Mandarin Orange Salad

Mandarin Orange Salad is vibrant, fresh, easy and beautiful side for potlucks, Thanksgiving and Christmas!

This Mandarin Orange Salad looks like a total showstopper with its layers of bright, tangy, fresh flavors and crunchy, creamy, juicy textures but is quick and easy to throw together AKA the perfect side!  It’s loaded with sweet, juicy Mandarin oranges, crisp apples, plump blackberries, punchy red onions, salty toasted sunflower seeds, creamy, tangy goat cheese and sweet tart pomegranate seeds all drizzled with sweet, bright and tangy Pomegranate Orange Vinaigrette.  This Mandarin Orange Salad is a stunning addition to your Thanksgiving or Christmas feast and is easy to assemble ahead of time!

Company worthy salads are one of my favorite recipes to bring to potlucks.  Some of our favorites include:  Apple Salad, Fall Salad, Beet Salad and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad.

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how to make Mandarin Orange Salad Video

top view of Mandarin Orange Salad with mandarins, apples and blackberries in a white bowl

MANDARIN ORANGE SALAD recipe

Can you believe Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away?  I’ll continue to post new, festive recipes up to the blessed day, but until then, you can see all of my Thanksgiving recipes, including this newly added Mandarin Orange Salad, on this Thanksgiving Round Up Post divided into appetizers, sides and desserts or you can see them all at a glance at my Thanksgiving recipe index.

Now onto this salad.  Every Thanksgiving table needs a stunning salad, a salad that can hold its own against the MVPs of the table.  Enter Mandarin Orange Salad. 

Why This Recipe Works

  • super easy to whip up: this recipe keeps it simple without any caramelizing nuts or roasting veggies. If you want all the bells and whistles, refer to my Fall Salad or Beet Salad.
  • can be prepped ahead: the dressing can be made up to 5 days ahead of time, and the other ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and layered in the salad bowl (instructions included).
  • delicious:  I think every salad should be a symphony of sweet, salty, savory, crunchy and creamy, but this salad goes one step further and adds juicy to the mix.  The pops of sweet and juicy Mandarin oranges are fresh, vibrant and crave-worthy. And because this is Mandarin Orange Salad, you’re lucky enough to savor them in every bite mingled with the crunchy nuts, tangy cheese, sweet tart pomegranate seeds, salty sunflower seeds and sweet, crunchy apples. 
  • extremely flexible: this salad would be delicious with any of your favorite greens, fruits, nuts or cheeses – just don’t skip the Mandarin oranges 😉.
  • best dressing:  the crowning pièce de resistance is the Pomegranate Orange Vinaigrette.  It’s basically holiday magic all bottled up in one dressing made with pomegranate juice, orange juice, maple syrup, olive oil and seasonings.  It marries all of the ingredients together with its tangy, sweet charm.
showing ingredients in mandarin orange salad with mandarins, goat cheese, apples, goat cheese and pomegranate seeds

what are MANDARIN ORANGEs?

Mandarin oranges are a type of small citrus tree fruit. They encompass tangerines, clementine’s and satsumas.  They are generally smaller than oranges, a little flatter in shape, and have a thinner, looser skin that makes them easier to peel. There are prized for their sweet flavor (sweeter than oranges) which make them ideal in this salad.

WHAT INGREDIENTS ARE IN MANDARIN ORANGE SALAD?

The ingredients for this Mandarin Orange Salad are pretty straightforward.  You will need:

  • Mandarin oranges:  use fresh mandarin oranges as opposed to canned for their plump, slightly firm, juicy texture that won’t easily fall apart. Look for clementine’s because they are seedless, super easy to peel and sweeter than tangerines.  Cuties are an example of clementine mandarins.
  • Greens:  I like to use a spring salad mix because it makes your life easier – no chopping lettuce!  More importantly, it offers varying flavors and texture with different greens such as tender baby lettuce, spinach, Romaine, red and green oak leaf, chard, arugula, endive, radicchio, etc.
  • Blackberries: look for sweet ripe blackberries because unripe blackberries will be bitter.  If the berry is red or purple, it’s not ripe yet.  When picked and packaged fully ripe, the blackberries will be deep, inky black with purple highlights.  They will be plump, full, and slightly tender and juicy.
  • Apple:  use a sweet apple like Fuji or Honeycrisp.  The sweetness and fresh crunch beautifully compliment the other earthy and tangy ingredients and are one of my favs with goat cheese.  You can slice your apples or chop them into chunks – totally personal preference.
  • Red onion: their sharpness is needed to cut through the sweetness of the salad. You can chop or thinly slice the onions; use more or less to taste.
  • Goat cheese: the sharp, salty bite of the cheese with the sweet, mandarins is a match made in foodie heaven.  I recommend purchasing fresh goat cheese in a log and crumbling it yourself.  It tends to be creamier than purchasing goat cheese crumbles.
  • Nuts:  sliced or slivered almonds for a tasty crunch.  
  • Seeds: Roasted, salted sunflower seeds or pepitas please! 
  • Pomegranate Arils/Seeds: purchase a whole pomegranate and seed it yourself or you can buy pomegranate seeds in a container for a shortcut.
Mandarin Orange Salad with mandarins, apples and blackberries in a white bowl

SALAD DRESSING INGREDIENTS

The Mandarin Salad is dressed with stunning Orange Pomegranate Vinaigrette.  It may sound fancy, but it takes just minutes to make once you have your ingredients.  You will need:

  • Pomegranate juice:  can be found with the rest of the juices, or sometimes it is located in the refrigerated section.  Look for 100% pomegranate juice.  You can portion out and freeze whatever juice you don’t use in this salad for a later use – or add it to acai bowls – or drink it!  You can also make your own pomegranate juice (see tips section).
  • Orange juice and zest: use fresh oranges because we are also using some of the zest.
  • Olive oil:  use quality, extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
  • Red wine vinegar:  adds the delightful tanginess.  Use more or less to taste.
  • Dijon mustard:  adds an oomph of flavor.
  • Maple syrup:  balances the dressing.  Please use pure maple syrup and not imitation kind.  If you don’t have pure maple syrup, substitute with honey.
  • Garlic:  I prefer garlic powder in my dressings because it distributes more evenly but you may also use fresh garlic.
  • Seasonings:  salt, pepper and allspice round out the flavor profile.

HOW TO MAKE MANDARIN ORANGE SALAD

Are you ready to see just how easy this Mandarin Orange Salad is to make?  Here’s how:

  • Make Dressing: Whisk all the Pomegranate Dressing ingredients together in a bowl or shake in a jar.  Make the dressing first so it has time to chill and for the flavors to meld.
  • Assemble:  Toss all of the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. You can either drizzle with desired amount of dressing and toss to combine (ONLY if you are eating right away and don’t expect leftovers) OR if you expect leftovers, serve the dressing on the side.
how to make Mandarin Orange Salad by tossing mandarins, almonds, pomegranate seeds and salad spring mix
  • EAT! Everyone will be licking their plates and coming back for seconds and thirds!
showing how to make Mandarin Orange Salad by tossing mandarins, apples, goat cheese, blackberries and pomegranates together with dressing

TIPS FOR mandarin orange SALAD

  • Prep ahead:  get giddy because you can prepare ALL of the ingredients for this recipe ahead of time – full instructions to follow.
  • Make the salad dressing first:  the dressing needs time to chill and the flavors develop – no one likes warm salad dressing!  If you are making the Mandarin Orange Salad and serving immediately, place the dressing in the freezer for 30 minutes then transfer to the refrigerator so it is sufficiently chilled.
  • Customize dressing:  some people like tangier dressing, some people prefer sweeter dressing so I recommend starting with the dressing as written then adjusting to taste.  For sweeter, add additional maple syrup one teaspoon at a time, for tangier, add additional vinegar one teaspoon at a time.
  • Tame the red onion:  if you tend to find red onions to strong, try soaking the chopped red onion in water to remove some of the bite. To do this, place red onion in a fine mesh sieve, submerge the sieve in a large bowl of water for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the sieve and thoroughly dry onions with a paper towel.
  • Scale the recipe up or down: this salad is easy to double for a crowd or cut it in half for lunches or a small group.
  • How to roast pepitas: if you can only find raw pepitas or sunflower seeds, then heat a drizzle of olive oil in a nonstick skillet, add your seeds along with ¼ teaspoon salt stir until toasted. Turn onto a parchment paper to cool.
  • How to deseed pomegranates: I won’t go into detail here but don’t be intimidated, there are lots of tutorials online.  I would google “how to remove pomegranate seeds in water” for my favorite method.  If don’t want to purchase a whole pomegranate and seed it yourself, buy pomegranate seeds in a container.
  • Make your own pomegranate juice: make your own pomegranate juice by smashing pomegranate arils and straining the juice through a fine mesh sieve. Depending on the ripeness of the pomegranate, your homemade juice may be less sweet/tangier, so don’t hesitate to adjust the dressing as needed.

mandarin SALAD RECIPE VARIATIONS

  • Add protein.  This salad recipe can instantly be made into an entrée salad by adding shrimp, salmon, chicken, steak or pork.  Try doubling the dressing and marinating the protein in it before cooking.
  • Add veggies.  Add any veggies your heart desires such as bell peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower etc.
  • Add fruit.  You can swap some of the mandarins for other sweet fruit such as mangos, strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, pears; just take care that you don’t make your salad too sweet. Creamy avocados would also be a welcome addition.
  • Swap seeds.  If pepitas aren’t your thing, you can use pine nuts or pistachios – just make sure they’re roasted and salted!
  • Swap cheese.  Use any soft crumbly cheese such as feta, blue cheese or Gorgonzola.
  • Add grains. Adding cooked brown rice, farro, quinoa, couscous etc. immediately introduces another delectable texture.
  • Add sweet potatoes or butternut squash.  Refer to this Fall Salad recipe on how to add roasted butternut squash (so good!).
  • Add beets.  You can roast your own beets (see this Beet Salad recipe for instructions) or add jarred pickled beets.
  • Swap nuts.  Walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts would all be tasty. 
  • Caramelize the nuts.  Use my 5 Minute Caramelized Nuts recipe to caramelize any nuts. You can also purchase caramelized or sugared nuts at stores such as Trader Joes.  
up close of mandarin orange salad recipe with mandarins, blackberries and goat cheese

how to MAKE AHEAD

This Mandarin Salad can be made 100% ahead of time then just tossed together when ready to serve! 

  • Mandarins:  peel and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Apples: can be peeled, chopped/sliced up to 24 hours ahead of time and soaked in a mixture of apple juice and lemon juice. I’ve detailed several options below to prevent oxidation which begins as soon as you slice the apples.
  • Red onions:  chop the red onions up to 24 hours ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  
  • Dressing:   can be made up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I actually recommend making the dressing ahead of time because it allows time for the flavors to build and meld. Dressing also tastes 1000X better chilled.

HOW DO I KEEP APPLES FROM TURNING BROWN?

  1. My favorite way to keep apples from oxidizing and turning brown after slicing is to put them in a bowl of apple juice with a splash of lemon juice.  This way they retain their apple flavor and don’t become bitter like soaking in lemon juice can do.
  2. Alternatively, you can toss them in some of the dressing because the orange juice and vinegar will help keep them fresh.
  3. Thirdly, if you only have lemon juice on hand, then mix ½ cup water and 2 tablespoons lemon and then toss your apples in the mixture.

Can I assemble the Salad Ahead of Time?

Yes! If you need to bring the salad to a gathering, then layer the ingredients in this order so it doesn’t get soggy, then toss when ready to serve:

  • pomegranate arils
  • blackberries
  • mandarins
  • apple
  • red onion
  • salad mix
  • pepitas
  • almonds
  • goat cheese

HOW DO I SERVE this salad?

There are three ways to serve this Mandarin Orange Salad recipe:

  1. If you don’t expect or want leftovers: add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl and toss with desired amount of dressing.
  2. If you expect leftovers:  add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl.  Let individuals dress their own salads with vinaigrette.
  3. Create a salad bar:  line up the salad ingredients in separate bowls and let guests assemble their own salads. This works particularly well if you have dairy free guests or want to offer additional toppings like shrimp, chicken, grains, etc.

HOW LONG DOES this SALAD LAST IN THE FRIDGE?

The Mandarin Orange Salad with ALL the ingredients is best served within an hour because the spring mix lettuce will become soggy.  If you hold the dressing, the salad can last up to two days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

WHAT DO I SERVE WITH this SALAD?

This Mandarin Orange Salad is a welcome addition to any table and goes with practically EVERYTHING!  It makes a particularly delectable addition to any holiday or company mains such as Herb Butter Turkey, Brown Sugar Glazed HamHoney Baked Ham, Garlic Herb Butter Pork Tenderloin, Pot RoastBeef Tips and Gravy, Beef Stroganoff,  Garlic Butter SalmonChicken Cordon Bleu, Chicken Parmesan, and Slow Cooker Honey Balsamic Roast Beef. 

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side view tossing mandarin orange salad together with mandarins and goat cheese

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Mandarin Orange Salad with mandarins, apples and blackberries in a white bowl

Mandarin Orange Salad

This Mandarin Orange Salad looks like a total showstopper with its layers of bright, tangy, fresh flavors and crunchy, creamy, juicy textures but is quick and easy to throw together AKA the perfect side!  It’s loaded with sweet, juicy Mandarin oranges, crisp apples, plump blackberries, punchy red onions, salty toasted sunflower seeds, creamy, tangy goat cheese and sweet tart pomegranate seeds all drizzled with sweet, bright and tangy Pomegranate Orange Vinaigrette.  This Mandarin Orange Salad is a stunning addition to your Thanksgiving or Christmas feast and is easy to assemble ahead of time!
Servings: 8 -10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

SALAD

  • 10 oz. spring salad mix
  • 8 clementine oranges, peeled, segmented
  • 1 sweet apple, sliced or chopped
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds or pepitas
  • 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

ORANGE POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE

  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice (100% juice)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • zest from 1 large orange (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3-4 tablespoons pure maple syrup, more or less to taste
  • 1 garlic clove finely minced or ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp EACH salt, pepper
  • 1/4 tsp EACH ground ginger, allspice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions

ORANGE POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE

  • Combine all of the Vinaigrette ingredients in a bowls or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Either whisk or shake vigorously until combined. Add additional maple syrup/sugar for sweeter, vinegar for tangier. Store in the fridge until ready to serve (up to 5 days). Shake/whisk before serving.

ASSEMBLE SALAD

  • When ready to serve, toss all of the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. If serving right away and you don’t expect leftovers then you can drizzle with desired amount of dressing and toss to combine. If you expect leftovers, serve dressing on the side.

Video

Notes

TIPS FOR mandarin orange SALAD

  • Make your own pomegranate juice:  you can make your own pomegranate juice by smashing pomegranate arils and straining the juice through a fine mesh sieve. Depending on the ripeness of the pomegranate, your homemade juice may be less sweet/tangier, so don’t hesitate to adjust the dressing as needed.
  • Recipe variations:  add protein veggies, swap cheese for feta or Gorgonzola, swap almonds for pecans, walnuts, cashews or macadamia nuts, add roasted butternut squash (refer to this Fall Salad recipe for instructions), add jarred pickled beets or roast your own (see this Beet Salad recipe for instructions).  

How to assemble ahead 

If you need to bring the salad to a gathering, then layer the ingredients in this order so it doesn’t get soggy, then toss when ready to serve: pomegranate arils, blackberries, mandarins, apples, red onions, salad mix, seeds, nuts, goat cheese.

How to prep ahead

  • Mandarins:  peel and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Apples: can be peeled, chopped/sliced up to 24 hours ahead of time and soaked in a mixture of apple juice with a couple tablespoons lemon juice or pomegranate juice with a couple tablespoons lemon juice.
  • Red onions:  chop the red onions up to 24 hours ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  
  • Dressing:   can be made up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. I actually recommend making the dressing ahead of time because it allows time for the flavors to build and meld. Dressing also tastes 1000X better chilled.

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