Salad bars and the airport quick-grab kiosks have done the Spinach and Strawberry Salad a real disservice, I think. Done well — done properly — it's easy to see why this salad is such a classic. The greens are crisp and tender, and they should be slicked with just enough dressing to be interesting without overwhelming. The strawberries give a juicy burst of sweetness, the cheese adds its luxurious creaminess, and the almonds bring it home with some much-needed crunch.
This is the kind of salad that is fancy enough for a Mother's Day brunch, but also easy to whip together on a weeknight. For either scenario, and all those in between, Spinach and Strawberry Salad will serve you well.
There's really only one thing that can ruin an otherwise good spinach salad: dry, undressed greens. If you pour the dressing over the top of your salad, you end up with gloppy, over-dressed greens sitting above pockets of dry greens that squeak against your teeth. (Shudder.) Woe be to you if you're the last person to get served.
Best to avoid this whole scenario by tossing the greens with the dressing before bringing it to the table. Save a few almonds, goat cheese crumbles, and your prettiest strawberries to scatter over top, and serve the extra dressing on the side in case anyone wants a little extra.
I really love this salad with a classic poppy seed dressing, which has a tangy-sweet flavor that brings everything together so nicely. Making it yourself is surprisingly easy — here's my favorite recipe — but certainly feel free to substitute a favorite store-bought brand.
My one twist on this salad is to use smoked almonds in place of regular almonds. With so much classic-ness going on with this salad, I like to throw in one unexpected thing to keep it from feeling stodgy!
Do you love spinach and strawberry salad? What's your favorite twist?
Spinach & Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
Serves 4 to 6 as a side salad
1 pint strawberries
1/2 cup almonds (or smoked almonds)
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
5 to 8 ounces baby spinach (4 to 5 lightly packed cups)
2 to 4 tablespoons poppy seed salad dressing, store-bought or homemade
Hull and then cut the strawberries into thin slices. If your almonds aren't already toasted, toast them at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes, until darkened and very fragrant; cool briefly before tossing with salad. (Or not! Warm nuts would be very tasty in this salad.) Set aside a few of the prettiest strawberry slices, a few almonds, and some of the goat cheese to sprinkle over the top of the salad.
Transfer the spinach to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of the poppy seed dressing over the greens and toss gently to coat. Continue adding tablespoons of dressing as needed until the greens are all evenly slicked with dressing. Gently toss the sliced strawberries, almonds, and goat cheese with the spinach.
Transfer the salad to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle the reserved strawberries, almonds, and goat cheese over the top, along with one last drizzle of dressing.
Strawberry-Arugula Salad: Try arugula in place of the spinach.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)