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This hearty fall salad is loaded with bacon, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, white cheddar cheese, and sliced Honeycrisp apples, then tossed with a creamy maple balsamic vinaigrette. It’s the perfect combination of sweet, savory, and salty flavors! Serve the seasonal harvest dish alongside your Thanksgiving turkey, or pair it with roasted chicken, a bowl of pumpkin soup, or a cozy pot roast for your next weeknight dinner.

Overhead shot of fall salad with serving spoons in a bowl

A fall salad made with fresh kale, seasonal fruit, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and smoky bacon is the perfect addition to your autumnal table. Best of all, the easy side dish is quick enough to mix together on a regular weeknight, but also special enough for a Thanksgiving feast. Add store-bought rotisserie chicken, smoked turkey, or leftover roasted chicken from a previous meal, and turn it into a satisfying main dish!

Side shot of a bowl of fall salad on a dinner table

The Best Dressing for a Fall Salad

I love the rich, sweet flavor that maple syrup gives this classic homemade balsamic vinaigrette. With Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, and mayonnaise, the dressing also has great tangy, creamy components that pair nicely with the other ingredients in the fall salad. Plus, it’s easy to whisk together in about 2 minutes!

If you prefer, you can certainly substitute with another type of dressing. This homemade option is also delicious, but a store-bought balsamic vinaigrette or poppy seed dressing would be fine, too.

Whisking together maple balsamic vinaigrette in a jar

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for an easy fall salad. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Maple balsamic vinaigrette: see the recipe below, or use your favorite store-bought dressing.
  • Kale: a classic green available during the cool weather months. You can substitute with any greens that you like, though. Try romaine, mixed baby greens, or spinach, too!
  • Apple: the Honeycrisp variety is my favorite in this dish, thanks to its firm texture and sweet flavor. You can use another variety of apple, or even substitute with a fresh fall pear.
  • White cheddar cheese: we love a good quality Vermont sharp white cheddar cheese paired with the sweet, crisp apple in this salad. Other nice options include gorgonzola cheese, crumbled feta cheese, or Gouda cheese.
  • Dried cranberries: for a sweet-tart flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Raisins, chopped dates, or dried cherries also work well.
  • Roasted and salted pumpkin seeds: also called pepitas, these have a great salty crunch. You can substitute with pistachios, pecans, walnuts, or almonds. Candied pecans are also tasty!
  • Bacon: for a rich, smoky flavor. We love Hickory smoked maple bacon in this salad, but any variety will work. Make sure that it’s cooked until crisp, and then cooled before adding it to the salad.
Massaging kale with dressing in a bowl

How to Make Fall Salad

Once the ingredients are assembled, this salad comes together in just minutes!

  1. Whisk together the dressing.
  2. Massage the kale with some of the dressing.
  3. Transfer to a serving dish.
  4. Top with remaining ingredients and serve with extra dressing.
Pouring dressing over a fall salad

Why massage kale for salad?

There are a couple of reasons to massage the kale before assembling the salad. First, this process infuses the kale with the dressing, adding flavor to the greens. Second, massaging the leaves breaks down some of the tough, fibrous characteristics of kale. This makes the greens easier to chew and digest, and yields a more tender salad.

If you substitute with a different type of salad greens, such as mixed baby greens, baby spinach, or romaine lettuce, you can skip this step.

Side shot of a festive fall salad on a Thanksgiving table

What to Serve with Fall Salad

This simple-yet-flavorful dish pairs nicely with any of these entrées:

Square image of a bowl of fall salad surrounded by pumpkins and apples

Storage

You can prepare all of the ingredients in advance, keep them refrigerated, and then assemble the salad just before serving. Wait to slice the apples until you’re ready to serve, or toss the apple slices with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning. The cooked bacon will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, while the dressing is good for at least 1 week.

Once the salad is tossed together and dressed, it’s best enjoyed within an hour or so. After that, the greens will start to get soggy, the pumpkin seeds will soften, and the apple will brown. Do not freeze leftover salad.

Overhead image of a beautiful fall kale salad with sliced apples

Recipe Variations

  • Instead of kale, substitute with romaine lettuce, mixed baby greens, baby spinach, or another type of salad greens. Even a shaved Brussels sprouts salad would be great!
  • Swap out the Honeycrisp apple for a different apple variety. You can also use a pear or pomegranate seeds instead.
  • Pecans, walnuts, almonds, or sunflower seeds are all great substitutes for the pumpkin seeds. Use toasted, salted nuts or seeds for the best flavor.
  • In lieu of the dried cranberries, try raisins, chopped dates, or dried cherries.
  • Substitute gouda cheese, goat cheese, feta cheese, or gorgonzola cheese for the cheddar.
  • Red onions or roasted butternut squash would also be great additions to this fall salad.
Apples and bacon on a fall salad in a white bowl

Tips for the Best Fall Salad Recipe

  • Massage the kale with some dressing before assembling the salad. This breaks down the tough greens, making them more tender and easier to chew and digest. You can skip this step if you’re using a different type of salad greens, such as romaine or baby spinach.
  • Wait to assemble the salad until you’re ready to serve. You can prep the ingredients in advance, but you don’t want the greens or seeds to get soggy in the dressing, and you don’t want the apples to brown.
  • Make this flavorful, hearty salad a main dish entrée for a special fall lunch or easy dinner. Add store-bought rotisserie chicken, smoked turkey, or leftover roasted chicken from a previous meal.
Close up side shot of a kale salad with apples and other fall ingredients

More Fall Salads to Try

Side shot of a bowl of fall salad

Fall Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing

Prep: 20 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 369 kcal
This hearty fall salad is loaded with bacon, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, white cheddar cheese, and sliced Honeycrisp apples, then tossed with a creamy maple balsamic vinaigrette.

Ingredients
  

FOR THE DRESSING:

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

FOR THE SALAD:

  • 6 cups stemmed, chopped kale (from 1 large bunch)
  • 1 medium Honeycrisp apple, unpeeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces Vermont sharp white cheddar cheese, cubed
  • cup dried cranberries
  • cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 4 slices hickory smoked maple bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped or crumbled

Instructions

PREPARE THE DRESSING:

  • In a small bowl or jar, whisk together balsamic vinegar, mayonnaise, water, maple syrup, garlic and mustard. While continually whisking, gradually stream in the olive oil until the ingredients are completely combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients, or refrigerate in an airtight container or jar for up to 1 week.

PREPARE THE SALAD:

  • Toss together the kale and about 3 tablespoons of the dressing in a large bowl. Using your hands, gently massage the kale for a minute or two, until it’s well coated in the dressing and slightly tender. Transfer to a large serving platter or serving bowl.
  • Top with apple, cheese, cranberries, pepitas, and bacon. Serve with remaining dressing.

Notes

  • Massage the kale with some dressing before assembling the salad. This breaks down the tough greens, making them more tender and easier to chew and digest. You can skip this step if you’re using a different type of salad greens, such as romaine or baby spinach.
  • Wait to assemble the salad until you’re ready to serve. You can prep the ingredients in advance, but you don’t want the greens or seeds to get soggy in the dressing, and you don’t want the apples to brown.
  • Make this flavorful, hearty salad a main dish entrée for a special fall lunch or easy dinner. Add store-bought rotisserie chicken, smoked turkey, or leftover roasted chicken from a previous meal.
  • Instead of kale, substitute with romaine lettuce, mixed baby greens, baby spinach, or another type of salad greens. Even a shaved Brussels sprouts salad would be great!
  • Swap out the Honeycrisp apple for a different apple variety. You can also use a pear or pomegranate seeds instead.
  • Pecans, walnuts, almonds, or sunflower seeds are all great substitutes for the pumpkin seeds. Use toasted, salted nuts or seeds for the best flavor.
  • In lieu of the dried cranberries, try raisins, chopped dates, or dried cherries.
  • Substitute gouda cheese, goat cheese, feta cheese, or gorgonzola cheese for the cheddar.
  • Red onions or roasted butternut squash would also be great additions to this fall salad.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the salad and dressingCalories: 369kcalCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 12gFat: 28gSaturated Fat: 8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 7gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 32mgSodium: 314mgPotassium: 484mgFiber: 2gSugar: 10gVitamin A: 6910IUVitamin C: 82mgCalcium: 251mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: Fall Salad, kale salad, Thanksgiving Salad
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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