This apple fennel salad is full of fall flavors! Walnuts add extra crunch and the simple lemon dressing lets the bright flavors shine through. Only 7 ingredients!
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What are your feelings about fennel? Its flavor really makes it kind of a love it or hate it situation. It's such a worldly vegetable with so many uses. But maybe I can change your mind with this apple fennel salad if you're in the hater category?
When you discover the gorgeous anise-y flavor of fennel combined with a bite of tart/sweet Granny Smith apple, you'll be a convert.
This is a perfect salad for the fall and winter months because it's fresh and green and crunchy and makes you feel like you're doing something a little bit good for yourself.
Ingredients you'll need
- Fennel: Look for fennel bulbs that are tight, heavy for their size, and are nice and white to light green. The stalks and fronds should be perky, not limp.
- Granny Smith apples: The tartness of a Granny Smith apple works so well with the brightness of the lemon, and the anise flavor of the fennel. They also hold up well to the salad dressing and don't get soggy.
- Walnuts: I like to use walnut pieces, as opposed to halves, to keep things bite-sized.
- Parmesan cheese: I've said it once and I'll say it again, use real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. So worth the splurge for the flavor, saltiness, and texture.
- Lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt: These are the only ingredients you need for the simplest and most perfect lemon dressing.
How to make apple fennel salad
Adapted from New York Times Cooking.
Step 1: Toast the walnuts and prep the parmesan
In a small skillet, toast the walnuts over medium low heat until they are warm and fragrant, then set aside to cool.
Shave the parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler.
Step 2: Make the salad dressing
Use a microplane grater to zest the lemons, then juice them.
Whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt until emulsified.
Step 3: Slice the fennel and apples
Slice off the fennel fronds, then slice the fennel in half vertically across the widest part of the bulb.
Remove the core at the bottom of the fennel bulb.
Slice the apples into large chunks, avoiding the core. Then slice thinly on a mandoline or with a good knife.
Step 4: Assemble the salad
To assemble the salad, toss the apples, fennel and most of the walnuts in the lemon dressing and transfer to a serving plate.
Top with remaining walnuts, shaved parmesan and fennel fronds and serve immediately.
Tips for making apple fennel salad
- Make the dressing first, and slice the apples last. This is important. You want to get those apples into that lemon salad dressing right away so they don't turn brown.
- Using a mandoline is the easiest way to get the apple and fennel slices the same thickness for a more uniform salad. I recommend using one, but it's not required. Always be very careful of your fingers and use the guard provided.
- Save the long green fennel stalks and use them to make stock. They are especially good in a seafood stock.
- This salad is best when served immediately. If you have leftovers, you can store them in the refrigerator for about 2 days. The fennel and apple will hold up well for a quite a while once tossed in the salad dressing, but they will start to macerate, release their juices and therefore won't be as crisp.
Recipe variations and substitutions
- I love the how the color and flavor of Granny Smith apples complement the fennel, but you could substitute Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, or Braeburn.
- For added sweetness try a bit of honey or maple syrup in the salad dressing.
- Swap the walnuts for pecans or hazelnuts.
- Switch out the parmesan for the saltier funk of pecorino romano.
What to pair with apple fennel salad
Fennel pairs well with sweet and savory flavors. Since it's a fall and winter vegetable, match it up with things that are in season like apples, brussels sprouts, pomegranate, and citrus. It can stand up to cheeses and nuts, so dress it up!
Serve this apple fennel salad on its own as a light lunch. Try it alongside Tarragon Roast Chicken or Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms and White Wine. It's a perfect starter when you serve a Boneless Leg of Lamb or try it as a lighter counterbalance to this Creamy Pasta Bake with Bacon and Cheese.
Fennel is a hardy bulb that can be sliced thinly or a little on the thicker side, depending on your taste and what you're making. For this salad, I like it thin, but thick enough that it has some crunch when you bite into it. To cut it for salads, cut it in half, remove the core from the bottom of the bulb, and remove the stems from the top. (Save the soft fronds to top the salad!) Place the fennel on a mandolin, or use a chef's knife, and slice across the bulb so you you get thin strips.
Fennel has a mild anise, or licorice-like flavor. It's herbal, slightly sweet, fresh, and crunchy.
For this apple fennel salad, I like Granny Smith for their firm, crunchy texture and tart flavor. I also like these because the green color looks so good with the fennel. For a sweeter flavor you could try Gala or Honey Crisp.
More fall and winter salad recipes
Try these fall and winter salads to keep some green and freshness in your diet during the colder months of the year.
- Now let's use some red apples and make this Kale Salad with Cranberries and Apples.
- Get a little fancy and make Romaine Hearts with Blue Cheese, Pears, and Pecans. You never knew how easy it would be to make homemade blue cheese dressing!
- Tricolore Salad is made with radicchio and endive, two chicories that are at the peak of their season in fall and winter.
Try an apple fennel salad for fall and winter freshness
- This light salad is bursting with sweet and savory flavor!
- You only need 7 ingredients.
- It's a wonderful way to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the colder months.
- The lemon salad dressing tastes great and keeps the apples and fennel fresh and bright.
- You can easily swap out the cheese or nuts to change things up!
Apple Fennel Salad with Parmesan and Walnuts
- 3 fennel bulbs
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoon lemon juice
- zest of two lemons
- 2 ounces parmesan cheese shaved from a block with a vegetable peeler
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup walnuts
- fennel fronds for topping
- In a small skillet, toast the walnuts over medium low heat until they are warm and fragrant, then set aside to cool.
- Shave the parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler.
- Whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt until emulsified.
- Slice the apples into large chunks, avoiding the core. Then slice thinly on a mandoline (or with a good knife.)
- Toss the apples, fennel and most of the walnuts in the lemon dressing and transfer to a serving plate. Top with remaining walnuts, shaved parmesan and fennel fronds and serve immediately.
- Make the dressing first, and slice the apples last. This is important. You want to get those apples into that lemon dressing right away so they don't turn brown.
- If using a mandoline, be very careful of your fingers. Be sure to use the guard provided.
- Save the long green fennel stalks and use them to make stock. They are especially good in seafood stock.