Winter Salad with Apples, Spiced Candied Pecans, Cranberries and Goat Cheese
This winter salad is always a hit at my holiday parties! A great combination of sweet, sour and tangy flavors from Tanimura & Antle Artisan® lettuce, green apples, spiced candied pecans, dried cranberries and goat cheese. Drizzled with a homemade honey balsamic vinaigrette! The kind of salad you’ll get excited to eat!
(This post is sponsored by Tanimura & Antle through Kitchen PLAY.)
Do you dread serving salad at your dinner parties because nobody touches them and you end up wasting everything? Not anymore!
This winter salad is the opposite of boring. It’s fresh, bright and it makes a beautiful presentation for the holidays. Everybody will lick their plates clean and go back for seconds!
I’m calling it a “winter salad”, but it’s really a fall-winter salad. A hybrid, if you prefer! It showcases colors and fruits of the season and can be served either for Thanksgiving or Christmas, when food tends to be hearty and rich. Nothing like a burst of freshness to lighten things up!
Tips for making a great salad
We’ve already established that tedious, lifeless salad has no place on our holiday table. But what makes an awesome salad?
- Make sure your greens are crisp. So, dry them thoroughly as any moisture will prevent the dressing from coating the leaves and your salad will be bland and watery.
- Skip the prepackaged leaves. Yes, they are convenient! But they are definitely not as fresh. I’ve had my fair share of bad luck with them (oh the slime!), so I prefer to buy whole heads of produce. But more on that later!
- Add contrast! Both in flavor and texture. Sweet and savory, soft and crunchy, sour and spicy. It keeps things interesting, as every bite is a surprise!
- Make your own dressing. Not only is it healthier but it tastes better too! Plus, it’s super easy to make.
- Toss the salad before serving. You will want to add some of the dressing and hand-toss so the greens can get lightly coated. Start with a little bit and add more if necessary, but don’t overdo it. You can serve the remaining dressing on the side, so people can add more if they’d like! Oh, and make sure to wait until right before you serve it to dress, otherwise the salad will wilt and get soggy.
What type of greens to use for a winter salad?
People have this mistaken belief that cold weather means less fresh salads. And while it’s great to use seasonal local produce, you can get fresh and delicious lettuce all year round!
Tanimura & Antle grows six varieties of lettuce and when you buy a package of their Artisan Lettuces, you get four heads of some of those varieties. Green or red, ruffled or scalloped, each variety has a distinct, complementary flavor, which makes them so versatile! You can mix and match and use them for lettuces, wraps, sandwiches, my Bibimbap, and so much more!
What I love the most about Tanimura & Antle Artisan Lettuces is that they come as whole heads, are field-packed for freshness and are not washed. That way they will last longer in your fridge, especially if you store them in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper drawer.
If you’re used to only buying prepackaged salad bags, you will be amazed at how much longer whole heads of lettuce last. But you will have to resist the temptation of washing and chopping them before you are ready to use!
Meal prepping is great! Meal prepping salads, not so much… There’s nothing like crisp, fresh lettuce! It makes all the difference between a sad, boring salad and an awesome one!
Best Apples for this Winter Salad
Apples add a great element of tartness and crunch in this salad!
And while there is no single apple variety that is best for salads, I think there are some that work better than others. You’ll want something crunchy that doesn’t brown too quickly, like Honeycrisp and Fuji.
But my absolute favorite is the Granny Smith. I find that the salad already has enough elements of sweetness, so the tartness of that apple really elevates this salad!
How to Make Spiced Candied Pecans
There are a few ways to make candied nuts: on the stove, in the oven, in the slow cooker, in the instant pot and, believe it or not, even in a smoker!
I like to use the stovetop. It’s quick, convenient and you don’t have to wait for your oven to preheat!
All you gotta do is melt the butter and then add the remaining ingredients to a skillet. Add toasted nuts and let them caramelize. Then transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and wait for them to cool! Easy peasy!
You can use both toasted or raw nuts, but I personally think toasted are always much, much better. Raw nuts turn a bit softer than toasted ones, and we are after some crunch here for this salad!
So yeah, toasting the pecans might be extra work, but it’s totally worth it, I promise.
And the good news is that the spiced candied pecans can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks! Just make sure to make extra if you know you’ll snack on them. I know I do!
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
I’ve already mentioned that you should make your own dressing versus buying the bottled stuff. It’s easy, healthier and it tastes better!
The magic formula to making any vinaigrette you can dream of, is using 3 parts of oil to 1 part of vinegar, plus whatever add-ins you’d like. Here we are using balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard and honey. Oh, also salt and pepper, of course! A good dressing should always be well seasoned!
My favorite method to making vinaigrette is the easiest (laziest?) one. I use a mason jar! I add all the ingredients, close the lid and shake, shake, shake until the vinaigrette is all combined and emulsified. What could be easier than that?
- 4 clamshells Artisan Lettuce, rinsed
- 2 Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 cup spiced candied pecans (recipe follows)
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
Honey Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Honey
- 3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Spiced Candied Pecans
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pecans, toasted
Making the Spiced Candied Nuts:
- Melt the butter in a skillet, over medium heat. Add the sugar, salt, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika and cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble.
- Add the pecans and stir to coat. Continue cooking, allowing the sugar mixture to reduce, for about 3-5 minutes. Stir constantly so the pecans don't burn.
- Remove from heat and transfer the candied pecans, on a single layer, to a parchment paper lined baking sheet so they can cool completely. Make sure to separate them now, otherwise they will stick together. (Still delicious, but not as pretty!)
Honey Balsamic Dressing:
- Combine all the ingredients in a small mason jar. Close the lid and shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Assembling the salad:
- Start by reserving some of the candied pecans, cranberries and goat cheese for garnishing.
- Add the lettuce, apple slices, dried cranberries and goat cheese to a large bowl. Pour some of the dressing and toss to coat.
- Garnish with the reserved toppings and serve immediately, with the remaining vinaigrette on the side.
- The Spiced Candied Pecans can be made ahead and stored for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.