Mandarin Orange Salad is one of my favorite green salads. The addition of oranges and candied almonds to the mix is fantastic!
Talk about a walk down memory lane…I first included a post about this Mandarin Orange Salad on my baby blog almost 25 years ago. Back in the ‘olden’ days, there was no story (heck there was no Google to demand there be one!) and no photos, just the recipe. That original effort was only for me, family, and friends and a great way to catalog and share recipes I had made and loved…and then things changed.
About fifteen years ago I did take a photo but any photo that old remained an embarrassment (quick point and shoot and I was done) so it was time for a total redo. I made this salad again recently because I was craving it and because I wanted to try something new and so here we are…refreshed and totally revived and yes, still as good as ever, better even.
What’s old really is new again, with the help of fresh oranges instead of canned and a dressing made with a great local safflower oil I was recently introduced to.
Considering that from the first time I made this Mandarin Orange Salad, I subbed in spinach for a combination of romaine and iceberg lettuces, I can only claim that the candied almonds and green onions are from the original but that’s enough. I always say make double the almonds too, they are hard to keep from noshing on while you work.
And sure, use Romaine and/or iceberg lettuces like the original recipe if you prefer, I imagine I only made the change one day based on what was in my fridge, I would have no problem using them now if that’s what I had available.
The original recipe for this Mandarin Orange Salad comes from Colorado Cache, my very first Colorado cookbook after moving to Denver 35 years ago from Raleigh NC. It was a great introduction to foods of this region and so different from the Southern cookbooks I had brought with me.
Less sweets (but still plenty), less casseroles, some bison, lots of Mexican which was a new experience, and some great new salads and side dishes.
One of the main impetuses I had to make this happen again was an offer to try a safflower oil made by The Oil Barn, a Montana company. I don’t do sponsored posts where brands pay me to feature their goods; I much prefer to highlight vendors local to my region with products I love…and I loved this oil!
Interestingly enough, it’s not just the clean flavor that was perfect in this Mandarin Orange Salad or the fact that it does a great job at high heat, but it’s their whole thought process behind growing safflower. I am an adamant conservationist in my home. Be prepared to bring a jacket if you’re coming over and if you’re staying the night, turn off the lights as you leave a room, wear socks, and in the morning keep those showers short! My kids will attest to this ‘hell’ I made them live in (honestly 64 degrees in the day WILL NOT kill you!)
When Patrick Conrey, one of the owners, shared with me the two main benefits that come from growing a stand of safflower and that the first was the water savings; well I was hooked. On a hot dry day in Colorado a corn crop can use as much as 2″ of water per week.
That information comes out of a complex equation used in crop sciences to calculate different plant’s water needs. It’s why I work so hard in my own garden to plant vegetables and flowers without high water demands.
Safflower originates out of the middle east and is well adapted to low water situations. Trials out of Utah State showed diminishing yields after 6″ of supplemental water for the entire growing season.
Interestingly, safflower is a drought tolerant plant that is counterintuitive for farmers to water too much. Based on a simple crop water need equation, for every 3 acres that are taken out of corn, alfalfa or potatoes and put into safflower production there is a savings of a million, yes a million, gallons of freshwater.
Wow huh? I imagine if you are living in some areas of the country, this might not be impactful but in the semi arid land of some Western states like mine, water conservation is a top priority.
The second main benefit that they are studying and currently testing is the root length. Safflower has the deepest taproot of any annual plant. This root structure could help break up plow pans from excessive tillage and aerate the soil. Seeing this come to fruition would depend on soil types but they look forward to seeing results from this year’s test plots.
At The Oil Barn they realize that agriculture is the nexus between humans and our ever important resources and strive to bring healthy safflower oil to our communities, support regenerative agriculture and build economically viable crop selections for farmers.
Choosing brands that are focused on details beyond profit matter to me, and I hope to you! If interested, check out their website; the oil is available both online and in several stores in Montana.
I love the dressing for this salad enough that I make double, I’m happy to have some on hand for everyday use as well. Still, I think the biggest departure I made a few years ago when I was craving a Mandarin Orange Salad was those adorable little oranges. For several years I followed the recipe and bought a can of mandarin oranges to include in the salad.
One year, however, I decided I would like to use some of those little ‘Cuties’ oranges that come packaged in a net bag, I had a bunch of them and thought they would be a nice upgrade to this favorite salad. Except for one thing…no way could I get all of that white membrane off of them, they looked dull in a salad, and I wondered how they removed it for the canned oranges.
Lye. Really? Yes, they use lye. Now I’m sure they have a great process to ensure that you and I are not impacted by lye, but I know I would never purposely consume it either. What to do…they looked better but seriously, at least for me, no way. I only wish I could tell you I had a simple brainstorm that day but nope, it wasn’t until last week that I tried something so simple that was perfect.
So last week I started doing some research and yes there are methods for the home, if you want to wait a couple of days to eat your orange segments. Contrary to some opinion, the pith left on clementine or mandarin type oranges is not bitter, it’s just unsightly so improving the look of them is what mattered to me. And it was almost too simple too.
That beautiful safflower oil? All it took was a few drops on the oranges, making sure they were all lightly coated and the color changed dramatically. Water had not done the same job that a little bit of oil did but honestly, I felt like I had discovered the moon or more! Would I do that for a regular everyday salad just for me? Maybe not, but not only was I taking photos but I had offered my neighbor half of the salad and I loved that it looked so much prettier. It is said we also eat with our eyes and my eyes loved the improvement!
Honestly, I have to admit that I thought the whole world knew about Mandarin Orange Salad until a friend told me otherwise. Don’t let that happen to you. The combination of ingredients are light but delicious and it’s finished with a tasty dressing…hope you’ll try this recipe and love it too.
More Salads? Sure…here are some favorites!
- Pear, Walnut, and Gorgonzola Cheese Salad
- Warm Goat Cheese and Raspberry Salad
- Sweet Potato and Spinach Chopped Salad
- French Laundry Garden Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
- Iceberg Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
- Mixed Greens Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing
Mandarin Orange Salad
- 1/3 C sliced almonds
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 bunch of spinach
- 1 C chopped celery
- 2 whole green onions chopped
- 12 oz mandarin orange slices or 1-11 oz can mandarin oranges, drained
For the Dressing:
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash of pepper
- 1/4 C safflower oil
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
- Dash of Tabasco sauce or more...truthfully I like several!
In a small pan over medium heat, cook almonds and sugar stirring constantly until almonds are coated and sugar is melted. Watch carefully as they will burn easily. Cool and store in an air-tight container.
Mix all dressing ingredients and chill.
Mix spinach, celery, and green onions. Just before serving, add almonds and oranges. Toss with dressing.