This really is the most amazing spinach salad ever! Loaded with sweet + spicy nuts, apples, feta, and bacon, it is a delicious showstopper.

This is my most favorite salad. Ever, ever, ever.

top down view of spinach salad in white bowl

It’s chock full of everything I love.

  • baby spinach
  • crisp sweet apple slices
  • tart dried cranberries
  • tangy feta cheese
  • baconbaconbacon
  • sweet and spicy candied pecans

The combination of all those amazing, delicious ingredients is straight up incredible. 

dished up portion of spinach salad on white plate with vinaigrette, bacon, onions and feta

The simple dressing

The tasty vinaigrette for this amazing spinach salad can be made up to a week in advance. 

It’s a throw-it-all-together-in-a-blender type of dressing. And it’s super tasty. 

Which means you may not want to reserve it for this salad alone. It’s a great all-purpose dressing to keep in the refrigerator at all times. 

vinegar, oil, dijon mustard and garlic in blender
pouring vinaigrette over amazing spinach salad

Quick Skillet Candied Pecans

The other star of this salad show is the candied pecans. Not only because: CANDIED PECANS, but also because they are made in the skillet (easy!) and we’re also making them a little sweet and a little spicy.

The sweet + spicy + crunchy combo takes this salad over the top; they’re probably my favorite part of the whole salad. 

I’ve simplified the skillet candied pecans in the recipe below. Lots of readers had issues with the pecans crystallizing (and so did I a times!).

This new (easier) method is foolproof. 

how to collage showing boiling sugar, adding nuts to boiling sugar, stirring nuts in boiling sugar, spreading nuts on parchment paper

Equal parts sugar and water simmer with the salt and cayenne. Throw in pecans (or walnuts), cook for a few minutes longer, and then spread onto parchment to cool completely.

Glazed. Crunchy. Perfect. 

This salad is a magical sum of so many yummy parts, and it is a showstopper anytime I bring anywhere. Elegant, pretty, DELICIOUS!

dished up portion of spinach salad on white plate with vinaigrette, bacon, onions and feta

FAQs for this Spinach Salad

Can I leave out the onions (or the bacon or the…)?

The salad ingredients are very adaptable! I think as written, it’s the perfect combination of flavors, but feel free to play around with substitutions, leaving certain ingredients out, or increasing a favorite ingredient.

How come my candied nuts are sticky and not crunchy?

If you’re candied nuts, once cooled, are sticky instead of crunchy, they might benefit next time from another minute of cooking in the skillet so the sugar can cook longer.

Can I use another type of vinegar in the dressing?

You can definitely experiment! I’ve used half white wine vinegar and half red wine vinegar before with good results.

dished up portion of spinach salad on white plate with vinaigrette, bacon, onions and feta

Amazing Spinach Salad with Sweet-Spicy Nuts, Apples, Feta and Bacon

4.71 stars (145 ratings)

Ingredients

Red Wine Vinaigrette:

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Sweet Spicy Nuts:

  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup granulated or brown sugar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper, more to taste if you want
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Salad:

  • 16 ounces baby spinach or spring greens, or a combination
  • ½ small red onion, slivered (see note about tempering the onion flavor)
  • 6 to 8 slices bacon, regular or thick cut, cooked and chopped
  • 1 cup feta cheese crumbles, more or less to taste
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries, more or less to taste
  • 1 to 2 honey crisp apples, cored and sliced thin

Instructions 

  • For the dressing, blend all the ingredients until smooth or combine in a jar and shake until well-combined. Refrigerate until needed (or up to several days)
  • For the nuts, add the water, sugar, salt and cayenne pepper to a skillet set over medium heat. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Add the nuts and stir to coat. Cook for another 30-60 seconds over medium heat, stirring slowly but constantly. Spread the nuts evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet and let cool. Break into pieces.
  • To assemble the salad, toss all the salad ingredients together along with the cooled nuts. Toss salad with the dressing OR serve the dressing alongside.

Notes

Onions: to temper the strong flavor of 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.
Make-Ahead: 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). Toss together right before serving.
Candied Nuts (Old Version): here’s the older version of the candied nuts. 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 1/3 cup sugar and pinch of 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.
Serving: 1 Serving, Calories: 376kcal, Carbohydrates: 29g, Protein: 7g, Fat: 28g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 17mg, Sodium: 419mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 21g
Follow @MelsKitchenCafe on Instagram and show me the recipes you are making from my blog using the hashtag #melskitchencafe. I love seeing all the goodness you are whipping up in your kitchens!

Recipe Source: barely adapted from my virtual friend, Kim (thank you!)
Recipe originally published January 2014; updated November 2020 with new photos, recipe notes, etc. 

A plate of spinach salad with chopped nuts, onions slices, bacon, apple slices, and feta on top.