This unusual version of the classic grated carrot salad with raisins offers a flavor update that is perfect with a holiday dinner.
Crunchy dried pineapple bits, toasted walnuts, and a creamy dressing suffused with winter spices are layered over a base of crisp red leaf lettuce. This salad looks tempting on a Thanksgiving or Christmas table and pairs beautifully with a sagey turkey or another savory main.
My family’s deep love of carrot cake inspired the creation of a different sort of carrot salad with raisins. How could I take those lip-smacking ingredients, i.e., grated carrots with fruit plus cinnamon-heavy spicing and cream, and turn them into something healthy and irresistible?
Perfectly crisp leaves for the carrot salad base
You may scoff at a carrot salad with raisins that pretends to be cake. But, when properly assembled, it’s a treat your family and guests will gobble up!
Starting with crisp lettuce is key. You want those red-edged leaves to be snappy and juicy!
- To achieve perfect lettuce, cut or tear off the core. Separate the leaves and place them in the inner basket of a salad spinner. (Here is a link to a selection of salad spinners. My favorite type of spinner has a pump mechanism on top rather than a handle that you have to turn. Another nice feature is a hole in the top for adding water. Note: I am an Amazon associate and may earn a commission if you purchase a product through this link.)
- Rinse the leaves with cold water to remove any loose debris and then put the basket inside the outer container. Fill with cold water.
- Let the lettuce soak in the cold water for at least 10 minutes. When time is up, remove the inner liner and empty the water from the outer container. Rinse the leaves with more cold water. (If the leaves still seem dirty — this can happen if it’s homegrown or organic — give it another 10-minute soak.)
- Return the inner basket with leaves to the outer container, which should be free of any soil. Put the lid on and pull the cord to spin the leaves dry. About 25 to 50 spins should get the job done.
- Empty the lettuce onto clean paper towels or a clean dish towel and let them air-dry for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, use a pin to poke at least 10 holes (20 is better) into a large zip bag.
- Transfer the clean lettuce into the bag. It should be slightly damp, neither wet nor bone dry. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Because the red leaf lettuce is the base, making sure it has a toothsome texture is key to creating a tempting salad.
Golden raisins and freeze-dried pineapple bits give the salad a yummy sweetness. Of course, you can use regular raisins to play down the sweet taste but don’t substitute candied, sugared dried pineapple bits for the freeze-dried type. These will make the salad taste sickly sweet (and weird)!
Toasted walnuts add healthy fats, fiber — and a hit of umami.
The tang and spice of the creamy dressing remind you of the cream cheese frosting on carrot cake. Rich spices of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves and a bit of white balsamic vinegar are blended with Greek yogurt, but the dressing is not overpowering or honeyed.
A healthy holiday side salad
That said, it can be hard to believe that this carrot salad with raisins has so many health benefits and is at home on a holiday table. It is a flavor-rich option for low sodium diets and counts as a single serving of carbohydrates if you are following a diet for diabetes.
It is full of vitamin A and beta-carotene, mostly due to the generous amount of grated carrots. (For a delicious zucchini-carrot salad recipe rich in vitamin A, click here.)
In addition to vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, the melange also provides a little protein, calcium, and iron (mostly from the raisins). As mentioned earlier, it supplies healthy fats and fiber to nourish your immunity and keep your gut happy.
Clearly, it’s not dessert! But, with its rich dressing and flavor-packed layers, the carrot salad with raisins is almost as scrumptious as carrot cake. (If you want an easy recipe for carrot cake, try this healthier option from the Fage yogurt folks.)
While you’ll enjoy the taste and health dividends of this unusual salad, you won’t miss the sugar and calories of cake.
Carrot Salad with Raisins (Carrot Cake Salad)
- 1/2 head red leaf lettuce torn into pieces (about 4 cups)
- 2 large carrots grated
- 1/3 cup freeze-dried pineapple bits
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/3 cup toasted walnut pieces
- For the dressing:
- 2 Tablespoons milk
- 1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
- 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 Tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of cloves
- Starting with the red leaf lettuce, place each ingredient in a large bowl so that you have a layered salad with the smallest ingredients -- the pineapple bits, golden raisins, and walnut pieces -- on top.
- To make the dressing: Combine the milk, yogurt, mayonnaise, white balsamic vinegar, and honey in a small measuring cup or bowl with the spices. Whisk to emulsify all ingredients into a creamy dressing.
- Drizzle or pour over the top of the salad and serve.
The creamy salad dressing infused with warm, winter spices is not like any dressing you've had before. But, it's a lip-smacking complement to the sweet carrot-cake ingredients -- the golden raisins, pineapple, and toasted walnuts. You can use tidbits of fresh or canned pineapple if you can't find freeze-dried. (I prefer the crunch of the freeze-dried.) Please don't use dried, sweetened pineapple. It will turn your salad into a weird, supersweet concoction and make it taste like bad candy!
Copyright © 2020 Jani H. Leuschel