Apple blue cheese spinach salad is simple to make for a weeknight dinner, or fancy enough to impress guests for a more formal gathering. It’s delicious served with grilled chicken, steak or salmon.
Topped with chopped walnuts and toasted sunflower seeds, it also brings a taste of fall to the table.
Red skinned apples give this salad a lovely festive vibe for the holidays. In fact, this salad is perfect any time of year.
Today’s salad recipe is an apple and baby spinach leaf salad with a shallot vinaigrette. This is one of the best spinach salads I like to make.
It may not be what comes to mind when you think of a traditional Irish salad, but it’s a popular salad combination in Ireland.
The Best Crisp Apples for a Salad
The key to this salad is to use a crisp apple. I like to choose a sweet apple with red skin tones. The apple is left unpeeled for this salad.
The contrasting colors of red apple skins with the deep green of spinach leaves are very eye appealing. And always remember, we eat with our eyes first.
In Ireland I choose a Pink Lady apple for this salad. In America I usually go with a Honeycrisp or a Fuji apple.
All of these varieties have that requisite reddish toned peel.
Other options include Jazz or Empire apples.
Best Spinach for a Salad
Fresh spinach is a very versatile green for salad recipes. It can be eaten raw, but I recommend choosing baby spinach leaves rather than older spinach.
I find that the younger baby leaves have a far milder flavor profile and are more tender in a salad. Older spinach leaves are usually best when cooked.
The other advantage to using baby spinach leaves is that the stalks are usually very small and tender.
If your spinach has any thick stems, then I highly recommend cutting off the stems with a sharp knife or kitchen shears.
Spinach stems are perfectly edible. However, for a salad they can be a little too tough. Their flavor is very intense and somewhat metallic. Baby spinach is the way to go to avoid this issue with tough spinach stems.
Remember to thoroughly wash and dry the spinach leaves before mixing this salad.
Tangy Shallot Vinaigrette Dressing
Store-bought salad dressings can be helpful when you’re in a hurry. But when you have the time and don’t need to automatically take a shortcut, this shallot vinaigrette is a delicious way to dress an apple spinach salad.
No need to worry about added sweeteners and chemical stabilizers - this salad dressing is made from scratch goodness.
For me, this is the very best homemade shallot salad dressing recipe. All you need is a few simple ingredients that come together to create a dressing that’s perfect for any type of mixed greens salad.
This is an oil, honey and vinegar based dressing so it’s not a creamy salad dressing. This amazing shallot dressing is ever so easy.
It takes less than 5 minutes to make and goes well with pretty much all salad combinations. Shallots are often used in Irish cooking, even though they can be considered a strange ingredient in America.
They’re usually found right beside the onions and garlic in grocery stores. I love the nuanced and soft onion flavor they add to dishes and dressings.
Their flavor is far less pungent than an onion, and this delicate profile makes them perfect for eating raw in salads, or adding to dressings. Shallots are the main building block ingredient for this delicious salad dressing.
This is a lemon juice free salad dressing.
Here’s what I use for this vinaigrette:
Olive oil: Extra virgin is my choice since it boasts the best flavor.
Apple Cider Vinegar: This fruity, sharp and tangy vinegar pairs really well with the apples in this salad.
Diced shallot: Make sure to really finely chop the shallot for this recipe. They come in a variety of sizes. A small one is all that you’ll need.
Honey: Add some sweetness to this dressing. Use local honey whenever possible.
Cold water: I like to add some cold water to this dressing to help ensure the vinegar flavor is not too overpowering.
Salad and pepper: Use sea salt and black pepper - freshly ground if possible.
Blue Cheese As A Salad Ingredient
One of the star ingredients in this salad is blue cheese crumbles. This distinctive full flavored cheese adds a powerful flavor punch to these salad greens.
Small crumbles or morsels are mixed thoroughly with the spinach leaves and apple chunks.
Irish dairy products are amongst the best in the world. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say they may even be the very best in the world.
And for blue cheese lovers, Ireland is home to one of the best blue cheeses found anywhere. Cashel Blue Cheese is distributed by Kerrygold in America.
Here’s how they describe this excellent cheese on their website…
“Cashel Blue is a semi-soft, creamy Irish farmhouse cheese, distinguished by its round, full flavor and signature tang. Its buttery color is punctuated by characteristic blue veining.
Lovingly crafted by the Grubb Family, Cashel Blue Cheese is made on the family farm with milk from grass-fed dairy cows that graze on some of Ireland’s most lush and nutrient rich pastures.
Little surprise then, that Cashel Blue has garnered considerable international acclaim, which includes taking home gold every year since 2009 at the International Cheese Awards held annually in Natwich, U.K.. “
Some retailers sell this exceptional cheese in the US. Check the Kerrygold USA website to find a retailer near you.
Toasted Sunflower Seeds:
Toasted or roasted sunflower seeds add a lovely crunchy topping to this salad. You can roast them in a hot oven for 8 or 9 minutes by laying them out on an ungreased baking sheet. They’ll start to turn golden when done.
I prefer to toast them in a skillet on the stovetop. They’re a lovely addition to salads and snack mixes, homemade granola or on top of a coleslaw. Plus it only takes about 5 minutes in a hot skillet. Shake and toss the seeds as they toast in the pan.
Roasting raw sunflower seeds is a wonderful and easy way to intensify their flavor. I highly recommend this step. It only takes a few minutes, so try not to skip this step.
Chopped Nuts to Garnish
Chopped walnuts are a lovely garnish for this salad. Combining them with apples is a shout out for the traditional flavor combinations of a Waldorf salad.
You can use plain walnuts or candied walnuts if you like some extra sweetness.
They pair beautifully with the toasted sunflower seeds for texture and flavor.
Variations and Substitutions:
There are many ways to change this basic apple and spinach salad recipe.
For festive salads add a ½ cup of dried cranberries.
Diced or cubed pickled beets are another great addition.
Sliced seedless red grapes can be used to add more festive red and maroon tones to this salad.
If you’re not a blue cheese fan, then try some crumbled goat cheese or feta cheese. Diced pears could be substituted for the apples when using goat cheese.
Mandarin oranges are delicious when combined with the feta cheese. The flavor and texture combinations possible are many. Let us know if you have a favorite fruit and cheese pairing for a salad.
If you cannot find a shallot, then I recommend using a mild red onion instead.
Ingredients for Apple Spinach Salad
Here's a quick list of all the ingredients you'll need for this salad. Check out the printable recipe at the end of this post for quantities, and metric conversions.
- sunflower seeds
- baby spinach leaves (washed and dried)
- crisp red skinned apple (unpeeled, thinly sliced and each slice quartered)
- blue cheese crumbles
- chopped walnuts (to garnish)
For the Dressing:
- apple cider vinegar
- dijon mustard
- black pepper
- extra virgin olive
- cold water
- shallot very finely chopped
Directions for Apple Blue Cheese and Spinach Salad
The very first job is to toast the sunflower seeds.
Add them to a dry skillet and toss them over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove them from the heat when they start to brown. Set them aside to cool.
Next make the dressing, by adding the vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper to a bowl and combine.
Whisk while adding the olive oil and water.
Stir in the finely chopped shallots.
Toss the spinach leaves, apple, blue cheese crumbles, and sunflower seeds with the dressing in a large salad bowl.
Slice the apples just when you're ready to toss the salad. Keep the lovely red skins on the apples as a color contrast to the spinach greens.
Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and serve immediately.
The dressing slows the browning of the apples, but they will brown with excessive time.
This favorite salad from my Irish American kitchen boasts crispy textures, and a mild onion flavored vinaigrette.
Here's the printable recipe...
Apple Spinach Salad
- 3 ounces sunflower seeds
- 10 ounces baby spinach leaves washed and dried
- 1 large apple choose a crisp apple like Pink Lady or Honey crisp
- 3 ounces blue cheese crumbles
- 2 ounces walnuts chopped for garnish
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons water cold
- 3 tablespoons shallot very finely chopped
- Toast the sunflower seeds by adding them to a dry skillet and tossing them over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.
- To make the dressing, add the vinegar, honey, mustard, salt, and pepper to a bowl and combine. Whisk while adding the olive oil and water. Stir in the shallot.
- Toss the spinach leaves, apple, blue cheese, and sunflower seeds with the dressing in a large salad bowl. Slice the apples just when you're ready to toss the salad. Toss the apples with the spinach.
- Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and serve immediately. The dressing slows the browning of the apples, but they will brown with excessive time.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
I hope you enjoy this lovely salad during the summer months, or any time of year.
And don't forget - salads are extra delicious when served with Irish brown bread.
Happy cooking from my Irish kitchen to yours.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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