My super colorful Christmas salad recipe is perfectly festive, while being a slightly lighter vegetarian option. It’s filling with grains, beans and veggies, but also full of treats like pomegranate seeds, honey pecans and crumbled blue cheese. The recipe is completely adaptable to your family’s tastes and could be the ideal Christmas Eve or Boxing Day meal, or something to bring along to a holiday get-together!
Just look at this festive salad! So merry and bright. I love it.
I’ve combined lots of tasty Christmassy / holiday-esque flavors to make this just right. So while it’s very “extra”, it’s somehow still light and nutritious. It makes a great side dish or can be a full meal in a bowl if that’s what you’re looking for.
I’d recommend this for a get together around Christmas, or even a Christmas Eve or Boxing Day meal.
This recipe is a little transatlantic in its construction, thanks to my own history of Christmas: many in the US and many in the UK. So we have some more American holiday flavors like sweet potato and pecans meeting some more British holiday flavors like stilton (blue cheese) and orange zest. And it all melds together beautifully.
There are, admittedly, quite a few elements to prepare separately here. It is what it is. I won’t pretend it’s a quick and easy recipe, but it’s simple, forgiving, and not tricky to make. Measurements don’t need to be exact and ingredients can be swapped or missed without it going too wrong. Let’s discuss, however, what is and is not important to the success of the salad:
- Grains provide a hearty backdrop here, and you can use what you like. I had a quinoa bulgur mix with some bits of red quinoa mixed in, which I enjoyed and found visually nice here too.
- White beans add some protein and creaminess, I used cannellini beans but butter beans would be wonderful too, any white beans that you enjoy can slot in.
- Pomegranate seeds are just so pretty and impressive. I do consider these super important but if you wanted to swap in some dried cranberries I think you could still achieve a really striking look, as well as bringing in sweetness that way.
- Blue cheese crumbles (or feta). I used stilton blue cheese for this which is a British Christmas staple, but you can use any crumbly blue cheese OR use feta instead. I was on the fence with which cheese to recommend because I tried both and loved it either way. Stilton is just the more “Christmassy” choice for me and brings another element of color, but feta is delicious and maybe more of a crowd pleasing choice. A mild, inexpensive feta would do nicely here.
- Mint leaves brings some great flavor and color, there is just something about the color of these leaves. You would probably do fine with parsley as an alternative (or both together).
- Baby spinach adds the leafiness. While this isn’t a very leafy salad, I really appreciate the way the spinach fluffs things out and stops it being too dense. I did make and enjoy the salad without spinach and it was still great. If you like raw kale or rocket (arugula) you could use that but I find baby spinach blends in a little more easily, and doesn’t overpower the way those leaves might.
- Red onion if you’re an onion in salads kinda person. Just dice them up tiny. If you don’t use red onion but still want some allium flavor, add half a clove of garlic to the dressing.
- Sweet potato roasted in cinnamon is a nice hearty addition and a winter veggie staple.
- Balsamic roasted mushrooms felt like a good addition, for something more “meaty”. We really do enjoy all the textures on the planet in this salad.
- Honey pecans! I love these. Not full on candied pecans, just very lightly toasted and honeyed in a frying pan. I would definitely consider walnuts or pistachios if you want an alternative.
- An orange vinaigrette finishes the whole thing off, but since it’s been kinda hard work making this salad so far, the dressing is super simple to whisk together and you are welcome for that.
Vegetarian Christmas Salad
- 1 cup (185 g) cooked grains, I use a quinoa – bulgur mix
- 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup (80 g) pomegranate seeds
- ¼ cup (12 g) mint, chopped
- ⅓ cup (60 g) blue cheese crumbles, you can swap in feta
- 2-3 cups (80 g) baby spinach
- ¼ cup (4 Tbsp) red onion, minced
- 1 lb (450 g) chestnut mushrooms, de-stemmed and quartered
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 large sweet potato, cubed
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup pecans, whole or halves
- 1.5 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp orange zest
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tbsp dijon mustard
- ½ tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- Heat the oven to 200C / 400F.
- Prepare your grains, if they aren't pre cooked. Set them cooking according to package instructions. Once ready, scoop 1 cup into a bowl and leave to cool.1 cup cooked grains
- Prepare the sweet potato. In a mixing bowl, toss the cubes in the cinnamon and add just enough olive oil to coat each cube lightly. Scatter on a baking sheet.1 large sweet potato, 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Prepare the mushrooms. Feel free to re-use the same bowl, it is fine if some cinnamon gets on them too. Toss them with enough olive oil to lightly coat them, and the balsamic vinegar. Scatter on another baking tray (it can be the same one if large enough – but it needs to be about 18 inches or 45 cm long to fit both ingredients comfortably)1 lb chestnut mushrooms, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- Roast the sweet potatoes and mushrooms for 20-30 minutes until the sweet potato is soft and the mushrooms are browned and reduced.
- Prepare the pecans. Cover a plate with parchment / baking paper and set to one side. Heat a frying pan (no oil) on a low heat. Add the pecans and allow to toast until lightly browned and fragrant. Pour the honey into the pan. It will quickly bubble up and reduce. Mix with a spatula to coat the pecans and remove from the heat very quickly, pouring them out onto the plate with parchment paper. Try to keep them to a single layer, not overlapping. Sprinkle with a little salt, and leave them to cool.1 cup pecans, 1.5 tbsp honey
- Prepare your dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together in a bowl.2 tsp orange zest, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard, 1/2 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- When the sweet potatoes and mushrooms are ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool while you begin to assemble the salad.
- Add the spinach, onion, pomegranate seeds, mint, cannellini beans and grains to the bowl.1 can cannellini beans, 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, 1/4 cup mint, 2-3 cups baby spinach, 1/4 cup red onion
- Pour the dressing over the top. Toss the salad to mix through.
- Add the blue cheese (or feta), pecans (you may need to break them up a little if they're sticking together) and vegetables to the bowl. Toss to mix through.1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles, 1 cup pecans