This Apple Salad with Candied Walnuts and Poppy Seed Dressing is absolutely mouth-wateringly amazing! Peppery greens are topped with fresh, crisp apples, candied walnuts, cranberries, bacon, avocado, feta, red onion, and finally drizzled with a quick and easy creamy poppy seed dressing. This delicious apple salad recipe is perfect year-round for lunch or as a side dish, and especially for holiday dinners!
We love hearty salads that are fresh, healthy, and filling with great textures and flavors! If you're looking for more salads to add to your daily rotation, our Winter Pear, Pomegranate & Swiss Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing is great for the cooler months, and try our Peach Panzanella Salad as a summer twist on the Italian classic!
I'm straight-up obsessed with this salad. It's seriously so, so good with sweet and savory flavors and loads of texture and crunch that makes it enticing even for someone who doesn't consider themselves much of a salad person. I'm speaking from personally experience since I typically find salads boring and blah and would rather move on to crusty bread or meat.
Salad has to have plenty of fun, interesting, and delicious ingredients to stand a chance of being made and eaten in my house. Wilted iceberg lettuce with a couple of tomatoes, drowned in ranch, even with a few croutons, just won't cut it. We need salads to be tempting, which in turn will make healthy eating a breeze, right? This Apple Salad recipe is. The. ONE!
The ingredients in this apple salad recipe are overall fairly simple: a mixture of romaine, arugula, and spring mix, which gets loaded with toppings and textures to keep your tastebuds guessing! Crunchy apples, crispy bacon, sweet candied walnuts, zingy red onion, sliced avocado, and tart cranberries. Then you drizzle it with the best dressing for apple salad: a rich and creamy poppy seed dressing. It doesn't get better than that!
In this recipe, we make both homemade candied walnuts and homemade poppy seed dressing from scratch! The candied walnuts make an excellent snack (especially during the holidays) and you will see them pop up on here again in other salad recipes because they add a fantastic crunchy, textural element. And the poppy seed dressing can go on any salad you whip up on a whim.
This whole apple salad recipe takes about 20 minutes (tops!) to make. This includes washing, slicing, and chopping all of the fresh ingredients, making the candied walnuts, crisping the bacon, AND mixing the dressing. It's a great recipe when you need a delicious side salad but are in a time crunch. It's perfect anytime really, but especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.
Apple Salad Ingredients
- Salad greens: Lettuce, spring mix, and arugula add their crunchy freshness with a hint of a peppery kick thanks to the arugula. Feel free to use what greens you have on hand, but this is my favorite mix for this type of salad.
- Apples: Thinly sliced apples give this apple salad a delicious crunch with sweetness and a little tartness depending on your apple. Envy, Honeycrisp, or Fuji are our favorites.
- Cranberries: Dried cranberries bring a fun texture as well as a tart pop every now and then. Dried cherries would also be good.
- Bacon: Who doesn't love bacon in a salad?! We cooked the bacon until it was crispy and chopped it up. Homemade bacon bits are delicious!
- Onion: I prefer red onion over white or yellow as it doesn't have such an overpowering flavor and can be easily eaten raw. If the onions are still too sharp, try soaking them in cold water for 10 minutes, then patting them dry to get rid of some of their bite.
- Feta: Feta cheese is crumbled on top, however you could substitute goat's cheese as well.
- Avocado: We need to add some healthy fat, and what better form than a creamy avocado! It's lush flavor really balances well with the other ingredients in this apple salad with lettuce recipe.
- Walnuts: You could easily substitute pecans, almonds, or another nut if that’s what you have on hand, but I’ve gotta say that walnuts are my absolute favorite.
- Butter: Walnuts themselves are rich, but the salted butter adds so much more to this recipe! It also helps break down the sugar so that it melts and everything sticks together well.
- Sugar: Much needed sweetness! I used white granulated sugar this time, but you could make candied walnuts with brown sugar instead. It would add a more caramel flavor, than just sweetness.
- Cinnamon: Just a touch of cinnamon gives warmth and brings all of the other flavors together.
Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing
- Mayo: Thick, creamy mayonnaise is the foundation to many good salad dressings, including this poppy seed dressing for apple salad.
- Milk: A little milk is added just to help thin out the mayo without losing any creaminess.
- Sugar: Poppy seed dressing is a sweet dressing, so we use sugar for that much-needed sweetness!
- Apple cider vinegar: I love using apple cider vinegar as it not only gives the dressing a tartness to cut through the sugar, it also adds a hint of apple which goes perfectly with this apple salad recipe!
- Poppy seeds: Poppy seeds don't really add anything to the flavor, but definitely give a nice texture and make the apple salad look amazing! A little goes a long way here!
How to make Apple Salad with Walnuts and Cranberries
- Cook the candied walnuts. Firstly, add the walnuts, butter, sugar, and cinnamon to a nonstick pan over medium heat, and then cook it, stirring constantly, until the sugar and butter are melted and coating the nuts, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Cool the walnuts. Secondly, transfer the candied walnuts to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and separate to cool. Serve whole or chopped.
- Cook the bacon. Add the bacon to a frying pan and cook until it's nice and crispy, making sure you turn the bacon over to get both sides.
- Whip up the salad dressing. Next, make the poppy seed dressing for the apple salad by whisking everything together in a medium bowl. Super fast and easy!
- Put it all together. Finally, toss the chopped romaine, spring mix, and arugula together in a large bowl. Arrange with toppings, then serve the apple walnut salad with the dressing. Alternatively, you can toss everything together with the dressing and serve immediately.
How do I store the Poppyseed Salad Dressing?
Any remaining salad dressing (or if you want to make a double batch and save half for later) can be stored in an airtight container like a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Can I use a different kind of nut for the candied walnuts?
Yes! Here are a few that will work really well:
- Brazil nuts
- Mixed nuts
What recipes can I serve this Apple Salad with?
This easy apple salad with walnuts and cranberries goes perfectly on it's own or with holiday dinners at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here are a few suggestions:
- The BEST Brown Sugar Glazed Ham
- Juicy Roast Turkey with a Butter Herb Rub
- Bacon Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey
- How to Make a Brined & Smoked Turkey
- Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
- Southern Fried Chicken
- Grilled Ribeye Steak
- Juicy Grilled Turkey Burgers
- Perfect Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet BBQ Pork Rub
More hearty salad recipes like this
- Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese & Pistachios
- Tex-Mex Doritos Taco Salad
- Curried Chicken Salad
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Creamy Grape Salad
- Classic Potluck Broccoli Salad
- Fall Panzanella Salad
Apple Salad with Candied Walnuts and Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing
- 1 small head romaine lettuce chopped
- 6 ounces spring mix
- 2 ounces arugala
- 2 crisp apples thinly sliced (envy, honeycrisp, or fuji are our favorites)
- ¾ cup dried cranberries
- 6 slices bacon cooked until crispy and chopped
- ½ small red onion sliced
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 avocado sliced thin
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 Tablespoon salted butter
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing
- ⅓ cup mayo
- ¼ cup milk
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Add the walnuts, butter, sugar, and cinnamon to a nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar and butter are melted and coating the nuts, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and separate to cool. Serve whole or chopped.
- Make the poppy seed dressing by whisking everything together in a medium bowl.
- Toss the chopped romaine, spring mix, and arugula together in a large bowl. Arrange with toppings, then serve with the dressing. Or toss everything together with the dressing and serve immediately.