I LOVE CHICKEN SALAD!! I think if I ever went into the restaurant business, there would be about 10 different versions on the menu. I like chicken salad on sandwiches or simply over lettuce. I like it with any combination of nuts, fruits, veggies, flavors...the possibilities are endless. There are 3 people in my life whose chicken salad I love:
1) My mom's chicken salad was very simple...cubes of chicken, celery, mayo, and toasted almonds...I can remember coming home from school and it being in the fridge. I loved having it for a snack on those days.
2) My grandmother's (Meme) chicken salad is pretty traditional too. She uses the same ingredients as my mom did, but hers is less chunky; she chops/shreds her chicken in the food processor.
3) I first had Jane's chicken salad at a summer swim meet at Tchefuncta Country Club...I can only imagine how much she had to make to feed all of those hungry swimmers. Her chicken salad has the traditional chicken (cubed) and celery. I think it also has green onions and toasted almonds? But the defining ingredient is olive oil. She replaces the mayo with oil (and maybe lemon), creating more of a vinaigrette type dressing. So good!
I literally make chicken salad about once a week. It makes such a yummy and quick lunch or dinner. I usually bake my chicken (as opposed to boiling) because I think it adds flavor. Celery is always an ingredient. And from there the similarities end. As I've already mentioned, I mix and match ingredients to create endless variations:
veggies: green onions, red bell pepper, shredded carrotfruit: pineapple, grapes, mango, berries, dried apricots, applenuts (always toasted): pecans, almonds, walnuts, cashewsherbs: basil, oregano, tarragon, cilantroother flavors: soy sauce, lemon juice, mustard (grainy, Dijon, honey)
The one thing I had to work on is the amount of added fat found in traditional chicken salad. As an example, Arby's Pecan Chicken Salad (about 6 ounces, without bread) has 408 calories, 34 g fat (9 saturated), 10 g carbohydrate, and 20 g protein. That isn't something I would eat on a regular basis. Way too much fat!
Some recipes replace all of the mayo with plain yogurt, but for me that doesn't taste very good (plus, yogurt is really thin and runny...I want thick and creamy!). I also don't care for low-fat mayo...I think it tastes too sweet and has lots of additives.
So what do I do? I use a mixture of plain non-fat Greek yogurt and regular mayo...sometimes I add a little buttermilk too. I don't let myself use more than 1/4 cup of mayo (about 2 heaping tbsp); if I need more of the dressing to make the salad creamier I add more yogurt or buttermilk. I find that this amount of mayo is enough to keep the mayo-flavor present in the chicken salad without letting the yogurt-flavor take over.
Other considerations: 1) not going over-board with the nuts...no more than 1/4 cup for every 2 chicken breasts used and 2) adding more veggies...at a minimum I use 2 stalks of celery for every 2 chicken breasts and then usually try to add red bell pepper or some other vegetable.
This version is inspired by the chicken salad at Jason's Deli. Theirs has crushed pineapple and toasted almonds, which I think is so good! I don't think I've ever tried making this version before, but now that I have, it will be a regular!
Pineapple Almond Chicken Salad
created by me
Makes 8 1-cup servings
4 cooked* boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
5 celery stalks, diced (I like to use some of the leaves too)
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, toasted (toast for about 10 min at 350 degrees...but start checking them at 5 min)
8 - 14 oz can of crushed pineapple (packed in 100% juice), drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
juice (and zest) from 1/2 a lemon
2 tbps buttermilk, optional...you could just add more Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
* This is how I cook my chicken: Preheat oven to 425°F. Pat chicken dry with paper towels (I actually use coffee filters because they don't stick to the chicken) and place on baking sheet/dish. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and black pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes until until juices run clear (not pink) when poked with a sharp knife.
Once the chicken is cooled, dice and add to a large mixing bowl. Add the celery, almonds, and pineapple and stir to combine.
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice and zest, and buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add the dressing to the salad ingredients; stir to combine. Re-season with salt and pepper if needed. If not creamy enough, add more yogurt and/or buttermilk.
Per serving (1 cup or 8 oz) - 271 calories, 12 g fat (1 g saturated), 10 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 31g protein (exchanges: 2 1/2 fat, 1/2 vegetable, 1/2 fruit, 4 protein)