This wilted spinach salad baths baby spinach, cannellini beans, and quick-pickled onions in a warm Dijon vinaigrette. This protein and nutrition-packed warm spinach salad is finished with crunchy walnuts and tangy goat cheese—for a filling healthy dish that's main-meal worthy.

An overhead photo of the wilted spinach salad on a serving platter with a fork.
Photo Credits: Katherine Irwin

When it comes to salads it's common to pair spinach with fruit like in this Strawberry Spinach Salad, but this time I wanted to capture the springtime sweetness of spinach and pair it with big robust flavors like walnuts, dijon, goat cheese, and pickled onion to create this wilted spinach salad.

The nutrient-rich greens keep their freshness and delicate crunch, while their tender, more savory elements are given a chance to shine when they wilt a bit from the warm garlic-forward dijon vinaigrette. 

Warming a vinaigrette is the perfect way to ‘wake up’ and elevate flavors in dressings. The warmth gently wilts some of the spinach without reducing it or making it watery. As a bonus, the cannellini beans soak up the delicious flavors from the vinaigrette like a sponge!

I serve the wilted spinach and beans with tangy quick-pickled red onions for balance, toasted walnuts for crunch and subtle bitterness, rich and creamy goat cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh chopped tarragon. 

Table of Contents
  1. What is in Wilted Spinach Salad?
    1. Ingredients for Quick-pickled onions:
    2. For the Dressing:
    3. For the Salad:
  2. How to Make Wilted Spinach Salad
    1. Get Your Ingredients Ready
    2. Wilt the Spinach
    3. Finish and Serve
  3. Ways to Make This Warm Spinach Salad Your Own
  4. What to Serve with Warm Spinach Salad
  5. Love Spinach? Try These Recipes
  6. Wilted Spinach Salad Recipe
Ingredients for wilted spinach salad including spinach, red onion, apple cider vinegar, honey, tarragon, walnuts, dijon, red pepper flakes, pepper, olive oil, garlic, cannellini beans, lemon and goat cheese.

What is in Wilted Spinach Salad?

The lemony beans were inspired by my obsession with the combination of cannellini beans, garlic, and lemon since watching Nigella Lawson make white bean mash many years ago. The addictive combo is a match made in heaven! 

Ingredients for Quick-pickled onions:

You can double (or quadruple!) the quick-pickle red onions and store them in the pickling liquid in a clean jar in the fridge for up to 1 week (they lose their bite after that). They are delicious in sandwiches, salads, pita wraps, or with a cheese board.

  • Red onion is quick-pickled to soften its bite but still retains the crispness (due to the short pickling time).
  • Apple cider vinegar adds a sour tang and some sweetness.
  • Honey enhances the sweetness in the pickled onion and dressing. Use a high-quality honey with a delicate flavor, like our Greek Alfa Honey
  • Tarragon infuses the onions with a sweet, herbal, licorice-like flavor.
  • Kosher salt Rounds off all the flavors in the pickling liquid.

For the Dressing:

  • Reserved pickling liquid infuses the onion and tarragon flavor into the dressing.
  • Apple cider vinegar brings sweetness from the apple and the full hit of acidity to complement the pickling liquid.
  • Dijon mustard brings creaminess and subtle heat to the dressing.
  • Honey rounds off the acidity with its sweetness. 
  • Red pepper flakes add a punchiness and subtle spice, which works well with the creamy beans and sweet spinach. 
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper round off the astringent elements of the dressing. 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil is the base of the dressing. Use a high-quality extra virgin variety, like our buttery Arbequina
  • Garlic cloves marry the savory spinach and creamy beans.

For the Salad:

  • Baby spinach is warmed with the dressing, removing the rawness and softening the subtle bitterness. 
  • Cannellini beans are rich in protein, bringing sustenance and creamy deliciousness to the salad. 
  • Lemon zest is the perfect accompaniment to the cannellini beans, bringing zestiness to the creaminess. 
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper lightly season the beans. 
  • Goat cheese brings richness and creaminess. Simply leave it off for a dairy-free version, or for a low-lactose version replace with freshly shaved Parmesan. 
  • Walnut halves and pieces bring a subtle bitterness and crunch to the party! 
  • Tarragon leaves are finely chopped and sprinkled over the finished salad as a nod to the tarragon-infused quick-pickled onions. 
An overhead photo of the wilted spinach salad on a serving platter with a fork. Surrounding this are small bowls of salt, pepper, walnuts, pickled onions, tarragon, goat cheese, and red pepper flakes.

How to Make Wilted Spinach Salad

The pickled onions need about 30 minutes to soften, so we’ll start there—and feel free to make them up to 6 days ahead, and use as needed. When it comes to the vinaigrette, just wait to warm it and dress the spinach until you’re ready to serve. Here are the steps:

Get Your Ingredients Ready

  • Make the quick-pickled onions. To a jar with a lid, add ½ thinly sliced red onion, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves, and 3 tablespoons of water. Season with ½ teaspoon salt, cover, and vigorously shake well. Set aside to let the flavors meld for 30 minutes, shaking every 10 minutes. Reserve 2 tablespoons of pickling liquid for the dressing, then drain the onions and set aside. Pickled red onions in a colander next to small bowls of salt, pepper and tarragon.
  • Meanwhile, toast the nuts. In a dry medium skillet over medium heat, add ¾ cup shelled walnut pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are lightly toasted, about 6 minutes, then transfer to a plate to cool. Walnuts being toasted in a skillet next to bowls of red pepper flakes and black pepper.
  • Make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons honey, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons of reserved pickling liquid, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Set the bowl near the stovetop. The dressing for the wilted spinach salad in a bowl next to a whisk and bowls of red pepper flakes, black pepper and tarragon.
  • Ready the spinach. In a large bowl, add 10 ounces baby spinach. Have some cling wrap close by (or a tight-fitting lid for the bowl).

Wilt the Spinach

  • Warm the dressing. Give the skillet you used to toast the walnuts a quick wipe with a paper towel if there’s any residue. Return it to medium heat and warm ⅓ cup olive oil until shimmering. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and stir continuously until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Over the heat, vigorously whisk in the dressing mixture until emulsified. Whisk continuously until the dressing is hot and bubbling at the edges. The dressing for the wilted spinach salad warming in a skillet. Next to this are small bowls of red pepper flakes and black pepper.
  • Wilt the spinach. Remove from heat and pour the dressing over the spinach, keeping about 2 tablespoons in the skillet. Immediately cover the bowl well with plastic wrap or a lid. Give the bowl a shake to toss the spinach in the dressing. Set the covered bowl aside to allow the dressing to warm the spinach.Spinach in a large bowl topped with the warmed dressing. Next to this are small bowls of red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper.
  • Warm the cannellini beans. Add the beans to the remaining dressing in the skillet over medium heat and carefully stir occasionally (making sure you do not mash up the beans) until the beans are hot, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and quickly stir in the zest of 1 lemon, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Immediately add to the bowl with the spinach (do not stir) and quickly cover with plastic wrap to help retain the heat, giving the bowl a shake to toss the beans and spinach. Allow to sit for 3 minutes.Cannellini bean being warmed in a skillet with a spatula. Surrounding this are bowls of spinach, salt, red pepper flakes, pepper, and tarragon.

Finish and Serve

  • Assemble and serve the salad. Transfer the spinach and cannellini beans to a serving platter or salad bowl, layering them with the pickled red onions and 4 ounces of crumbled goat cheese. Top the warm spinach salad with the toasted walnuts and ½ tablespoon finely chopped tarragon. Serve immediately.An overhead photo of the wilted spinach salad on a serving platter with a fork. Surrounding this are small bowls of walnuts, tarragon, and red pepper flakes.

Ways to Make This Warm Spinach Salad Your Own

You can swap out some ingredients to suit your taste or what’s available in your fridge, pantry, or store. Here are some ideas for alternatives and substitutes:

  • Red onion: Shallots or sweet Vidalia onions. Thinly slice enough for ¾ cup.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Red wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar.
  • Walnuts: Any toasted nut of your choice, like pecans or almonds. 
  • Dijon mustard: Use any mustard of your choice, although I don't recommend English mustard as it is very spicy! 
  • Red pepper flakes: Aleppo pepper–learn all about Aleppo pepper in our guide, What is Aleppo Pepper and How to Use It, and try it at our shop
  • Baby spinach: Baby kale.
  • Cannellini beans: Any canned white bean or chickpeas.
  • Goat cheese: Feta crumbles are a perfect substitute. For a dairy-free version, simply leave out the cheese. For a low-lactose version, replace with freshly shaved Parmesan. 
  • Tarragon: Dried tarragon. Add 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon to the pickling liquid, and in ½ teaspoon dried tarragon to the dressing. 
The wilted spinach salad on a serving platter with a fork. Surrounding this are small bowls of salt, walnuts, and pickled onions.

What to Serve with Warm Spinach Salad

Spinach is a Mediterranean favorite. You only have to look at Greek Spanakopita, Turkish Gözleme or the much-loved Middle Eastern Fatayer to see just a few ways this leafy green is enjoyed.

Simlar to the previously mentioned dishes, this wilted spinach salad can hold its own for lunch, or a perfect vegetarian appetizer—but also goes well served alongside Grilled Skirt Steak, or any comforting dish, such as Lentil Stew. A crisp, cold glass of Chablis would go exceptionally well with this salad.

Love Spinach? Try These Recipes

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5 from 2 votes

Wilted Spinach Salad

Headshot of writer Tara Holland.Tara Holland
An overhead photo of the wilted spinach salad on a serving platter with a fork.
In this warm spinach salad, the greens are wilted until they're just softened but keep their sweet fresh flavor.
Prep – 15 minutes
Cook – 15 minutes
Total – 30 minutes
Cuisine:
American/Mediterranean
Serves – 4
Course:
Sides/Salad

Ingredients
  

  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons honey (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus more for garnish
  • Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup shelled walnut halves/pieces
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon (1 tablespoon)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Instructions
 

  • Make the quick-pickled onions. To a jar or small bowl, add the red onion, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon of the tarragon, and 3 tablespoons of water. Season with ½ teaspoon salt, cover, and vigorously shake well (or stir to combine if using a bowl). Set aside to let the flavors meld for 30 minutes, shaking or stirring every 10 minutes. Reserve 2 tablespoons of pickling liquid in a mixing bowl for the dressing, then drain the onions and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, toast the nuts. In a dry medium skillet over medium heat, add the walnuts. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the nuts are lightly toasted, about 6 minutes, then transfer to a plate to cool.
  • Make the dressing. To the mixing bowl with the pickling liquid, add the Dijon mustard, red pepper flakes, remaining 2 teaspoons honey and remaining 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper and whisk to combine. Set the bowl near your stovetop.
  • Get the spinach ready to be dressed. In a large bowl, add the baby spinach. Have some cling wrap close by (or a tight-fitting lid for the bowl).
  • Warm the dressing. Give the skillet you used to toast the walnuts a quick wipe with a paper towel if there’s any residue. Return it to medium heat and warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, stirring continuously until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Over the heat, vigorously whisk in the dressing mixture until emulsified. Whisk continuously until the dressing is hot and bubbling at the edges.
  • Wilt the spinach. Remove from heat and pour the dressing over the spinach, keeping about 2 tablespoons in the skillet. Immediately cover the bowl well with plastic wrap or a lid. Give the bowl a shake to toss the spinach in the dressing. Set the covered bowl aside to allow the dressing to warm the spinach.
  • Warm the cannellini beans. Add the beans to the remaining dressing in the skillet and set over medium heat. Carefully stir occasionally (making sure you do not mash up the beans) until the beans are hot, about 2 minutes.
  • Season the beans. Turn off the heat and quickly stir in the lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Immediately add to the bowl with the spinach (do not stir) and quickly cover with plastic wrap to help retain the heat, giving the bowl a shake to toss the beans and spinach. Allow to sit for 3 minutes.
  • Assemble and serve the salad. Transfer the spinach and cannellini beans to a serving platter or salad bowl, layering them with the pickled red onions and goat cheese. Top with the toasted walnuts and a sprinkle of fresh tarragon (I used about 2 teaspoons). Serve immediately.

Notes

  • You can double (or quadruple!) the quick-pickled red onions and store them in the pickling liquid in a clean jar in the fridge for up to 1 week (they lose their bite after that). They are delicious in sandwiches, on salads, pita wraps, or to serve with a cheeseboard.
  • Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams, and spices.

Nutrition

Calories: 425.1kcalCarbohydrates: 12.2gProtein: 11.1gFat: 38.8gSaturated Fat: 8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 12.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 16.6gCholesterol: 13mgSodium: 225mgPotassium: 551.9mgFiber: 3.6gSugar: 6.2gVitamin A: 6947.5IUVitamin C: 21.7mgCalcium: 142.8mgIron: 3.4mg
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Tara Holland is a British mom of two teenage girls residing in Brooklyn. She
changed her successful career midlife from the corporate financial world to
follow her culinary dream and graduated with honors from the Institute of
Culinary Education in 2017. She started in the test kitchen and went on to
become an assistant food editor at Rachael Ray Every Day magazine and is
now a freelance recipe developer, writer, recipe tester, and (occasional)
assistant food stylist for a variety of mediums, such as The New York Times, NBC, The Kitchn, Suvie Food, Food 52, and now The Mediterranean Dish.
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Comments

  1. Kathi says:

    5 stars
    Just made this salad, using it as a main course. Delicious and filling.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Thanks, Kathi!

  2. Pamela Roberts says:

    Where is the calorie count, serving size and nutritional data for all your recipes?

    1. TMD Team says:

      Hi, Pamela! It's located at the bottom of the recipe card at the end of the post.

  3. Dan says:

    5 stars
    This was great! Will definitely make it again. I used dried Tarragon because I couldn't find fresh. Awesome flavors.

  4. Lois says:

    We just prepared this spinach salad- it was very tasty, crunchy and looked very appealing! We will fix it again!