
    This is my new go-to side dish when I entertain at home or asked to bring a salad to a dinner party. Always a hit!

    • Unpeeled

      So glad you like it! I love this recipe, which had me at “cornbread croutons.”

  • 5 stars
    This was SO. GOOD. I made it for lunch today, and it was a hit! The buttermilk dressing is delicious, and I loved how it all came together. I didn’t have chives or scallions, so used a shallot in the dressing. I also didn’t have black eyed peas or tomatoes (#COVID) but threw in some green peas and basil from the garden–delish. Can’t wait to try it with heirloom tomatoes later this summer!

  • annak98

    5 stars
    Perfect. Did not need to use all of the dressing, as you said..

  • 5 stars
    made this with dinner last night and everyone loved. I wish there were even more croutons!

5 from 4 votes

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