Looking for a side salad switch up? Let super simple and delicious apple cranberry salad take you there. Creamy cranberry salad dressing made easy with dried cranberries, orange juice and balsamic vinegar tops off this wonderful side salad that will look beautiful on your holiday table, but is so quick, you can have it any day of the week.
Apple cranberry salad - Not just a filler
Growing up, we had a lot of what I’d call ‘basic’ side salads on the dinner table. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking some lettuce, tomatoes and whatever else is hiding in the crisper. Sometimes having something crisp and green is the absolute perfect thing to tie up a meal. Admittedly though, my idea of ‘salad’ as something of a mundane filler food or afterthought has taken a dramatic turn over the years. I went from thinking of salads as ‘diet’ food designed to fill me up (for a few minutes maybe) to more complex, multi-layered meals in themselves. Even when it comes to sides, I like to switch on some creativity with even simple things like carrot, orange & cumin salad or spicy 5-minute cucumber salad.
What makes a great side salad?
Make it fresh
From the simplest to the most complex, that side salad should be grounded in fresh produce you have access to. That what we’d want for bunny and that’s what we should demand for ourselves. This doesn’t mean running from place to place or holding off on a salad because we can’t be asked to get to the farmer’s market today. Do your best. That’s all. Besides, pretty produce tastes better.
Make it a variety show
I love making easy plant-based recipes (emphasis on easy) and that includes nice side salads. But choosing easy shouldn’t mean eating the same ingredients over in over. Eating a variety of foods is seriously important and we shouldn’t underestimate it. Food variety equals nutrient variety and I’ll qualify this a step further by stating that if you are eating a variety of plant-based foods, you are not only getting superior nutrient quality, but in eliminating animal-based and overly process foods, you are eating less calories, no cholesterol and high fiber. Best of all, you can eat until you are satiated. No more ‘skinny’ salads that leave you starving.
A holistic approach
I first became acquainted with the power of food and variety when I read the landmark book, The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell where he discusses nutrition from a holistic approach rather than a nutrient at-a-time or food at-a-time perspective. The basic principle is that everything in food works together to create health (or disease).
I was so interested in this and plant-based nutrition in general, that I went on to get a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. That’s when I realized that looking at food from a single-nutrient perspective wasn’t the entire story. It’s how different foods work together. So, if we stick to the same, limited lists of foods day in and day out, no matter how healthy, we’re short-changing ourselves. I realize that switching up your side salad might not be an earth-shattering revolution in nutrition, but it could make a big difference.
The skinny on greens
My quest to switch things up in the side salad arena means that I don’t always include lettuce or other greens, but since we’re talking variety and making an apple cranberry salad with spinach, I suppose it’s entirely appropriate here. Greens, of which lettuce is a subset, come in a variety of colors, textures and tastes.
The darker, the better
The general is the darker the green, the more nutritious it is. These days, most markets are filled with a big variety of vibrant greens. You could seriously make a different salad every day of the week if you were so inclined. Get adventurous the next time you go shopping, maybe mix it up with some peppery arugula (rocket) mixed in with the mellow Romaine.
And finally, make a fabulous dressing
The other common thing about those side salads when I was growing up were the bottles of salad dressings. It was my favorite part of the salad and why not? Loaded with fat and sugar, and other addictive things. How could I resist? At the time, I thought I was being responsible eating a salad, but of course, the ‘bad’ stuff was superseding any benefit of the good.
Oil free salad dressing
I continue learning about making healthy salad dressings, but they all have one thing in common – no added oil. That may not be your guideline, but it’s mine and it’s made a world of difference for me. Making dressings without oil can be a bit tricky because it can be difficult to get them thick. That’s why you’ll often notice me using ground chia or flax seeds. Extra goodness and natural thickeners.
Use a natural thickener
The other trick I’ve discovered is using dried fruit. Soak a few dates, apricots and in the case of our apple cranberry salad, it won’t surprise you to learn I soaked half the cranberries and blended them with the rest of the dressing ingredients. It makes a lovely thick and creamy dressing and you only need a bit of balsamic, nothing fancy in the vinegar department.
If you believe you are in a bit of a food rut, you probably are. Switch it up. You don’t need to go crazy, just try adding a few new things to the basket when you’re out perusing the isles. Look for recipes that call for ingredients or combinations that you’d not thought of before. I’ve been on more diets than I can count and until I found plant-based, the one thing they all had in common – they got boring. The more limiting – even those that allowed a ridiculous amount of fat – the less likely I was able to make it more than a few days.
Switching it up
If you really want to make a change, you need to set yourself up to succeed. This means looking beyond your normal food staples and stepping it up when you feel a setback coming. Fortunately, there are enough varieties of foods for plant-based eaters that we’re only limited by our imaginations. And if that fails, well that’s what cookbooks and the Internet are for. Peace.Print
Switch it up apple cranberry salad
Super simple and delicious apple cranberry salad with creamy cranberry dressing, fresh spinach, crisp apples and crunchy almonds - a perfect holiday side.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 6 side servings 1x
- Category: On the Side
- Cuisine: American
- ⅔ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup date paste, agave syrup or another liquid sweetener
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 6 cups spinach
- ½ cup roughly chopped almonds
- 2 apples, cored and cut into ½ inch dice
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- In a small dish, add ⅓ cup of dried cranberries to ⅓ cup boiling water. Allow the cranberries to soak for 10 minutes.
- While the cranberries are soaking put the rest of the dressing ingredients - ¼ cup date paste, zest and juice of 1 orange, 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard and ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper into a blender.
- Wash, and core the apples and dice them into bite-sized pieces. Add them to a medium salad bowl (or separate bowl) and toss them with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. This will keep them from browning.
- In a medium salad bowl, add the spinach, almonds, the remaining ⅓ cup of dried cranberries and the diced apples. Toss everything together.
- Make the dressing by adding the soaked cranberries and any remaining water into the blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth.
- Serve the salad with the dressing on the side or add it right before serving and mix well.
- Substitute any kind of mixed greens or lettuce for the spinach. If you use kale, I recommend that you massage it with some of the dressing before adding the other ingredients to the salad bowl. This will help soften it.
Keywords: apple cranberry salad