Thanksgiving Salad with Spiced Sweet Potatoes, Maple Candied Nuts, & Cinnamon-Cider Vinaigrette

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Every holiday table needs a fresh, over-the-top salad, & this Thanksgiving Salad perfectly balances the rich flavors at a traditional Thanksgiving & Friendsgiving celebration with some festive flair. 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! Naturally vegetarian & gluten-free, easily dairy-free & vegan.

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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.

Complete Your Holiday Meal With the Ultimate Harvest-Inspired Thanksgiving Salad!

While some may not believe salads 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 break up the rich, decadent flavors of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, helping to balance out the meal. & if you ask me, the holidays give an extra excuse to make a show-stopping, over-the-top salad for the ultimate festive meal. 

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! Since it’s always a hit – seriously, everyone raves about it & asks for the recipe – I figured it’s about time I share it here on PWWB too.

It’s a totally harvest-inspired salad, made with hearty & wholesome ingredients like kale, wild rice, & roasted sweet potatoes, but maple-spiced candied nuts, pomegranate arils, & crumbled goat cheese add pops of sweetness & brightness to every single bite. Not to mention, the dressing – a simple cider-cinnamon vinaigrette – is so good it’s borderline drinkable. You will be obsessed.

Thanksgiving Salad Recipe Highlights: 

You will love this harvest salad recipe at your Thanksgiving table this year because it’s…

  • FESTIVE. This recipe uses fall-inspired ingredients that celebrate the best of the seasonal harvest – bright green kale, vibrant roasted sweet potatoes, & jewel-toned pomegranate arils make this Thanksgiving salad super elegant & festive all at once.
  • HEARTY. This harvest salad is definitely not boring. It’s loaded with satisfying textures & flavors that taste like fall: cinnamon, pure maple syrup, roasty potatoes, toasted nuts, satisfying kale, rich cheese…YUM!
  • MAKE AHEAD-FRIENDLY. Many of the components can be prepped ahead of time, plus it’s a pretty hearty salad that can be dressed well in advance. The perfect harvest salad, whether you’re hosting dinner or bringing a dish to a friend’s house.
  • A TOTAL SHOW-STOPPER. I’ve served this Thanksgiving salad recipe every holiday for the past 10+ years & it’s seriously been loved by everyone. Its beautiful colors make a big impression on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but it’s the seasonal flavors & fresh, layered textures that make this salad wow the crowd. 

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

Thanksgiving Salad Key Ingredients: 

Like any good salad, the ingredients list for this harvest salad recipe is a little lengthier, which ensures a perfect balance of festive flavor & satisfying texture. The good news? You probably have almost everything you need 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.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the most gorgeous, festive Thanksgiving salad:

  • Kale – I absolutely love using kale in this Thanksgiving salad recipe due to its especially hearty texture. Since kale doesn’t wilt, it makes the salad a little more make-ahead friendly. Lacinato (dinosaur) kale & curly kale both work great. Of course, you can use another tender green (spinach, arugula, mixed greens) if you prefer.
  • Wild rice – As a Minnesota gal, I’m obsessed with wild rice for its hearty texture & nutty flavor. If wild rice is hard to come by where you live, feel free to use another grain – hearty farro would be my next choice.
  • Roasted sweet potatoes – Not just any sweet potatoes, these are seasoned with pure maple syrup, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, & cayenne pepper, creating sweet, earthy flavor. Bonus: its bright orange color makes this harvest salad feel like fall!
  • Candied nuts – For texture & sweetness! Walnuts & pecans are both great options.
  • Pomegranate arils – Juicy, jewel-toned bites for a boost of vibrant flavor & festive color.
  • Cheese – I like to use goat cheese in this Thanksgiving salad, but feta is also a great option.
  • Cider-cinnamon vinaigrette – Last but not least, this homemade vinaigrette is the star of this Thanksgiving salad recipe. It’s easy to mix up & has amazing bright-yet-warm flavor – it’s basically fall in liquid form!

How to Make The Perfect Harvest Salad for Thanksgiving

Like any good salad, this harvest salad consists of a few different components. They’re all pretty easy to make & you can easily break prep work across a couple of days to make day-of assembly really straight-forward.

1

Roast Maple-Spiced Sweet Potatoes. Diced sweet potatoes are tossed with a little pure maple syrup & my favorite  seasoning blend of chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, & cayenne pepper. They roast up in about 25-30 minutes, & come out of the oven perfectly tender & sweet with a spicy, earthy kick. Meal Prep Tip! ⇢ Save time day-of by roasting them up to 5 days in advance! Store them in your refrigerator until it’s time to assemble the Thanksgiving salad. 

2

Maple-Spiced Candied Nuts. When the sweet potatoes finish roasting, we’ll also use the oven to prep some candied pecans &/or walnuts for a delightfully sweet crunch for our Thanksgiving salad! Start by toasting the nuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 4 minutes, then carefully coat them in a mixture of pure maple syrup, olive oil, chili powder, ground cinnamon, & cayenne pepper – we’re doubling down on the spiced notes of the roasted sweet potatoes! Pop them back into the oven for just a couple of minutes, allowing the natural sugars in the maple syrup to caramelize. Meal Prep Tip! ⇢ Once the nuts have cooled you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. 

3

Cider-Cinnamon Vinaigrette. Simply whisk together some olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, water, cinnamon, garlic, & fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary. That’s it! When I make homemade salad dressing, I like to measure all the ingredients in a mason jar then seal it up & shake it well to emulsify a nice & smooth vinaigrette. Meal Prep Tip! ⇢ This cider-cinnamon vinaigrette will keep for up to 1 week in the fridge. Make it ahead of time &  take it out right before serving to dress your Thanksgiving salad!

4

Prep & Massage the Kale. Kale is a hearty green with a lot of texture, which is why I love it for the base of this salad. But I also recommend softening its tough texture by giving it a quick massage. To start, prep your kale by removing the leaves from the stem & finely chopping everything together. Then place the chopped kale in a large bowl & drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on top of it. Using your hands, massage the vinaigrette into the kale leaves until it starts to wilt & turn bright green in color. Massaging your kale may seem strange, but it helps make your kale slightly softened & easier to chew – you are sure to taste the difference! Meal Prep Tip! ⇢ Kale can sit well at room temperature much better than other greens that will start to wilt right away. So if you need to de-stem, chop, & massage the kale ahead of time, go for it! 

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

Serving Suggestions + Helpful Tips

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 arils & crumbled goat or feta cheese. Drizzle a little more cider-cinnamon vinaigrette over top, then serve immediately with a small bowl of the remaining salad dressing to the side.

Serving Tips ⇢ This salad won’t last long once it hits the table! I like to let my guests serve themselves, adding any 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 flavors of the harvest salad. But serving it right alongside the rest of your Thanksgiving spread is fine too!

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.

Make-Ahead & Meal Prep Tips

One of the reasons I love this Thanksgiving Salad so much – nearly every step of this recipe can be prepped in advance!

  • Thanksgiving Meal Prep: You can roast the sweet potatoes, prep the candied nuts, mix the salad dressing, & even de-stem & shred the kale all up to 1 week ahead of time. Store each component separately (see Recipe Notes, below), then add everything to a salad bowl on Thanksgiving day.
  • Make-Ahead: Because kale is such a hearty green, 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.
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!

Love festive side dishes? Be sure to try this No-Stir Pumpkin Risotto, this Cheesy Butternut Squash Gratin, or these Maple Mustard Roasted Brussels Sprouts next. ♡ Happy cooking!

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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 rests alongside the serving bowl. Two serving spoons rest inside the bowl.

Thanksgiving Salad with Cinnamon-Cider Vinaigrette

  • 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

Made with massaged kale, wild rice, spiced sweet potatoes, maple candied nuts, & a simple cider-cinnamon vinaigrette, this Thanksgiving Salad balances the rich flavors at a traditional Thanksgiving & Friendsgiving celebration with festive flair…it just might steal the show at your Thanksgiving table this year!

Naturally vegetarian & gluten-free, easily dairy-free & vegan.


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. 

Keywords: Thanksgiving salad, easy, side dish, festive salad, seasonal salad, side salad, roasted sweet potatoes, wild rice

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Megan McKeehan

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.

Planning Your Thanksgiving Menu?

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Let’s make this your BEST Thanksgiving yet!

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 jar of cider-cinnamon vinaigrette with a spoon resting inside, and a few pieces of pomegranate and loose pomegranate arils rests alongside the serving bowl.

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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. 11.29.21
    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.

  2. 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!