Recipe Review

I Tried Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Cheddar Crisp Salad and It’s Even Better than It Sounds

published Oct 29, 2022
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Credit: Kelli Foster

I love fancy salads and am always on the hunt for restaurant-worthy salad recipes I can make at home. (Case in point? Baked salad.) Although I pay attention to all of the ingredients, the one thing that will always persuade me to make a salad is the topping choice — specifically, cheese and crunchy things (the more, the better).

So when my fellow editors alerted me to Smitten Kitchen‘s stunning Apple and Cheddar Crisp Salad I was immediately sold. The name alone sounds like a celebration of crispy cheddar cheese, which, if you ask me, is the best way to eat cheddar. But what really drew me in were the clusters of candied sliced almonds. And the quick-pickled shallots definitely didn’t hurt, either.

With a quick scan of the recipe, I realized I already had all of the the ingredients I needed (this never happens!). I took that as a sign and headed to the kitchen to make this salad for lunch.

How To Make Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Cheddar Crisp Salad

This salad comes together in four steps: making the dressing, baking the crunchy things (cheddar crisps and nuts), chopping the produce, and tossing it all together.

To make the dressing, add chopped shallot and vinegar to a bowl and set aside until the crunchy things come out of the oven. Meanwhile, rinse some sliced almonds. (This might seem like an odd step, but you do this to make sure the toppings stick to the nuts and that the nuts stick together in tasty clumps.) Toss the wet almonds with powdered sugar, spices, and salt, and spread in a thin layer on one side of a parchment-lined rimmed half sheet pan. Add shredded cheddar in a thin layer on the other side of the baking sheet. Bake until the cheese is lacy and a deep golden-brown color. Deb reminds you to watch things closely here because the cheese and almonds can go from perfectly crispy to burned very quickly.

While the almonds and cheese cool, whisk together the vinaigrette. Toss some of the vinaigrette with shredded kale. Transfer the kale to bowls or plates, top with apples, cheddar crisps, and candied almonds, then dig in.

Credit: Kelli Foster

My Honest Review of Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Cheddar Crisp Salad

The markers for a great salad are a mixture of flavors and textures — and this salad has that in spades. It’s savory, sweet, tangy, salty, spicy, and fresh, with a blend of crispy, crunchy, soft, chewy bites. It tastes like an extra-special salad you’d get at a restaurant, but doesn’t involve a lot of ingredients, anything fancy, or take a lot of time or effort.

This isn’t a salad you’re making to get a fill of vegetables. I mean, the dressing is outstanding, which in turn makes the greens extra tasty. But whatever salad base you use (more on that below) is simply a vehicle for eating the cheddar crisps, spiced candied almond clusters, and apples — preferably all in the same bite, if you can manage it.

The candied almonds are hands-down the star of this recipe. I just wanted to keep eating them. And the great news is that I’ll continue to eat them for a couple more days (out of hand as a snack, sprinkled on a hummus bowl, and with yogurt) because the recipe has you make more than you’ll use for one salad, and they keep for at least a couple of weeks.

The almonds are perfectly balanced: just sweet enough and a little bit savory, with some heat and a hint of salt. I also really appreciate that the recipe relies on powdered sugar for the nuts, rather than brown or granulated sugar, which can give candied nuts a gritty texture that I’m just not into.

I don’t know that I’ll make this salad again exactly as written, but I will continue to add cheddar crisps and candied nuts to my salads. I’m also really excited to experiment with adding different spices to the nuts.

Credit: Kelli Foster

4 Tips for Making Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Cheddar Crisp Salad

  1. Keep a close eye when baking the cheddar. Deb suggests this in the recipe and I strongly agree. It doesn’t take long for the cheese to go from perfectly lacy and golden to burnt. The cheese is done when it’s lacy, crisp-looking, and deep golden-brown color, which takes four to nine minutes.
  2. Cut the apple last. Wait to cut the apple until just before serving to prevent any browning.
  3. Go beyond kale (if you like). Deb calls for kale in the recipe, but truthfully, swapping it for something else isn’t going to make or break this salad. There are so many other leafy vegetables that would be great here, including crisp shredded cabbage and peppery arugula.
  4. Play around with the spices. If the heat from cayenne isn’t for you (or you don’t have it on hand), there are some other options that work really well. Try chili powder, smoky ground cumin, smoked paprika, or even a warm spice blend like ras el hanout or garam masala (this is what I plan to use next time).