Mandarin Orange Spinach Salad

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This recipe should be called Mandarin Orange Superfood Salad as it’s chalked full of several mega-healthy foods. The spinach base sets the stage. Loaded with tons of nutrients, it’s a high source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that protect your body from a wide range of diseases. A bonafide superfood, it’s excellent for skin, hair, and bones. . This recipe calls for baby spinach, but there’s not much of a difference between baby spinach and spinach. Spring Salad Mix or arugula are great alternatives if spinach isn’t an option. No matter what greens you use, they all need to be well rinsed. I love my salad spinner. It cleans and dries berries, herbs, and greens in just a couple of minutes – it doesn’t get easier.

Joining spinach in the superfood club are the walnuts and dried cranberries. Walnuts are known for their high antioxidant and Omega-3 levels. Walnuts eaten regularly may improve brain health and reduce risks of heart disease and cancer. While walnuts contain “good fats”, they are high in calories. If you are counting WW points, walnuts are not plan-friendly. The walnuts need to be toasted to maximize their flavor. I recommend tossing them in a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt before toasting them in a small skillet over medium heat for a couple of minutes until they are fragrant and browned. On a personal note, I always make twice as many as needed for the recipe. Toasted, salted walnuts are a delicious and nutritious snack!

Often overlooked, dried cranberries achieved superfood status due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content. The dark red color and tart taste is a perfect complement to the sweet mandarin oranges. The mandarin oranges didn’t make the superfood cut, but they are universally loved for their sweet citrus taste. The orange pop of color against the dark green spinach creates an eye-appeal that will have tummies growling. 

Bringing all these ingredients together is the role of the dressing. My homemade poppy-orange salad dressing enhances, brightens, and unites the spinach, cranberries, walnuts, and mandarin. Olive oil and red wine vinegar provide the foundation. White wine vinegar is the closest substitute if you don’t have red wine vinegar. However, while apple cider vinegar’s flavor is slightly more fruity than red wine vinegar, you won’t notice it in this dressing. 

Dijon mustard provides the zing in this dressing. While Dijon lends the best taste, whatever mustard you have in the fridge will do (yellow, spicy brown, stone ground, even honey mustard).The orange juice provides the acid. My family doesn’t drink orange juice, so I used a fresh orange and citrus juicer to squeeze my own. A half orange yields more than enough juice for the dressing. I love using poppy seeds, wait till you see my Poppy Lemon Muffins (coming soon!), so they are in my pantry. Sesame seeds, flax seeds, or chia seeds can be used in place of the poppy seeds. Worst-case scenario, call it a honey-orange dressing and omit the seeds entirely. Impress, NOT stress!

Garnish this beautiful salad with shavings of parmesan cheese. Make the shavings with a vegetable peeler.  I keep a wedge of parmesan in the freezer for recipes just like this.  The frozen cheese is easy to shave, shred or grate.  In a pinch, use a few sprinkles of dried parmesan (in the green can) – it won’t look as pretty but it will add flavor

Speaking of impressing without stressing, I have a clear plastic (read: break-resistant and dishwasher-safe) salad bowl that is perfect for everyday use. It not only showcases delicious salads, but it’s also great for popcorn, pasta, and chips & dip. For entertaining, I like using a wooden salad bowl. My favorite salad bowls are white porcelain squares. However you choose to serve it, this salad is perfect with a springtime meal. Add some grilled chicken or shrimp, and it transforms into a light dinner. 

Colorful with bright, vibrant flavors this salad rates a WOW! It can be prepped and served with in 15 minutes, earning it a RELAXED reading of the Stress-0-Meter!

Bright, vibrant and delicious!
display of salad and dressing ingredients
walnuts in small skillet
Toast walnuts, with olive oil and salt in a small skillet over medium heat for a couple of minutes until they are fragrant and browned.
cheese , peeler and cheese shavings
Shave parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler to create the garnish
Salad bowl with ingredients
In a salad bowl, combine the spinach, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.
bowls of dressing with wire whisk
Combine vinegar, juice, honey, poppy seeds and mustard with a wire whisk. Slowly pour in oil while whisking until completely incorporated
bowl of salad with serving fork and spoon
Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine. Top with cheese shavings. Serve.

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