Cranberry apple salad in a black bowl with feta and slices of apples on top.

Apple Cranberry Salad with Feta and Candied Pecans

Spread the love!

Apple cranberry salad with feta and candied pecans is a festive, healthy way to celebrate the fall season. With bright and wholesome seasonal flavors, this salad highlights all the best fall harvest foods.

From apples and cranberries to toasted, slightly candied pecans, each bite is filled with a nutty, sweet, but also mildly tart taste. Luckily, all this flavor can be achieved in a few simple steps, making this recipe incredibly approachable and easy for the home cook. 

Apple cranberry salad in a black bowl with a silver fork, glass of white wine, and orange flowers.

What makes this apple cranberry salad so good?!

The homemade warm cranberry vinaigrette truly makes this salad one of a kind. So whether you plan to serve this to your family as a Thanksgiving salad, or just as a quick weeknight meal, you can rest comfortably knowing you’re providing a nutrient-packed, flavorfilled dish to those you love.

The dried cranberries soak up all the wonderful flavors from the honey dijon mustard and the shallots, as well as some of the red wine vinegar to deliver bursts of warm vinaigrette throughout the salad. The semi-tart vinaigrette pairs excellently with the sweet pecans that are lightly caramelized in brown sugar and cinnamon. Additionally, the feta imparts its own rich, creaminess, helping to bring each element together.

Apple cranberry salad is the best crowd pleaser, as it’s healthy, appetizing, and perfect for any kind of eater. Though this fall harvest salad is adorned with lots of fall favorites, it can be enjoyed year-round. It’s great for family get-togethers, work potlucks, summer barbecues, a super simple healthy dinner, or leftover as a delicious lunch. It’s also incredibly quick and easy to make last minute and appears a bit more impressive than your average salad, making it a great option for sharing. 

Ingredients

For the Salad:

Labelled ingredients for the apple salad (see recipe for details).

For the Candied Pecans:

Labelled ingredients for the candied pecans (see recipe for details).

For the Warm Cranberry Vinaigrette:

Labelled ingredients for the warm cranberry vinaigrette (see recipe for details).

A few notes about the ingredients:

  1. If you prefer a different nut than pecans, you can substitute them for almonds or walnuts instead.
  2. You can also add in different kinds of lettuce, depending on what you like best. Additional spinach or kale would be great in this recipe, as well.
  3. If you’re making this apple cranberry salad for dinner, instead of as a side dish, you can make it even more filling by topping it with grilled chicken, roasted turkey, cooked salmon, or your favorite protein of choice!

How do you make apple cranberry salad?

For the Salad:

Chop the romaine lettuce and combine it with the spring mix. Slice the apples into bite-sized pieces and add them on top of the lettuce, reserving a few apple slices for the top of the salad. You can also add halved grapes or other fruits to this salad, if you like a lot of toppings.

For the Candied Pecans:

Prepare a sheetpan and line it with parchment paper. Set it aside.

Pecans cooking a black saucepan.

Make the candied pecans on the stovetop by adding the pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and a pinch of salt into a saucepan. Heat the pot over medium-low heat, allowing the butter and sugar to melt. Allow the pecans to toast a bit, but be very careful not to burn them. Continuously mix them around with a spoon and remove them from the heat just as they get coated in the sugar mixture.

Candied pecans on a sheetpan covered with parchment paper.

Turn out the pecans onto the parchment paper lined sheetpan. Spread them apart to cool off, while you prepare the dressing.

For the Warm Cranberry Vinaigrette:

In the same saucepan, add the olive oil and finely diced shallots. Place it over medium low heat and stir the shallots around to prevent them from burning. Cook them until they soften, about a minute.

Warm cranberry vinaigrette cooking in a black saucepan.

Add in the dried cranberries, honey dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and honey. Stir to combine. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the dried cranberries to soak in the vinegar. Remove the dressing from the heat and add in the fresh lemon juice. Allow the vinaigrette to cool for a few minutes.

Note: When you’re done making the vinaigrette, it might appear that there is not enough to cover the entire salad. However, instead of it being in liquid form, most of the dressing is infused into the cranberries. When the cranberries are added into the mix, they help to add bursts of flavor to the entire salad.

Putting it All Together:

Add the warm cranberry vinaigrette to the lettuce and apples right before serving. Toss to combine. Top the salad with the candied pecans, feta, and the rest of the apples.

Apple cranberry salad in a black serving bowl with sliced apples on top and a glass of white wine to the side.

What can I add to salad to make it better?

Transform your salad from drab to fab in a few simple steps:

1. Choose your favorite kind of greens

Iceberg, romaine, mixed greens, arugula, spinach, kale… There are SO many great options! Combine different ones to build additional flavors and textures. 

Pro tip: use your hands to massage kale with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice to help soften it and make it more palatable!

2. Pick a general theme for your salad

Do you like salads with lots of vegetables? Or, do you prefer to incorporate fruits and nuts? Do you want to include summer, winter, or fall produce?

For example:

Shredded Chicken Salad with Cranberries and Apples has a bit of a fall feel to it with an emphasis on hearty chicken and fresh fruits.

This summer berry salad highlights the beautiful bounty of summer produce from fresh berries to bright green spinach.

Roasted winter vegetable salad emphasizes the cold-weather-loving produce of winter, like cauliflower, squash, and brussels sprouts. To top it all off, it’s dressed with a wintery-feeling homemade apple cider vinaigrette.

3. Decide if you want to include a meat protein or plant-based protein. 

There is no right or wrong way to add protein to your salad. Great meat-based options include grilled chicken, leftover turkey, broiled salmon, cooked shrimp, or steak. Flavorful plant-based options include a variety of beans, cooked lentils, nuts and seeds, edamame, and quinoa.

4. MAKE A HOMEMADE DRESSING!

I cannot emphasize this enough! Often, people ask “why are restaurant salads so much better than homemade?” And, truly it’s because restaurants are most likely making their dressings from scratch. Bottled dressing cannot stand up to fresh and flavorful homemade ones. Whether you like a creamy dressing or vinaigrette dressing, homemade is always the best way to go for both flavor and health!

5. Get creative!

Salads can be so fun and versatile! But, if you stay in the same salad rut day after day, you’ll get sick of them! Add as many fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, grains, seeds, etc. as your heart desires! Combine dressings with sauces to boost flavor. (Homemade ranch and barbecue sauce are a match made in heaven and absolutely perfect for a southwest style salad!)

The limits are endless, so use these 5 simple tricks as a guide and feel free to do it up BIG!

How do you make salad dressing from scratch?

Homemade salad dressing is actually pretty simple to make. Basically, all you need is: 

  1. An acid (think: vinegar, buttermilk, lemon juice, or some kind of citrus juice, like orange or lime)
  2. An oil or cream, depending on the preferred base of your dressing (for vinaigrettes, choose mild oils like extra virgin olive oil, canola, peanut, grapeseed, or avocado oils and for creamy dressings, choose mayonnaise, greek yogurt, avocado, or sour cream)
  3. Seasonings for added flavor (salt and pepper, dried herbs, dijon mustard, additional fruit juices, etc.)
  4. A sweetener. This is completely optional but often it helps balance the acidic, tangy flavors of the vinegars. (You can opt to use just a small amount of healthier, more natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and agave to help offset the other flavors.)

One more tip

  • If you’re planning on serving the warm cranberry dressing on the side, instead of adding it onto the salad before serving, you might want to double the dressing recipe. Often guests take more dressing than needed, and since this recipe is unique in that the dressing is infused into the dried cranberries, they may not understand that less is more. Therefore, you’ll want to make extra, so you have plenty to share with everybody!
An individual plate of apple cranberry salad with a white napkin and a silver fork.

Looking for more healthy recipes? Try these:

Share your cooking with me! If you make this recipe, I’d love to know! Tag @yourhomemadehealthy on Instagram or leave a comment with a rating and some feedback at the bottom of this page!

Apple cranberry salad in a black bowl with a silver fork, glass of white wine, and orange flowers.

Apple Cranberry Salad with Feta and Candied Pecans

Apple Cranberry Salad with Feta and Candied Pecans is a must try, healthy, and easy salad for all! Each component adds its own special flavors, from the warm cranberry dressing to the sweet pecans. Serve as an appetizer or side dish, or top the salad with chicken or leftover turkey for a festive and filling meal.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings

Equipment

  • Saucepan

Ingredients
  

For the Salad:

  • 3 romaine hearts (18 oz bag)
  • 1 bag spring mix or mixed greens (5 oz bag)
  • 2 apples, preferably honeycrisp sliced
  • feta for sprinkling on top of salad

For the Candied Pecans:

  • 1 cup pecan halves raw and unsalted
  • 1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • a pinch of salt

For the Warm Cranberry Vinaigrette:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp shallots very finely diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • ½ tsp honey dijon mustard
  • 6 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp honey
  • ½ lemon juiced

Instructions
 

For the Salad:

  • Chop the romaine lettuce and combine it with the spring mix.
  • Slice the apples into bite-sized pieces and add them on top of the lettuce, reserving a few apple slices for the top of the salad. You can also add halved grapes or other fruits to this salad, if you like a lot of toppings.

For the Candied Pecans:

  • Prepare a sheetpan and line it with parchment paper. Set it aside.
  • Make the candied pecans on the stovetop by adding the pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and a pinch of salt into a saucepan. Heat the pot over medium-low heat, allowing the butter and sugar to melt.
  • Allow the pecans to toast a bit, but be very careful not to burn them. Continuously mix them around with a spoon and remove them from the heat just as they get coated in the sugar mixture, about 2 minutes.
  • Turn out the pecans onto the parchment paper lined sheetpan. Spread them apart to cool off, while you prepare the dressing.

For the Warm Cranberry Vinaigrette:

  • In the same saucepan, add the olive oil and finely diced shallots. Place it over medium low heat and stir the shallots around to prevent them from burning. Cook them until they soften, about a minute.
  • Add in the dried cranberries, honey dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and honey. Stir to combine. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the dried cranberries to soak in the vinegar.
  • Remove the dressing from the heat and add in the fresh lemon juice. Allow the vinaigrette to cool for a few minutes.
  • Note: When you’re done making the vinaigrette, it might appear that there is not enough to cover the entire salad. However, instead of it being in liquid form, most of the dressing is infused into the cranberries. When the cranberries are added into the mix, they help to add bursts of flavor to the entire salad. (See note below for additional information.)

Putting it All Together:

  • Add the warm cranberry vinaigrette to the lettuce and apples right before serving. Toss to combine. Top the salad with the candied pecans, feta, and the rest of the apple slices.

Notes

  1. If you prefer a different nut than pecans, you can substitute them for almonds or walnuts instead.
  2. You can also add in different kinds of lettuce, depending on what you like best. Additional spinach or kale would be great in this recipe, as well.
  3. If you’re making this salad for dinner, instead of as a side dish, you can make it even more filling by topping it with grilled chicken, roasted turkey, cooked salmon, or your favorite protein of choice!
  4. If you’re planning on serving the warm cranberry dressing on the side, instead of adding it to the salad before serving, you might want to double the dressing recipe. Often guests take more dressing than needed, and since this recipe is unique in that the dressing is infused into the dried cranberries, they may not understand that less is more. Therefore, you’ll want to make extra, so you have plenty to share with everybody!
Keyword 30 Minute Dinner, Dinner Recipe, Easy Side Dish, Fall Recipe, Gluten Free Optional, Healthy Recipe, Salad, Weeknight Meal

Want more recipes like this delivered right to your inbox?  Be sure to subscribe below and never miss a thing!

1 Comment

  1. I made this for Thanksgiving and am in love! It was delicious. This salad will definitely stay on my Thanksgiving menu and I will probably make it many times in between. Thanks for this healthy recipe Alana.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating