Sesame Chicken Salad – With tender sesame marinated chicken, colorful veggies, and a delicious sesame dressing, this sesame chicken salad is one of our favorite healthy dinners! (Gluten-Free, Paleo-Friendly)
We hit 90 DEGREES! I always hope the weather will hold out *just* a little longer before climbing into the 90s and 100s, but the sun had other plans this year!
Since our weather is turning warmer, I’ve been turning to fresh, lighter meals that don’t feel hot or heavy when the temperatures are soaring. Main dish salads are one of my favorite options, and this Sesame Chicken Salad recipe never disappoints.
With tender sesame-marinated chicken, colorful veggies, sweet oranges, and a bright dressing, this main dish salad is filling and satisfying in every way. It’s one of those recipes you’ll want to keep in your back pocket for hot days all spring and summer long.
Here’s what you’ll need to pack all that color and flavor into our Sesame Chicken Salad…
HERE’S WHAT GOES INTO OUR SESAME CHICKEN SALAD:
- Our Quick Sesame Dressing. The sesame dressing will do double-duty as a marinade for the chicken (if you want) and a dressing for the sesame chicken salad. It’s made from simple ingredients like rice vinegar, low-sodium gluten-free tamari (or soy sauce or coconut aminos), olive or avocado oil, and toasted sesame oil. Easy!
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast. Good old reliable chicken breast provides most of the protein for this salad and thanks to the sesame chicken marinade, you’ll get flavor in every bite.
- Romaine Lettuce. The bright green and more sturdy texture of romaine lettuce makes it a perfect leafy base for sesame chicken salad. (Cut it into thin ribbons so it’s easy to eat and blends in with the shredded cabbage.)
- Shredded Green And Purple Cabbage. Then, you’ll add a colorful mix of green and purple cabbage. I LOVE the color and crunch that cabbage adds! (For a shortcut, you can also use bagged coleslaw mix here instead)
- Shredded Carrots. Grated carrots blend right in with the other shredded veggies and add a pop of color and some natural sweetness to the salad.
- Mandarin Oranges. I love the mandarin oranges packed in 100% juice (no syrups or sweeteners added) for sesame chicken salad. They’re bright, sweet, and juicy, which is so nice next to the savory notes of the chicken and dressing.
- Toasted Almonds. A sprinkle of toasted almonds adds gorgeous rich, nutty flavor to our sesame chicken salad recipe. It’s worth taking the extra few minutes to toast the nuts!
- Green Onion And Cilantro. For brightness and fresh flavor, I add green onion and plenty of fresh cilantro. I could double the amount of cilantro in this salad, I love it so much, but if you’re not a fan, you can skip it.
- Sesame Seeds. Finally, you’ll finish off with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. I like a mix of white sesame seeds and black sesame seeds, but you can use all one or the other!
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MARINADE! HERE’S HOW TO MAKE OUR SESAME CHICKEN MARINADE:
The sesame dressing works as a sesame chicken marinade here and it’s so easy to do! Here’s how you’ll make the dressing and use it for a marinade, step-by-step:
- First make your sesame dressing. In a bowl or jar, combine rice vinegar, gluten-free tamari (or soy sauce/coconut aminos), olive or avocado oil, and sesame oil. Whisk to combine. (It won’t fully emulsify, but that’s totally ok!)
- Next, prep your chicken. Place your chicken breast in a zip-top bag or airtight container with a lid.
- Cover with the marinade. Pour half of the sesame dressing over the chicken (be careful not to touch the jar to the chicken to avoid cross contamination).
- Seal the bag, pressing all the excess air out of the bag.
- Marinate! Place the bag on a plate (in case of spills) and place the marinating chicken in the refrigerator to chill at least 30 minutes, up to 24 hours. The longer it marinates, the more developed the flavor will be!
- Get ready to cook. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, use tongs to remove the chicken breast from the marinade and cook in your pan as directed, until it reaches 165 degrees F and is fully cooked through.
- Discard any remaining marinade, as it is not safe to eat.
MIX IT UP! TRY ONE OF THESE VARIATIONS ON OUR SESAME CHICKEN SALAD:
- ADD AVOCADO! I’ll add avocado to almost anything, but it’s REALLY delicious in Sesame Chicken Salad. The cool, creamy avocado is lovely next to the crunch, savory, and sweet notes of this salad. Trust me!
- USE PRE-COOKED OR LEFTOVER CHICKEN INSTEAD. Probably my most frequently-used variation! Feel free to skip the chicken marinating step and use leftover shredded, roasted, rotisserie, or grilled chicken instead. It makes the prep for this recipe even faster, which can be great on a busy night!
- SWAP THE NUTS. An easy way to play with your sesame chicken salad is swapping the toasted almonds for salty cashews. I love this option, too!
- TRY TERIYAKI MARINADE INSTEAD. If you’re looking for a change of pace, try using teriyaki sauce (store-bought or homemade) as the chicken marinade instead. I love our teriyaki sauce recipe! (It works for paleo, gluten-free, and vegan diets)
FAQ + TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST SESAME CHICKEN SALAD:
MAKE AHEAD TIP: FREEZE YOUR CHICKEN IN THE MARINADE! One easy way to save yourself some work is to mix up a half-batch of the dressing and add it to chicken right when you get home from the store. Pop it in the freezer with the marinade and it’ll marinate as it thaws later!
SAVE TIME WITH COLESLAW MIX. If you’re in a rush or are looking for a shortcut, you can absolutely use bagged coleslaw mix instead of the shredded cabbage called for in our sesame chicken salad recipe. I look for blends with both purple and green cabbage. It works like a charm!
BUY BAGGED MIXES OR USE A FOOD PROCESSOR TO SAVE TIME. Feel free to buy pre-shredded cabbage or carrots (it’s often in the bagged salad section at the grocery store). It can be a real time-saver! Or, shred it yourself in no time, use a food processor with a slicing blade attached. You can literally shred a head of cabbage in 30-60 seconds!
PALEO + WHOLE30 NOTES. If you’re following a paleo diet or Whole30 protocol, you can make this recipe Whole30 and paleo-friendly by swapping out the gluten-free tamari for coconut aminos. Rice vinegar is considered Whole30 compliant. Many folks who eat paleo have no trouble with rice vinegar, but you can swap it out if you like. Just know you may want to play with the amounts, since other vinegars (like apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, and sherry vinegar) can taste a bit more potent. Also be sure to use juice-packed mandarin oranges, without added sugar or syrups.