Thanksgiving Salad with Cinnamon Cider Vinaigrette

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Does salad belong on the Thanksgiving table? Yes, every holiday table needs an over-the-top salad! This Thanksgiving Salad balances the richness of a traditional Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving dinner with fresh & festive fall flavors. Made with massaged kale, wild rice, spiced sweet potatoes, maple candied nuts, & a simple cider cinnamon vinaigrette, this harvest salad is colorful, super fresh, so hearty & flavorful – it just might steal the show at your Thanksgiving table this year!

Make-ahead & meal prep-friendly. Naturally vegetarian & gluten-free. Easily dairy-free & vegan.

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A side angle shot of Thanksgiving salad tossed inside of a large gray ceramic bowl with cider cinnamon vinaigrette. A woman's hands hold a large spoon and a fork to toss the salad together. The bowl sits atop a light cream colored textured surface surrounded by a small white bowl filled with maple spiced nuts, another small bowl filled with goat cheese, loose sprigs of fresh herbs, and a natural woven placemat.

Complete Your Holiday Meal With the Ultimate Thanksgiving Salad!

While some believe salads don’t belong on the Thanksgiving table, where carbs rule supreme, I’m a firm believer in a delicious, vibrant, & healthy Thanksgiving salad. The freshness of a salad really helps balance out the rich, decadent flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Plus, a holiday dinner is the best excuse to prep a show-stopping, over-the-top salad! 

This particular Thanksgiving salad is the one I’ve made for every Thanksgiving event I’ve attended since college – family dinners, work potlucks, Friendsgiving celebrations, all of ‘em! Everyone seriously raves about it, so I figure it’s about time we share it here on PWWB!

With a base of kale, wild rice, & roasted sweet potatoes, this Thanksgiving salad is super hearty & wholesome, but special touches like spiced candied nuts, pomegranate arils, & goat cheese add festive pops of color & texture to every single bite. Plus, it’s all tossed in a borderline drinkable cider cinnamon vinaigrette – you will be obsessed!

Thanksgiving Salad Recipe Highlights

I’ve served this salad at every Thanksgiving dinner I’ve attended in the past 10+ years. Everyone seriously loves it because it’s…

A TOTAL SHOW-STOPPER. Made with a bounty of in-season fall ingredients like massaged kale, roasted sweet potatoes, & jewel-toned pomegranate arils, this Thanksgiving salad’s beautiful colors always make a big impression on the Thanksgiving dinner table!

HEARTY. No boring salads here! This Thanksgiving salad is loaded with satisfying textures & flavors that taste like fall: cinnamon, pure maple syrup, roasty potatoes, toasted nuts, satisfying kale, tangy cheese. What’s not to love?!

MAKE AHEAD-FRIENDLY. While it’s made with a number of components, they can mostly be prepped well ahead of time. Plus, since it’s a pretty hearty salad, you can dress it in advance, too – perfect if you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a dish to share!

A festive salad definitely belongs on your Thanksgiving menu this year! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Thanksgiving Salad, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!

Key Ingredients

What separates a good salad from a great salad is a creating the perfect balance of flavors & layered textures. As a result, you’ll notice ingredients list for this Thanksgiving salad recipe is a little lengthier, but you probably have almost everything you need to make it in your kitchen already – they’re all seasonal staples!

Thanksgiving Salad with Cider-Cinnamon Vinaigrette ingredients arranged on a creamy white textured surface: kale, goat cheese, walnuts or pecans, sweet potato, garlic, fresh herbs, kosher salt, wild rice, pure maple syrup, olive oil, chili powder, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, ground black pepper, and pomegranate.

Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

You need:

  • Kale – I absolutely love using kale for this Thanksgiving salad. Hearty kale doesn’t wilt, so you can prepare & dress the salad well in advance. Lacinato (dinosaur) kale & curly kale both work great. If kale isn’t your favorite, we have plenty of tips & tricks below to help you get started, but you can always sub it with any of your other favorite greens (spinach, arugula, spring mix, etc.).
  • Wild rice – As a Minnesota gal, I’m obsessed with wild rice for its satisfying texture & nutty flavor. If wild rice is hard to come by where you live, feel free to use another grain you love – a hearty farro salad is my next choice!
  • Sweet potatoes – Roasting them with pure maple syrup, chili powder, & warm spices like cumin, cinnamon, & cayenne pepper gives every bite a pop of sweet & spiced flavor.
  • Candied nuts – For texture & sweetness! Walnuts & pecans are both great here.
  • Pomegranate arils – Juicy, jewel-toned bites for a boost of vibrant flavor & festive color.
  • Cheese – I like to use goat cheese, but feta is also a great option. Feel free to omit for an entirely dairy-free & vegan Thanksgiving salad.
  • Cider cinnamon vinaigrette – This homemade vinaigrette is basically fall in liquid form. It has amazing bright-yet-warm flavor & it’s easy to mix up in advance!

How to Make The Perfect Salad for Thanksgiving Dinner

Like any good salad, this harvest salad consists of a few different components: roasted sweet potatoes, candied nuts, homemade cider cinnamon vinaigrette, massaged kale, etc.

It may seem like a lot, but it’s all pretty easy to prepare! Plus, this recipe is designed such that you can easily break up the prep work across a couple of days, making for really straightforward assembly on Thanksgiving Day.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

Maple Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Hearty roasted sweet potatoes stud this Thanksgiving salad with pops of festive orange color, giving it an especially autumnal look & feel. Plus, the nice thing about roasting sweet potatoes is that it’s a super hands-off process – once they’re tossed together, the oven does all the work!

Maple Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes. ⇢ Dice 1 large sweet potato, then toss the cubes on a sheet pan with a little pure maple syrup & a warm spice blend of chili powder, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, & cayenne pepper. They roast up in about 25-30 minutes, & come out of the oven perfectly tender & sweet with a spicy, earthy kick.

Maple Candied Nuts

Candied nuts give this Thanksgiving salad irresistible salty-sweet crunch. While you can definitely grab a can of candied nuts at the store, making homemade candied nuts is much easier than you might expect! These candied nuts are made with many similar ingredients as the roasted sweet potatoes & you can toast them right alongside the potatoes for even more streamlined prep.

Maple Spiced Candied Nuts. ⇢ Toss ½ cup chopped walnuts &/or pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet & pop them in the oven for about 4 minutes, until they’re toasty & fragrant. Carefully coat them in a little pure maple syrup & a warm spice blend of chili powder, ground cinnamon, & cayenne pepper, then pop them back into the oven for just a couple minutes, just until the natural sugars in the maple syrup begin to caramelize.

Meal Prep Tip!

These roasted sweet potatoes & candied nuts are both incredibly make ahead-friendly. Store the roasted sweet potatoes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days & store the candied nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. 

Prep them in advance to eliminate plenty of active prep day-of. On Thanksgiving Day, simply toss them into your salad bowl – easy!

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

Cider Cinnamon Vinaigrette

This particular salad dressing is a fall-inspired twist on my favorite maple balsamic vinaigrette. I swap balsamic vinegar for apple cider vinegar & add the littlest dash of ground cinnamon for a kiss of warmth. The result is a salad dressing that’s tangy, sweet, caramelly, & warm all at once – it tastes just like fall!

Cider Cinnamon Vinaigrette. ⇢ Simply whisk together some olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, water, cinnamon, garlic, & fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary. I like to measure all the ingredients in a mason jar then seal it up & shake it well to emulsify into a smooth & creamy dressing.

Prepping & Massaging Kale for Salad

Kale is one of my favorite greens, especially for a nutrient-dense salad. If you’ve tried it before & haven’t liked it, chances are it wasn’t prepared properly – it needs a little bit of TLC to ensure it’s nice & tender! Some kale salad tips & tricks to keep in mind:

  • Use whole kale. I always recommend buying kale whole rather than in the pre-shredded bags. Shredding kale on your own is quite simple, & it has such better texture than the bagged stuff!
  • Destem & finely chop or shred. Kale stems are super tough & a bit more bitter than the leaves – not especially pleasant in a raw salad! Destem the kale by grabbing hold of the leaf at the base of the stem, then slide your hand along the stem to easily separate the leaf (you can also do this with a knife, if you prefer!). From there, tightly roll the leaves into a bundle & chop into finely shredded pieces – the finer the better!

How to massage kale. ⇢ A quick massage helps break down kale’s tough, fibrous texture, making it easier to chew. This tiny step makes a HUGE difference in the texture of your greens. Place the shredded kale in a large bowl, drizzle some of the prepared cider cinnamon vinaigrette over top, & season with a good pinch of coarse salt. Use your hands to really work the vinaigrette into the kale, until it softens & turns vibrantly green.

Meal Prep Tip!

The cinnamon cider vinaigrette & shredded kale are both incredibly make ahead-friendly. Store the cinnamon cider vinaigrette in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Transfer the shredded kale to a resealable bag or airtight container, nestling a paper towel against the leaves to capture any excess moisture & store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

Prep them in advance to eliminate plenty of active prep day-of. On Thanksgiving Day, simply toss into your salad bowl – easy!

Thanksgiving Salad Assembly (+ Make Ahead Tips)

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

Step-by-Step Video

Thanksgiving Salad Assembly. ⇢ Once all the components are prepped, all that’s left to do is assemble your stunning Thanksgiving salad! Top the massaged kale with wild rice, maple spiced roasted sweet potatoes, maple spiced candied nuts, pomegranate seeds & crumbled goat or feta cheese. Drizzle a little more cider cinnamon vinaigrette over top, then serve immediately with a small bowl of any remaining salad dressing to the side.

Simple salad variations. ⇢ One thing I love about this recipe is how versatile it is – it’s Thanksgiving, after all, so there are tons of amazing ingredients to choose from!

  • Use other greens. If you don’t love kale, feel free to make a baby spinach salad, arugula salad, or use your favorite spring mix. For a warm Thanksgiving salad, roast up some shaved brussels sprouts to make a brussels sprouts salad.
  • Try other seasonal squashes. If you’ve already used your sweet potatoes for sweet potato casserole, feel free to swap it out for this Thanksgiving salad recipe with roasted carrot or a hardy winter squash like butternut, delicata, or acorn squash.
  • Shop your pantry! If you don’t have pomegrantate arils on hand, feel free to swap them out with dried fruit like golden raisins or dried cranberries. If you don’t have walnuts or pecans on hand, swap them out with almonds or pepitas (green pumpkin seeds). Use whatever you already have!
  • Add a little bacon! If keeping your Thanksgiving salad vegetarian isn’t a priority, you can add an extra kick of delicious savory flavor with crispy bacon or pancetta.
  • For a dairy-free or vegan Thanksgiving salad, be sure to simply omit the goat cheese or swap it out with your favorite dairy-free cheese.

Make Ahead Tips!

One of the reasons I love this Thanksgiving Salad so much is that it holds really beautifully once it’s dressed. Since kale is such a hearty green & it doesn’t use delicate ingredients like fresh apples or pears, this Thanksgiving Salad can be assembled a few hours ahead of time. It also travels really well, so feel free to assemble the entire salad ahead of time & ring the doorbell with your beautiful, festive, show-stopping salad in hand!

Serving Suggestions

Thanksgiving salad in a large white serving bowl sits atop a white textured surface. A blue and white striped linen napkin, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and pieces of pomegranate with loose pomegranate arils rests alongside the serving bowl. A single wooden serving spoon rests inside of the serving bowl.

I’m telling you, this Thanksgiving salad never lasts long once it hits the Thanksgiving dinner table!

I like to let my guests serve themselves, drizzling with extra cider cinnamon vinaigrette as they see fit. Serving the salad on separate plates or bowls helps prevent turkey gravy or mashed potatoes from mixing in with the fresh flavor of the salad, but serving it right alongside the rest of your Thanksgiving spread is fine too – do whatever you love most!

Thanksgiving salad in a large white serving bowl sits atop a white textured surface. A blue and white linen napkin, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a small mason jar filled with cider-cinnamon vinaigrette with a spoon resting inside, and a few pieces of pomegranate and loose pomegranate arils rests alongside the serving bowl.

I can’t wait for you to try this Thanksgiving Salad! Your guests will love how it balances out the meal & it will look so beautiful on your Thanksgiving table.

If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!

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A close up shot of Thanksgiving salad components fill a large gray ceramic bowl: massaged kale, maple spiced roasted sweet potatoes, maple spiced nuts, pomegranate arils, wild rice, and goat cheese. The bowl is surrounded by small containers filled with maple spiced nuts, cinnamon cider vinaigrette, and goat cheese as well as loose fresh sprigs of herbs, a marigold yellow colored linen, and a natural woven placemat with a gold serving spoon and fork resting atop.

Thanksgiving Salad with Cinnamon Cider Vinaigrette

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 2 reviews
  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Yield: serves 6 (as a side dish) 1x
  • Category: Side Dishes, Entrée Salads & Bowls
  • Method: Roasted, Stovetop, No-Cook
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Every holiday table needs an over-the-top salad, and this recipe is my favorite for Thanksgiving. I’ve brought it to every Thanksgiving & Friendsgiving dinner I’ve attended since my early 20s & it always steals the show!

This Thanksgiving Salad is designed to balances the richness of a traditional Thanksgiving with fresh & festive fall flavor. It’s made with beautiful in-season ingredients, like roasted sweet potatoes, massaged kale, & jewel-toned pomegranate arils. Round it out with salty-sweet maple spiced nuts for crunch, wild rice for the best hearty texture, & a little goat cheese for creaminess, & it’s truly the ultimate Thanksgiving side dish. 

Like any over-the-top salad, there’s a bit of prep involved in getting all of the components ready, but you can prep most of them up to 5 days in advance & since it’s such a hearty salad it’s super make ahead friendly. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for meal prep tips & make ahead guidance! ♡ Happy Thanksgiving!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 large bunch kale, destemmed & finely sliced or shredded (roughly 6 cups shredded)
  • ⅓ cup dry wild rice or grain of choice, cooked according to package directions
  • maple spiced roasted sweet potatoes, below
  • maple spiced nuts, below
  • ½ cup pomegranate arils (about ½ medium pomegranate fruit)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese or feta, crumbled
  • cider cinnamon vinaigrette, below
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

for the maple spiced roasted sweet potatoes:

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled & diced into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • optional: pinch cayenne pepper
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

for the maple spiced nuts:

  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • optional: pinch cayenne pepper
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

for the cider cinnamon vinaigrette:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary or thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped or grated
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

Instructions

  1. Prep: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or foil for easy clean up. Set aside. Cook wild rice or grain of choice according to package directions. Drain & set aside to cool or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.Thanksgiving Salad with Cider-Cinnamon Vinaigrette ingredients arranged on a creamy white textured surface: kale, goat cheese, walnuts or pecans, sweet potato, garlic, fresh herbs, kosher salt, wild rice, pure maple syrup, olive oil, chili powder, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, ground black pepper, and pomegranate.
  2. Roast the Maple Spiced Sweet Potatoes: Meanwhile, as the grains cook, prep the salad components. Place the diced sweet potatoes on one of the prepared baking sheets. Season with olive oil, pure maple syrup, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne (if using), 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Toss to coat well. Arrange the seasoned sweet potatoes on the baking sheet such that they’re not crowded together & have plenty of room to roast. Roast 25-30 minutes, stirring/flipping the sweet potatoes halfway through. Remove from the oven & set aside or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Roasted Maple Spiced Sweet Potatoes rest atop a piece of brown parchment paper that lines a cream colored baking sheet. The baking sheet sits atop a creamy white textured surface.
  3. Toast the Maple Spiced Nuts: Once the sweet potatoes finish roasting, prep the maple spiced nuts. Place the chopped nuts on the second prepared baking sheet & transfer to the oven to toast for 4 minutes. While the nuts toast, prep the maple spiced coating. Add the pure maple syrup, olive oil, chili powder, ground cinnamon,& cayenne (if using) to a small bowl. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Whisk to combine well. Once the nuts are toasted, pull them from the oven & carefully pour the prepared maple spiced coating over the nuts, using a spatula or wooden spoon to stir & coat the nuts well. Return to the oven for another 4 minutes, stirring/flipping the nuts halfway through. Remove from the oven & set aside to cool or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Roasted Maple Spiced Walnuts rest atop a piece of brown parchment paper that lines a cream colored baking sheet. The baking sheet sits atop a creamy white textured surface.
  4. Prep the Cider-Cinnamon Vinaigrette: Add the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, water, fresh herbs, cinnamon, & garlic to a small bowl or jar. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Whisk or shake to combine well. Set aside or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  A small clear glass mixing bowl filled with homemade cider-cinnamon vinaigrette dressing for Thanksgiving Salad sits atop a creamy white textured surface. A small metal whisk with a wooden handle rests inside of the mixing bowl.
  5. Thanksgiving Salad assembly: Place the shredded kale in a large bowl. Drizzle a couple spoonfuls of the prepared cider-cinnamon vinaigrette over top. Use your hands to massage the kale, working the vinaigrette into the kale until the kale softens & becomes vibrantly green. Transfer the massaged kale to a serving bowl or platter. Top with the cooked wild rice or grains, maple spiced sweet potatoes, maple spiced nuts, pomegranate arils & crumbled cheese. Serve immediately, drizzled with extra cider-cinnamon vinaigrette as desired. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Portions: As written, this Thanksgiving Salad recipe feeds a crowd of 6 generously as a side dish with a few other options on the table. If you’re feeding a larger crowd, feel free to double the recipe to serve 10-12 generously as a side dish. If you’re enjoying it as a main dish (we often do in the fall!), plan on it yielding 3-4 servings as written. 
  • Make-ahead/meal prep. A little meal prep goes a long way in pulling this festive salad together on Thanksgiving day! Between roasting the sweet potatoes, toasting the maple spiced nuts, cooking the wild rice, & mixing up the vinaigrette, there are many steps that can be prepared 5-7 days in advance. Pick & choose from the below list, or do it all ahead of time & all you have to do on Thanksgiving is toss it all together – easy! 
    • Destem & finely shred kale: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Place a piece of paper towel in the container to soak up any condensation or moisture. (10 minutes active prep)
    • Chop & roast sweet potatoes: Prep according to Step 2 of Recipe Directions, above. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (10 minutes active prep)
    • Wild rice: Cook wild rice or your grain of choice according to package directions. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (5 minutes active prep)
    • Candied nuts: Prep according to Step 3 of Recipe Directions, above. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
    • Make the Cider-Cinnamon Vinaigrette: Prep according to Step 4 of Recipe Directions, above. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Megan McKeehan & Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.

An overhead shot of Thanksgiving salad in a large white serving bowl sits atop a white textured surface. A blue and white linen napkin, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a few pieces of pomegranate and loose pomegranate arils rest alongside the serving bowl. A wooden serving spoon rests inside of the bowl.

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Let’s make this your BEST Thanksgiving yet!

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 11.24.23
    Dru Hall said:

    A+++
    I’ve made this salad twice in a week!
    First for my sisters on a sisters getaway and again for my family and delivered some to friends who have a new baby! It’s delicious!

    • 11.25.23
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Truly perfect for all occasions in the Fall! So glad you loved this recipe and have been able to share with others. We are so grateful!

  2. 11.29.21
    Anna said:

    This salad was a HUGE hit at Thanksgiving. People that aren’t big salad people loved it. There are SO many flavors. It was also delish with leftover turkey for a full meal on its own. Definitely making again next year and during the fall.






  3. 11.20.21
    CJ said:

    Can’t think of a better salad. Make extra of everything because it is all delicious.

    We may only make maple spiced sweet potato from now on but the whole salad is just so good, so many textures, it’s restaurant quality.






    • 11.23.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi CJ! We are SO glad to hear that you enjoyed this recipe & yes the maple spiced sweet potatoes can totally stand on their own! Thank you for sharing!