In a fall twist on a classic, this Harvest Cobb Salad combines seasonal produce, like apples, butternut squash, and pecans, with a maple-sweetened vinaigrette, and classic Cobb add-ins. This is an entree salad to dig into with friends!
Harvest Cobb Salad
Back in college, my friends and I used to head off campus for a bite between classes a few times a week. Richmond, VA has some great little cafes, and I quickly found a few mid-day favorites: Crispy Calamari Caesar Salad, a smoky Chicken Pita, and a particularly well-composed classic Cobb.
One afternoon, the bistro I lovingly referred to as “the Cobb place” had a “Harvest Cobb” as a special. The bowl that arrived at the table was loaded with crispy apples, crunchy pecans, plenty of bacon, and a sweet-tart vinaigrette. I was in salad heaven.
15 years later, putting a seasonal twist on the Cobb is one of my favorite lunches to make at home. I’ve added some additions over the years from what the bistro served, and dress the bowl with a Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette that takes all of 5 minutes to shake up. It’s an entree salad dreams are made of!
What You’ll Need to Make a Fully-Loaded Harvest Cobb
This salad is packed with a mix of classic Cobb and fall harvest ingredients. For the Harvest Cobb Salad pictured here, I used:
- Greens (I like a 50/50 mix of torn romaine leaves and baby spinach)
- Cubed cooked chicken breasts (grilled, poached, or rotisserie)
- Crumbled crisp-cooked bacon
- Crumbled blue cheese
- Roasted butternut squash
- Diced apples (I used honeycrisp, but any of your favorite varieties would work well)
- Pomegranate seeds
- Hard boiled eggs
- Diced avocado
- Pecans or walnuts (either plain toasted, or make my Caramelized Pecans for a little extra sweetness)
- Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette
Ways You Can Customize Your Fall Cobb Salad
You can easily omit, swap, and substitute to make this Harvest Cobb Salad your own. Here are a few of my favorite variations:
- Substitute diced or thinly-sliced pears for the apples.
- Try crumbled goat cheese, Feta, or clothbound cheddar instead of blue cheese.
- Swap out dried cranberries (craisins) for the pomegranate seeds.
- Instead of nuts, add crunch with roasted butternut squash or pumpkin seeds.
- Roast other varieties of winter squash, like Honeynut, Delicata (no need to peel!), Acorn, or Kabocha pumpkin.
Want to add a little spice to the salad? My Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (pepitas) are a cinch to prepare and make a great crunchy topping as an alternative to nuts.
Prepping and Assembling Your Harvest Cobb Salad
Step 1: Roast the Squash and Bacon
Since both butternut squash cubes and bacon roast at 400 degrees F, I like to do this on a single foil-lined baking pan for easy cleanup. Drizzle the squash with a little olive oil to prevent sticking and toss with a few pinches of salt and pepper.
Tip: to keep the bacon fat from over-saturating the squash cubes on the pan, I make a simple “dam” out of an extra piece of folded/crumpled foil to place between the ingredients.
The squash will take about 20-25 minutes to roast. I like to use thick-cut bacon for this salad, which needs about the same time in the oven to crisp.
Step 2: Dice It!
While the squash and bacon are in the oven, prep your add-ins by dicing the apples, avocado, cooked chicken breasts, eggs, and crumbling the cheese. (Photo 01)
I like to cube everything to about a 3/4-to 1 inch dice, but there are no hard and fast rules here. It’s a rustic salad. Keeping everything around the same proportion makes it easier to serve and mingle on your fork.
Tip: Cut apples and avocados will brown when exposed to air. You can slow this process by dipping them in acidulated water after dicing. To make acidulated water, combine 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice for every 2 cups of water.
Step 3: Compose
Salad time! Get a big bowl and toss your greens with just enough dressing to lightly coat. Then, start assembling your Cobb.
I like to anchor the bowl with the main protein, the cubed chicken, directly down the center. In classic Cobb fashion, I arrange each ingredient in rows extending to the edges of the bowl, balancing the crunchy and softer textures.
Drizzle vinaigrette over the top of the salad, give it a few grinds of cracked black pepper, and you’re ready to dig in! This Cobb is incredibly filling on its own, but in the absence of croutons, a slice of warm whole grain artisan bread on the side pairs well.
How to Meal Prep This Salad
For easy meals during the week, you can prep this salad ahead, with a few guidelines for the best results.
Ingredients that can be prepped a day or two in advance:
- Chicken breasts (cooked and cubed),
- Bacon (baked and crumbled)
- Squash (roasted; gently re-warm before serving)
- Hard cooked eggs (cook and peel, but wait to dice or wedge until just before serving)
- Blue cheese (crumbled)
- Vinaigrette (re-shake or whisk before serving).
Ingredients you should prep within an hour of serving: Apples, avocados. Even with the acidulated water dip/soak I mentioned earlier in the post, these ingredients will start to brown with enough time. It’s best to prep them fresh.
Wait to prep until just before serving: Greens tossed with vinaigrette. The spinach, especially, will begin to wilt when it meets the dressing. If you’re packing the salad for lunch, place the vinaigrette in a separate container and toss just before you’re ready to eat.
Tip: Remember to store the perishable components for this salad in airtight containers in the refrigerator. I like to package pungent ingredients, like the blue cheese, separately.
Harvest Cobb Salad
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach (5 ounce package)
- 3 cups romaine leaves (5 ounce package), roughly torn
- 2 cooked chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each), cut in 3/4 to 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 large butternut squash , peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4 to 1-inch dice (about 2 cups cubes)
- 4-5 slices thick cut bacon
- 1 large ripe avocado , cubed
- 1/3 cup pomegranate arils
- 3 large hard cooked eggs , diced or wedged
- 2 apples (such as honeycrisp or Fuji), cored and diced
- 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
- 1/2 cup toasted pecans
- olive oil (for roasting the squash)
- kosher salt and black pepper
- Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Divide the pan in half with a foil "dam" by folding or crumpling a second piece of foil and fitting it into the center. (This will keep the bacon fat from saturating the squash as they both roast.) Place butternut squash cubes on one half of the pan and bacon slices on the other half.
- Drizzle the squash with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the squash is tender and the bacon is crisp, flipping the bacon strips halfway through. (I like to start keeping an eye on the bacon after about 15 minutes, since different brands/thicknesses crisp at different rates.)
- Drain the bacon on a double layer of paper towels and crumble when it's cool enough to handle.
Compose the Salad
- In a large bowl, toss baby spinach and romaine with just enough dressing to lightly coat. Place the chicken breast cubes in a line down the center of the bowl. Arrange the rest of the salad add-ins in rows extending to the edges of the bowl.
- Drizzle the salad with more of the vinaigrette and serve immediately.