Chinese Chicken Salad – It might not be authentic, but we love the fresh flavors, satisfying crunch, and gorgeous colors of this potluck and picnic favorite! (Gluten free and paleo friendly!)
When Michael and I got married, we each brought with us a food history. Both our mothers are great cooks, and each has her own style. At my home, we rarely ate meat (my mom had a huge aversion to handling raw meat after her first pregnancy) and favored big flavors–my mom added lots of cumin to her chili, big handfuls of cilantro to the salsa, etc. Michael came from a meat-and-potatoes home with lots of classic homestyle recipes, some of which had been handed down for generations.
Having fallen for cooking at a young age and a few years into cooking for myself, I’d developed a few recipes all my own and couldn’t get enough of trying new things. Which is why, when my new husband asked me to make some of his old favorites, I kind of felt like, “but…we could be trying new things every night.”
It’s one we’ve made every year or so when the craving hits. As our tastes and diet have changed, so has our recipe. These days I mix up a simple blend of veggies, herbs, lettuce and cabbage for the salad, then whisk up a super-simple salad dressing to go on top. I add plenty of toasted almonds for crunch in place of the ramen and a few juice-packed mandarin oranges for a touch of sweetness, and the results are incredible.
Our fresh new take on Chinese Chicken Salad (with plenty of big flavors and healthier ingredients), is one we make much more regularly.
Notes on the Recipe:
The Best Tool For the Job. If you have a food processor, making this salad is going to be REALLY fast. Attach your shredder blade for the lettuce and cabbage, then use your grater blade for the carrots. You’ll be done in just a few minutes. If you don’t have a food processor, you’ll be slicing for a few extra minutes, but it’s worth it!
Shortcuts and Substitutions. If you’d prefer to skip the shredding, you can totally buy a bag of coleslaw mix, and add some extra carrot (you can even buy them pre-grated). Also, feel free to use rotisserie chicken (it’s awesome!) or leftover grilled or cooked chicken for this recipe. If you’re eating paleo or doing Whole30, see below for approved substitutions.
Scale it Up or Scale it Down. The recipe makes a big, family-style salad. If you’re serving a smaller crowd, feel free to half the recipe. I keep the components separate in the refrigerator for a few days of awesome lunch leftovers.
Tips for Meal Prep. If you’re making this ahead of time for meal prep or to serve later, you can mix up the salad mixture up to a day ahead of time, then store the chicken, almonds, Mandarin oranges, and dressing separately. Then, just add your toppings and dressing when you’re ready to serve!
Start Small. This recipe makes plenty of dressing to serve a crowd, so if you’re making it smaller, you definitely won’t need all the dressing. The dressing also breaks down the lettuce and cabbage, so you want to start with less dressing than you think you need. Within just a few minutes, everything will start to soften and you’ll find that things are just about right. You can always add more, but things get soggy if you add way too much.
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For the salad mixture:
- 3 cups shredded romaine lettuce
- 3 cups shredded green cabbage
- 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 2 green onions, sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
For the add-ins:
- 1–2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 1–2 cups mandarin oranges (I buy the 100% juice-packed ones)
- 1/4–1/2 cup toasted almonds
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup gluten free tamari (or coconut aminos or soy sauce)
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar (seasoned or unseasoned) or cider vinegar for paleo
- 2–3 Tbsp olive oil (or avocado oil)
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- Combine the salad mixture and toss until well blended.
- Whisk together salad dressing ingredients until well blended.
- If serving the whole salad immediately, stir in the salad add-ins (chicken, oranges, almonds) and enough dressing to coat the salad. Try not to add too much dressing at the beginning, as it breaks down the salad after a few minutes.
- Serve immediately or keep components separate and prepare just as much as you need. If stored separately, leftovers should keep 3-4 days in the refrigerator.