Spinach Salad

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.

Spinach Salad

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.

Spinach Salad

One Year Ago: Chocolate Flan Cake {i.e. Magic Chocoflan!}
Two Years Ago: Delicious Braised Brisket with Mushrooms
Three Years Ago: Heath Bar Cake

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

Yield: Serves 6

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

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
  • Sweet Spicy Nuts:
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of cayenne (more to taste if you want)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Red Wine Vinaigrette:
  • 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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Recipe Source: barely adapted from my virtual friend, Kim (thank you!)

59 Responses to Spinach Salad with Sweet-Spicy Nuts, Apples, Feta and Bacon

  1. Sharlene says:

    I was so anxious to try this salad! I did have a problem with the sugar melting though. I was careful to put the burner onto med low heat and I stirred constantly. My sugar never liquified. Some of it melted a bit but it just clumped together and never finished melting. I used a non stick pan so i thought that I would try it in a regular pan. No luck there either. So I ended up carmelizing with brown sugar and butter and put just a bit of cayenne pepper in that. I hope that it turns out for me. Any suggestions on what I might have done wrong?

    • Mel says:

      Hmmm, I’m not sure, Sharlene! I think I’m going to try and put together a video tutorial of this step to help people. I’ll keep you posted!

  2. Vi says:

    I made this salad to go with our Super Bowl menu. Our daughter-in-law had a baby in the early morning & I sent dinner for her & my son & she loved the salad! In fact when she was home from the hospital, I asked her what I should make to take for their dinner one night & she said anything as long as it has that good spinach salad!! So I did

  3. mary says:

    This was fabulous!! I didn’t have craisins, but added some grapes, sliced in half and about 3 or 4 strawberries, quartered. Squeezed some fresh lemon over those and the apples. Some seriously good eats, here! 5+ stars =) Thank you for this recipe!!!

  4. Misty says:

    Just made this for lunch. It might just be my new favorite salad ever. And I didn’t even put the nuts in it. I’m so making this every chance I get. Thank you!

  5. Christine says:

    this salad never comes up when I search for salad. It is my favorite.

  6. Lachelle says:

    Love this salad. Thanks for all your yummy recipes!

  7. Janet says:

    this looks like a great salad……….but………..I had to give up making salad with our Thanksgiving dinners as NO one ate the salad……….so I went to a few fresh veggies on tray with pickles, olives, etc……they will take some of that.
    SO……I will put this salad on my holiday list perhaps for Christmas or Easter.


  8. Deidra says:

    I made this salad last night. It was wonderful!! Thank you for the recipe!!

  9. Noreen says:

    I made this tonight and subbed Trader Joe’s goat cheese with honey. This salad is just outrageous! Thank you!

  10. Melanie Miller says:

    I made this yesterday to go with slow cooker chicken philly sandwiches. Both are delicious, but this salad was a hands down winner around the table. My husband, the man who grew up on iceberg lettuce and the three salads in a week is pushing his limits guy, took one bite and said, this salad is Great! He had two helpings!! Don’t think that has EVER happened with a salad in the 21 years we’ve been married. But, come on, bacon and feta…it’s gonna be good. 🙂 Thanks, Mel!

  11. Margo says:

    This is the most amazingly, unbelievably delicious salad. And I almost never say that about green salads. I just made it for my family for a Christmas gathering and everyone adored it. Many, many compliments! Thanks so much for this one!

  12. Glindy says:

    I love this list of ingredients! One annoying question, though: can I sub anything for the red wine vinegar? Thank you!

  13. Connie T says:

    I want to make this salad for Thanksgiving to take along to someone else’s house. Will have to feed about 30. How much should I make? Triple recipe? More?
    Also, can I make the sugared nuts ahead too? Or just the dressing? Help!!

  14. Arlene says:

    I’ve made this salad twice now….once for just my lunches and again for a group dinner. It was definitely a crowd-pleaser! The nuts were the only “tricky” part to this recipe. Trying to get them all evenly coated, without chewy or rock-hard results. Fine line to get them to that thin crackly coating…. I guess I just need to practice more!

  15. Jocelyn says:

    This is a fabulous salad that I will be making again. I did, though, have trouble with the nuts. I will have to find a different technique for sugaring them. Thanks so much!

  16. Rachel Smith says:

    I am trying to make the sweet spicy nuts and having trouble. I read the recipe to have 1/3 cup sugar pinch of salt and pinch of cayenne. Heat over med-low. Umm….does sugar eventually melt? Does it need water? Egg white? Anything? Am I missing something?

    • Mel says:

      You don’t need any additional water or other ingredient. It takes several minutes but the straight sugar will begin to melt over medium-low heat. If you are watching it carefully, you can increase the heat to medium – just take care that the sugar doesn’t burn. It will melt and liquefy around the nuts.

      • Joan says:

        So do you put the nuts in when it still looks sugary or do you wait until it liquifies? It is a mystery to me that sugar over low heat will liquefy.

        I am making this salad for Thanksgiving for my big (36 people) extended family. I know recipes from Mel are always delicious!

  17. Kattie Earl says:

    Just made this and it is delicious! The finished salad is large and I only used 12 of the 16oz of spinach it called for! So glad I did not double this recipe, it will easily feed 10-12 as a side dish

  18. Rachelle says:

    This looks delicious. Question…I am allergic to pecans and walnuts…are their any other nut that could be used as a good substitution?

  19. Ellen Renee says:

    I made this salad when you first blogged about it…it is perfect! I love it. I am going to try the wrap idea from kas above…I bet that would be wonderful too.

  20. Jackie Hewitt says:

    I made this tonight and used blue cheese instead of feta because that’s what I had on hand and used strawberries instead of cranberries because I had to use them up and it was delicious. However I would like to say, I wouldn’t use blue cheese again because it was too overpowering but definitely going to make this at a dinner party!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    This was so delicious I wanted to cry! Thank you for your recipes!!!!!! I use your blog to cook dinner every night!

  22. kas says:

    This salad….HEAVEN ON A PLATE. We’ve had this 3 days in a row. After the first time I made it, I immediately sent the link to my foodie friends. I also made this into a wrap by adding rotisserie chickien. So yummy!

  23. […] the dressing without question.  I had a hard time finding one until I came across one on Melskitchencafe.  She has a similar spinach salad – which I’m sure is delish…all her recipes […]

  24. Nan Knoles says:

    I made this salad for a ladies’ lunch and it got rave reviews. Amazing combination of textures and flavors. Next time I would add a little more cayenne to the nuts for my family. Thanks for your efforts to help us make healthy eating more exciting.

  25. Dawn says:

    Thanks for the recipe! I made it for my husband and I for lunch today and it’s delicious! The vinaigrette will be my go to dressing as it was perfect and I always have those ingredients in my pantry.

  26. Shane says:

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was a huge hit even with my kids! With the nuts, I cut out the step of toasting them in the oven and instead added them to the saucepan with the sugar and spices. As the sugar melted, the nuts were coated evenly and were quite delicious. My 3 year old was willing to eat the whole plate of candied pecans. 🙂

  27. Lisa says:

    This salad is amazing! I made it last night along with your tender grilled pork chops. My husband rolled his eyes because he hates salad, but he ate every bite. And when I offered him a red velvet cheesecake brownie for dessert, he passed it up- for MORE SALAD! 🙂 Thank you for this wonderful addition to our lives!!! PS. The pork was fantastic too!

  28. Patti says:

    I just made the sugar coating for the pecans. All the nuts stuck together and the coating is really chewy. Is it supposed to be like that? I was careful not to let the sugar burn or bubble. Any suggestions? They taste great but thought it would be different. Not so sticky. Thanks for all your recipes. They are great!

    • Mel says:

      Patti – darn! No, the sugar coating should be crisp and crackly once it hardens, not chewy. Do you think you might have needed more nuts to sugar ratio? That helps sometimes so that there isn’t an excess of sugar.

  29. Valerie A. H. says:

    Hi Mel! I made this salad tonight and the family loved it! I do too and will be making it often! Thank you so much for all of your great recipes. I never go wrong making the food you suggest. Always great!

  30. Julie says:

    Thanks for the great salad idea. I’ve been stuck in spinach salad rut for awhile (baby spinach, strawberries, feta, sunflower seeds – I can’t eat nuts, and balsamic vinegar), so this salad is the perfect solution to get out of it. I can’t wait to make it for dinner one night this week.

  31. Sharri says:

    I made this salad today (along with your Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup & Chocolate Toffee Shortbread Squares) for a dozen people. Everyone raved and said what a good cook I am. 🙂 You are my new favorite cookbook! Thank you for sharing your yummy recipes!!

  32. Tori says:

    Mel you are the best! I’ve made one of your meals every night since I discovered your blog this past Halloween. My family could not be happier with me! Plus following your recipes has cut out the processed foods I was used to cooking with, which has made a pretty significant change in our health!

    I just have one tip for this salad. I love spinach and I make a killer Spanikopita. I learned through a Greek friend of mine that spinach needs to be chopped in order for spicies, dressing, etc to adhere to them. If you just lightly chop the fresh spinach your yummy salad dressing will coat to the spinach leaf. It makes for an even yummier salad!

    Thanks for helping my little family!

  33. Spinach is almost always in my fridge, I like it so much . And I like the sweet version a lot.

  34. I’m not a huge fan of salads either, but this is the only kind I love! A bit of everything yet simple to put together, and with nuts in it! Kim in MD, she’s a landmark in your blog, that first comment in so many posts! Yeah, we all could do with a Kim in our food bloggers lives.

  35. Lindsay says:

    This looks right up my alley, yum! Can’t wait to try it! I have had the same problem with raw red onion so I’m excited to try your tip. Another way I’ve tried to tone down the raw onion is instead of slicing it IN my salads, I throw a little (less than you’d use if you were slicing it) in when I make my salad dressing and blend it good. Works like a charm. 🙂

  36. Kim in MD says:

    I forgot to mention that I sometimes substitute a mild goat cheese, mild bleu cheese or Gorgonzola for the feta. If you like those cheese, it’s equally as delicious!

  37. Kim in MD says:

    I’ve been thinking about you and hoping you and your family are managing well in these sub-zero temps. I stopped by to see what you’ve been up to and surprise- you posted this delicious salad! Awwww…you made me smile, Mel! Great food and entertaining has always been my passion, and I am always thrilled to share recipes with you and help with your menu planning! You can call me anytime, This salad is a family favorite, and is a must at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a gorgeous salad, as is your photo of it. Thanks so much for the shout out. Stay warm!

  38. Sara says:

    I make a salad very similar to this and everybody raves about it all the time. I just wish I had the desire to eat MORE salad in these frigid MN temps — I know I SHOULD, but I just can’t bring myself to eat something cold! Pass the queso!

  39. Valerie A. H. says:

    Ohhhh! This is just the salad I need this week. Thanks so much for posting it Mel. It looks divine!!!

  40. Mariann says:

    I’m sure the salad is amazing…but that is an awesome picture. Oh yes, and I just watched your new video. You are adorable.

  41. Char says:

    This looks SOO delicious! I will definitely make it soon!
    If I can’t decide what to make, I come straight to your blog!
    I thank you…my hubby thanks you!

  42. I love salads like this! Definitely a good way to spice up lunch!

  43. Army of 7 says:

    I enjoy a good salad! I cant wait to try this out. If its anywhere near as good as your taco salad, I’ll be one happy lady!! If I could make one request: more dressing recipes! I’m always looking for good vinegarettes/dressings- but they seem hard to come by lately. I truly dislike throwing pre-made bottled dressing in my shopping cart 🙁

  44. This comes very close to my favorite salad. Which will be going up on my blog in the near future. Tasty indeed. We definitely like a lot of the same dishes.
    Looks amazing. My mouth is watering.

  45. Alisia says:

    This looks amazing! I love everything that is on this salad. I will be making it for work this week and pinning it to my Pinterest for later on as well. I’m trying to go more Paleo and this may help (minus the feta cheese and bacon) but baby steps to Paleo.

    P.S. I’m new to your blog & consider me a follower! I’m a few blogger and enjoy friends, check out Boarding Together.

  46. Renee says:

    I make a salad just like this but the dressing is a maple-cider vinaigrette. It has maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and oil, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Super simple but delicious!!!

  47. Sheila says:

    Thank you so much, Kim, for your tenacity and willingness to share good things with others. And, yes Mel, everyone needs a friend like Kim in their life and that is what you are to so many of us. (Again, thanks Kim, for your willingness to share – maybe you can mentor/encourage others concerning the virtue of sharing “friends”. 🙂 :-)) This salad is so eye appealing with excellent nutritional value and tasty ingredients. I’m excited to make it for family and friends. Mel, as always, LOVE your descriptive, humorous writing!

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