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Defeat the picky taste buds of your worst salad-hater with this easy strawberry spinach salad. Made with a few fresh ingredients: juicy strawberries, leafy greens, crunchy candied pecans, and salty feta cheese, drizzled with an easy poppyseed dressing, this salad is a serious crowd favorite!
This is the salad is the salad that made me start liking them. It's one of my favorite salads...dare I even say the best salad?... especially during the warmer months when we are eating a little lighter.
Seriously, I have always called salads rabbit food, and my first time introduction to 'the leaves' was a Caesar salad at a steakhouse.
Don't give your kids Caesar salad, y'all. I was traumatized; it was sharp-tasting and sour, and weirdly sweet and crunchy all at the same time.
But I was served a strawberry spinach salad at a restaurant as part of their seasonal menu and I gave it a try only because it sounded pretty good. I like strawberries, I like spinach, I like candied pecans, this sounds like it may be a winner, right? Especially since in Florida, where I lived at the time, strawberry season is in late January, early February, around the same time of year leafy boys like spinach are in season.
I was totally right! Me the salad hater really enjoyed that salad and I asked them to make it every time I went afterward, even as it disappeared from the menu.
There's so many flavors going on that work so well together: sweet strawberries, salty and creamy feta cheese, fresh baby spinach, crunchy pecans, and then a light and tangy lemon poppyseed vinaigrette. So delish, and now that the produce is popping here in Virginia, I am really into making this great side dish every evening with dinner.
I'm so happy that I had found a beautiful salad to reintroduce me into the leafy world that is a great addition to your delicious spring and summer salads, especially since it's so easy to prepare and is pretty darn good for you, too!
What goes in a spinach strawberry salad
Like I said before, this is an easy spinach salad. The reason I was able to ask for the restaurant to make my delicious strawberry spinach salad was because the ingredients are few and simple. I think that's the best part, honestly.
First you need some juicy, ripe strawberries. Sweet berries are what'll hook any and all salad haters you're trying to seduce into eating leafy greens. I have a few tips below on how to pick good strawberries at the store because nothing sucks more than flavorless, sour, strawberries.
Next is fresh spinach. Make sure to wash your spinach before adding it to the salad, y'all. You never know who or what is hiding out on your spinach. Besides it being a 'dirty dozen' member, if you got the spinach from the farmers' market you may find a friend (or enemy) hiding in the leaves. Ask my aunt, picking greens from my grandma's garden comes with froggy risks.
Now we have the tangy feta. This is the good stuff! Feta is a fresh Greek cheese made from sheep's milk. It's super creamy and adds that salty aspect to the natural sweetness of this simple salad. Get the fresh feta in liquid, not the pre-crumbled stuff, there is a huge difference in flavor and texture, plus it's easily crumbled by hand.
The crunch aspect comes in with the candied nuts. I really love candied pecans or walnuts because I feel the candy-ing makes it even crunchier! If you're worried about the amount of sugar, roasted pecans are great here, too.
And honestly that's it for the salad! I also have a super straightforward homemade poppy seed dressing that's just poppy seeds, extra virgin olive oil, a touch of honey, a little dijon mustard (that's optional but it emulsifies the dressing) and plenty of lemon juice. Side note, that's actually called a 'citronette' because lemon juice is used in lieu of vinegar!
How to Pick Fresh Strawberries at the Grocery Stores or Farmers Market
Bad batches of strawberries can sneak into your cart or basket at the market. Here's a few tips on choosing and storing your beautiful, ripe strawberries at home.
First, be snobby with your berries. Strawberries are on the dirty dozen list, they're covered in pesticides that don't wash away. Organic strawberries are definitely the way to go, if you can.
You're looking for strawberries that are shiny, bright red all around without any white or green skin, firm without wrinkling, with full leaves that aren't shriveling up.
Open those plastic containers and look around. We all know about that one piece of fruit that's silently molding in the center of a group of them, it always happens. So don't be afraid to poke around and ensure each strawberry is red, shiny, and fresh.
When you get those babies home, it's time to give them a little bath in 8 parts cold water and 1 part white vinegar. No, your berries won't taste like vinegar but it will kill any mold spores that were floating around in the store's display case.
Get them in a colander and rinse them well, then dry them with paper towels.
I find that storing my berries in berry containers actually help them stay fresh longer since they are made to absorb ethylene gas and keep air flowing in there.
How to Make this Fresh Strawberry Spinach Salad Recipe
Whisk together the ingredients for the salad dressing in a small bowl.
Toss together slices of strawberry, your fresh spinach, crumbles of feta, and candied pecans in a large bowl.
For the best results, toss the salad together with the lemon poppyseed dressing just before serving.
What to Serve with a Summery Strawberry Spinach Salad
I consider this a really delish side dish, so here are a few of my favorite main dishes to eat with a spinach strawberry salad on the side.
Chicken. Especially in the summer, grilled chicken breasts or thighs work so well with a spinach strawberry salad on the side.
Salmon. Lately we've been eating al fresco since winter was so cold this year, so a serving of perfectly grilled salmon ends up on my plate with this salad at least two times a week.
Skirt Steak. That richness from a marinated skirt steak is just so good with the lightness in this leafy bowl.
There are so many different ways to take this salad from simple to extravagant or substitute one ingredient for another.
No feta? Try creamy, tangy, slightly sweet goat cheese instead. It's just as good. IF you're a blue cheese fan, try it in here!
Try a balsamic vinaigrette dressing! Balsamic dressing and strawberries go hand in hand.
Don't use honey? Agave and maple syrup work just as well in the dressing.
Red onion slices are a classic addition! Pro Tip: Soak the onion slices in cold water for a couple of minutes before adding to the salad. This gets rid of that sharp bite and funky aftertaste.
I ain't mad at you for adding some creamy avocado into the mix. I do it all the time!
You can use whatever nut you want. When I don't have pecans I use chopped walnuts or sliced almonds.
Add even more sweet in-season fresh fruit! Raspberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges are all delish and make such a pretty, colorful salad.
Make Ahead and Storing Instructions
- Make Ahead. Dress the salad just before serving. Do not dress the entire salad if it won't be eaten right away, the salad will wilt.
- Store. Store any leftover salad, undressed in the citronette, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Refrigerate any leftover lemon poppyseed dressing in a separate container for up to 5 days, then shake before pouring onto the salad.
Yes you can! Just follow the Make Ahead and Storing Instructions.
You can store the dressing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can use sunflower seeds in lieu of the tree nuts in this recipe.
More Strawberry Recipes
- Strawberry Shortcake Cake
- The BEST Strawberry Lemonade
- Strawberry Custard Tart
- Ultimate Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake
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Candied Nuts (optional step)
- ¾ cup (84 g) chopped walnuts or pecans
- 2 tablespoon (24 g) brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon (9 g) unsalted butter
Lemon Poppyseed Citronette Dressing
- ¼ cup (60 mL) light olive oil or grapeseed oil
- ½ teaspoon (4 g) honey, optional
- ½ teaspoon (4 g) poppy seeds
- ½ teaspoon (4 g) dijon mustard
- Zest of half lemon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon (4 g) kosher salt
Strawberry Spinach Salad
- 8 oz (240 g) fresh baby spinach, washed
- 8 oz (240 g) fresh strawberries, sliced
- 5 oz (130 g) feta cheese, crumbled
- ¾ cup candied pecans or nuts
Candied Nuts (optional step)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add in the nuts and brown sugar, stirring with a silicone spatula to coat the nuts in the butter and brown sugar.
- Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar begins to caramelize (about 3-4 minutes).
- Spread out the candied nuts on the prepared parchment paper-lined baking sheet to cool. Make sure to press them into one layer so they can cool quickly and can be broken apart from each other.
Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing
- In a medium-sized bowl, add in the olive oil, poppy seeds, Dijon mustard, fresh lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, and kosher salt. Whisk vigorously until well combined and emulsified, then allow flavors to meld at room temperature for at least 5-15 minutes.
- In a large salad bowl, toss the clean spinach, strawberry slices, the cooled candied nuts, and feta cheese together.
- Serve with the lemon poppyseed dressing, but don't pour it on until ready to serve.
Make Ahead and Storing Instructions
Make Ahead. Dress the salad just before serving. Do not dress the entire salad if it won't be eaten right away, the salad will wilt.
Store. Store any leftover salad, undressed in the citronette, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Refrigerate any leftover lemon poppyseed dressing in a separate container for up to 5 days, then shake before pouring onto the salad.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 183Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 33mgSodium: 268mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 7g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.