Holiday and winter foods can get a little heavy at times. I like to lighten things up with green salads that still offer comforting seasonal flavors. This cranberry apple salad is a baseline recipe that I created many years ago for Allergic Living magazine. It’s generously drizzled with a healthy, dairy-free creamy maple dressing and offers delicious versatility.
Savor the Season with Cranberry Apple Salad + Creamy Dairy-Free Maple Dressing
This delicious salad recipe combines the sweet tartness of apples and dried cranberries with crunchy seeds (or nuts) and a dairy-free creamy maple dressing that’s perfectly rich, sweet, and tangy. It’s perfect for the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, but also makes a great lunch salad or dinner side dish throughout the winter season.
Do I Need to Soak the Seeds in the Creamy Maple Dressing?
No, you do not. The ground seeds will blend better into the dressing and will help to thicken it. If you soak the seeds, you will need to reduce or omit the added milk alternative. Soaked seeds might also make the creamy maple dressing taste a little watery.
Can I Substitute Other Seeds or Nuts for the Sunflower Seeds?
Yes, you can! Cashews or blanched almonds will work best. Other nuts will work, but tend to have more pronounced flavors or are a little less creamy. Pumpkin seeds can be substituted, but the dressing will have a green tint, and will be a little less creamy with a slightly different flavor.
Can I Use a Nut or Seed Butter Instead?
The dairy-free creamy maple dressing should work okay with a nut or seed butter. It won’t thicken up quite as nicely, but should still taste good. Substitute about 1/4 cup nut or seed butter for the seeds.
Can I Use Pancake Syrup Instead of Maple Syrup?
In theory, you could use traditional maple-flavored pancake syrup. But the flavor will be far superior if you use real maple syrup. I know it can be more expensive, but large stores like Costco tend to sell maple syrup in larger containers for a great price. For a different flavor vibe, you can substitute honey.
Can I Substitute a Different Vinegar?
I really like the taste of apple cider vinegar in this creamy maple dressing. It’s not as harsh as some vinegars, and the flavor complements the other ingredients nicely. But balsamic vinegar can make a nice substitute, and will make it more of a creamy maple balsamic vinaigrette. Brown rice vinegar could be nice, and would lend a little Asian influence to the taste. White vinegar will work in a pinch, but might be a little sharp for your tastes. It is for mine!
What Type of Milk Alternative Do You Use?
Your favorite type should work great in this creamy maple dressing. I like to use almond milk or coconut milk beverage in this recipe. But others like oat milk, rice milk, or pea milk should work just fine. Several of the dressing ingredients have pronounced flavors and the seeds and oil ensure creamy results. So the milk alternative has only a little influence on the taste and consistency of this dairy-free creamy maple dressing. You could even substitute water, but the dressing would have a touch less body.
What Type of Apple Should I Use?
Any apple that you enjoy raw will be great in this cranberry apple salad. Use Granny Smith apples for extra tartness or go with a sweet crisp apple like gala or honeycrisp. Just make sure the apples are fresh, not mealy, and avoid softer apples, like red delicious. Also, you don’t need to peel the apples. The skin adds color, texture, and nutrition.
Will Kale or Other Greens Taste Good in this Salad?
If you like kale, then it will definitely pair well with these flavors. I’m not a huge fan of it, and prefer to use baby spinach and arugula for a greener base. You could also use romaine lettuce.
What Other Toppings Would Taste Good on this Salad?
I have included a “make it a meal” option with high protein toppings. Other toppings that would be tasty include diced red onion, roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, sliced almonds, crushed walnuts, or other chopped nuts (if you are okay with tree nuts). For something a little special, make some dairy-free maple pecans. You could also add chopped jicama or pear, or use them as a substitute for the apple. And for a pungent contrast, sprinkle on dairy-free goat cheese or dairy-free feta cheese crumbles.
Special Diet Notes: Dairy-Free Cranberry Apple Salad
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, peanut-free, soy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo friendly. But I have included options for various diets.
- ½ cup sunflower seeds (roasted, unsalted)
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 to 4 tablespoons plain or unsweetened milk alternative, as needed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 cups sliced green cabbage or green lettuce
- 2 cups sliced purple cabbage
- 1 large apple or 2 small ones, diced
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place the sunflower seeds in a spice grinder or food processor and process until powdered.
- Put the ground sunflower seeds, vinegar, oil, maple syrup, 2 tablespoons milk alternative, and salt in your blender. Blend until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
- You can enjoy the dressing right away, but to help it thicken and build flavor, I recommend refrigerating it for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
- If needed to reach your desired consistency, blend in up to 2 tablespoons of additional milk alternative.
- For the salad, plate the cabbage and top it with the apple, chicken, and cranberries. Drizzle with the dressing and add fresh black pepper, to taste.
Make it a Meal: Top the salad with my Dairy-Free Pan-Fried Chicken. I chop it and use about 3 to 4 cups for this recipe. Over the holidays, you could use leftover chopped turkey. Optionally sprinkle the salad with chopped cooked bacon for a salty contrast. For a vegetarian and vegan option, top the salad with baked or pan-fried tofu.
Rice Salad Option: You can substitute 4 cups white rice, brown rice, or wild rice for the greens.