This is my most favorite salad. Ever, ever, ever. I’ve served it for the past two Thanksgivings and it made a guest appearance at Christmas and I make it at least twice a month, sometimes three, and I hoard the leftovers like nobody’s business and I may or may not have literally dreamed about it on occasion. It’s amazing. That’s all there is to it. It makes me happy like no other salad ever has (which is probably why you don’t see a lot of green-ish salad recipes on my blog other than this fabulous gourmet green salad that is lovely, too).
I have my friend, Kim, to thank. She comments here (on almost every post!) as Kim in MD and she’s the delightful soul who gave us this awesome pesto bake among other things. She has been a great food mentor and friend to me over the last few years (I’ve been known to call her in desperate menu planning crises). Everyone needs a Kim in their life. But since I won’t let you have her, instead, I’m offering you this salad. She and I emailed back and forth last year about it and she pretty much spent hours perfecting while I leeched off her hard work and simply made it and ate it. Made it and ate it.
It’s chock full of everything I love: fresh baby spinach, crisp sweet apple slices, tart dried cranberries, tangy feta cheese, baconbaconbacon, and delicious sweet and spicy caramelized nuts. The combination rocks. Plus the super simple (we’re talking shake up the ingredients in a jar and call it good) vinaigrette is the perfect compliment to the salad ingredients. I personally prefer the lightest drizzle of dressing to let all the other deliciousness shine but Brian smothers his salad in dressing (as in, have a little salad with your dressing) and vouches for its tastiness, too.
This is the type of salad you absolutely need in your repertoire when you are putting together a dinner-plan-for-company-that-doesn’t-involve-Monday-night-and-hot-dogs. (Although on second thought, I’d totally make this with hot dogs so my kids can fight over those while I sit in a corner enjoying The Salad). It’s beautiful, delicious and goes well with everything from grilled chicken to lasagna to…well, anything. It receives rave reviews every time I serve it. I’m pretty sure everyone in my geographical neck of the woods is getting pretty sick of me bringing this as my contribution to any potluck event I’ve been to in the last year.
Make it! Seriously. Just make it. It’s the best salad ever. Like, rockstar good.
Kim, who gave me this recipe, alerted me to the most magnificent tip. I love onions but hate the after effects of eating them raw in a salad. To temper the onions a bit, soak the onion slices covered in cold water with a bit of baking soda (I use about 1/2 teaspoon soda). Let them sit for 15-20 minutes then rinse and drain well. Also, in my pictures, disregard the overly yellow color of my vinaigrette. I went a little crazy with the mustard when I made it this time. Yours probably won't be quite this yellow. Finally, this recipe makes an excellent main dish if served alongside grilled chicken and keep in mind that all the quantities can easily be adapted according to taste. Yum!
- 16 ounces baby spinach
- ½ small red onion, slivered (see note about tempering the onion flavor)
- 6 slices of applewood smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled or chopped into small pieces
- 1 cup Feta cheese crumbles, more or less to taste
- 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries, more or less to taste
- 1-2 Honey Crisp apples, cored and sliced thin
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of cayenne (more to taste if you want)
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, pressed or finely minced
- 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
- Fresh cracked pepper to taste
- For the dressing, shake all the ingredients together in a mason jar until well combined or run them through a quick blender cycle. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The dressing can be made up to a week in advance.
- For the nuts, lightly toast the nuts in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, checking often so they don't burn. While they toast, place the sugar, cayenne and salt in a skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the sugar mixture until it liquifies completely, adjusting the heat so it doesn't bubble and burn. Toss in the toasted nuts and stir to coat the nuts with sugar. Let the sugared nuts cool completely.
- To assemble the salad, toss all the salad ingredients together along with the cooled nuts. Serve immediately with the vinaigrette alongside. All the components can be measured out/prepped ahead of time and stored separately (I like to soak the apples in a bit of lemon juice in water to help prevent browning). Just toss right before serving. Enjoy!