Spinach Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Poppy Seed Dressing
Say hello to COLOR, Spinach Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Poppy Seed Dressing style! Whether you need a healthy lunch or are looking for a salad to bring to a party that—this is critical—people actually want to eat, this strawberry spinach salad with poppy seed dressing and feta is the recipe for you!
Strawberry spinach salad is my unofficial start to spring because—and I think it’s important that we are honest about this—a March or early-April spring is not a real thing when you live in the upper Midwest.
Slowly, however, my little yard turns greener, and I notice my salad cravings shifting away from warm toppings like the lentils and roasted vegetables in this Lentil Salad with Roasted Cauliflower or the sautéed potatoes in this Pea Salad to ones that are distinctly lighter and brighter: strawberries, poppy seeds, feta.
Another catalyst for my subjective start to “spring” (and I am not even going to pretend that I am ashamed about this): the strawberry poppy seed salad at Panera returns. Oh happy day!
Today’s healthy spinach strawberry salad is gateway food. It’s a starter to spring (or a continuation of it if you are lucky enough to live in a place where spring arrives on time).
It’s a starter to salad skeptics. Sweet berries, toasted pecans, creamy feta, and a lovely honey balsamic poppy seed dressing make for an easy transition to leafy greens, even if salad isn’t usually something you typically pile willingly onto your plate.
And it’s a starter or side for any spring or summer party menu! Did someone ask you to bring a side for Easter? A potluck? A dinner party where you’re not sure what everyone likes? This spinach strawberry salad is an ideal choice. It’s easy, crowd-pleasing, and flexible too.
How to Make the Best Ever Strawberry Spinach Salad
Consider this recipe more of an adjustable, go-with-the-flow starter than a strict script.
I’ve included the ingredients and amounts to make a stellar spinach strawberry salad for a crowd, but you can switch them up to suit your preference or keep things fresh and new when you come back to make it again.
Key Salad Ingredients
- Spinach. Spinach and strawberries are classic together and an excellent choice. For a peppery twist, try using a blend of half arugula, half spinach.
- Strawberries. Buy the juiciest, ripest fruit you can find. To change it up, try mixing in any combination of blueberries, raspberries, dried cranberries, or mandarin oranges.
- Toasted Pecans. The necessary crunchy element that no good salad should be without. Not into pecans? Try swapping slivered almonds or chopped walnuts. Whatever nuts you choose, be absolutely sure to toast them first—it makes them crisp and 1,000x more flavorful.
Working around a nut allergy? Try toasted sunflower seeds.
- Feta. The key to a truly satisfying, not-salad salad is to add a touch of creaminess, and cheese was born for it. In addition to mild feta, I adore spinach strawberry salad with goat cheese or a mild blue cheese like gorgonzola. It’s extra decadent and tangy.
Whether you choose feta, goat cheese, or blue cheese, buy a block of it (or in the case of goat cheese, one of those cute little logs), and crumble it yourself.
I know the tubs of cheese crumbles are tempting, but they fail miserably in the creamy department because they are coated in a starchy powder to keep them from caking together. TRUST ME HERE. If you are going to add cheese to your salad, why not make sure that cheese is lusciously creamy?
- Red Onion. To give this healthy strawberry spinach salad a friendly bite and keep it from being too sweet.
RED ONION TIP: When you are using red onions raw like in this spinach strawberry salad recipe, soak them in water first. This preserves the onions’ flavor but removes the harsh (and stubbornly lingering) aftertaste.
Let’s Talk Poppy Seed Dressing
When I crave spinach strawberry salad, I crave spinach strawberry salad with poppy seed dressing. Maybe it’s the Panera factor (it’s definitely the Panera factor), but I consider the two together a package deal to be embraced.
The poppy seeds feel cheery and add micro pops of texture too!
Rather than a creamy dressing, this spinach strawberry salad calls for a poppy seed vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar and honey for a few reasons:
- Balsamic and strawberry are divine together.
- The acidity of the dressing adds a nice balance.
- I always have balsamic vinegar in my pantry.
- It is FAST.
The two greatest barriers to making your own vinaigrette from scratch are time and ingredients. This one takes seconds, and you have everything you need to make it in your pantry right now.
- Toast the pecans, then chop them. My preferred toasting method is in the oven.
- Place the sliced onions in a bowl of water. While they hang out, whisk the dressing ingredients together.
- Add the spinach, strawberries, and onions to a serving bowl.
- Drizzle some dressing over the top and toss. Start conservatively—you can always add more later, but you can’t take back any excess.
- Add the cheese and nuts. Toss and add more dressing if you so desire. ENJOY!
What to Serve with Strawberry Salad
As the recipe is written, this salad is perfect for a bright side or starter, but here are a few ideas to make it a main dish:
- Chicken. If you’d like to make this a strawberry spinach salad with chicken, try adding grilled chicken or shredded chicken (see: easy tutorial for how to cook shredded chicken (stovetop), Crock Pot Shredded Chicken, or Instant Pot Chicken).
- Grains. Stir in some cooked quinoa, pasta, or farro (like in my Strawberry Farro Salad) for added protein.
- Bread. Of course, you can’t go wrong by serving a side of delicious, crusty bread with this salad.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
- To Make Ahead. Dress the salad as shortly before serving as you can. If you don’t plan to eat it all right away, dress only what you plan to eat right away.
- To Store. Store leftover, undressed salad in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Refrigerate any leftover dressing in an airtight container (a jar is perfect) for up to 5 days, then shake before serving.
Tools Used to Make This Spinach Salad with Strawberries
- Non-Slip Cutting Board. Slice, chop, and prep all your ingredients safely.
- Mixing Bowls. These bowls are ideal for mixing your dressing ingredients.
- Rimmed Baking Sheets. Perfect for toasting the pecans.
Spinach Strawberry Salad
For the Strawberry Spinach Salad:
- 3/4 cup raw pecans
- 1/2 small red onion - very thinly sliced
- 10 ounces fresh baby spinach - I also love a 50/50 arugula and spinach blend
- 1 quart strawberries - hulled and quartered (about 1 pound)
- 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese - buy the block-style feta, not pre-crumbled; the texture is much better
For the Poppy seed Dressing:
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- Toast the pecans: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the pecans in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the pecans smell fragrant and the center of a pecan is tan when the pecan is broken in half. (Do not walk away from the oven in the last few minutes of cooking. This is when nuts love to burn.) Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop.
- Place the sliced onions in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the salad (this keeps their flavor but removes the harsh onion bite).
- Prepare the dressing: In small mixing bowl or large liquid measuring cup, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients—vinegar, oil, poppy seeds, honey, mustard, salt, and pepper—until well combined. (Alternatively, you can shake the ingredients together in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid).
- Assemble the salad: Place the spinach in a great big serving bowl. Add the strawberries. Drain the red onion and add it as well. Drizzle about half of the dressing over the salad and toss to coat the leaves. Assess the amount of dressing. You want the spinach leaves to be nicely moistened but not swimming in dressing. Add a little more if needed to suit your preferences. Add the feta and pecans. Toss lightly to combine. Serve immediately, with extra dressing on the side as desired.
- Dress the salad as shortly before serving as you can. If you don’t plan to eat it all right away, dress only what you plan to eat right away, then store the leftover, undressed salad in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Refrigerate leftover dressing in an airtight container (a jar is perfect) for up to 5 days, then shake before serving.
- Nutrition is an estimate and has been calculated with two-thirds of the dressing, as you likely will not need all of it for the salad.
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