This week has gotten off to an unconventional start as we prepare for an across-town move that is set to take place on Saturday. Boxes are being filled, the walls are starting to go bare, and we are doing our best to eat down the contents of the fridge and pantry. It’s always interesting what we find on those rare occasions when we clean everything out. I find myself asking questions like, “Why is there a Ziploc bag containing only 5 fishy crackers in the pantry?” and “How many years has this box of instant tapioca been open?”
In our efforts to purge, some unique dinner combinations have come on the scene. Last night featured a dish that was a bit of a cross between egg drop soup and pho, and tonight I’ll be making Ham and Potato Soup in order to use the last of the pork that’s been taking up residence in my freezer since Easter. I tend to purchase boneless skinless chicken breasts in bulk when I can get a good deal on them, and this pesto chicken salad I made a few days ago was an easy way to turn them into something scrumptious.
This recipe features items that I keep on hand nearly all the time, so it was no big deal to whip up a batch. It was originally introduced to me by my friend, Lauren, a couple years ago, and I’ve since made some modifications to suit my taste and preference. I’ve made it a few times recently, once using a jarred pesto and another time with a homemade version, and the difference in flavor was substantial. The store bought pesto produced a result that was heavy and dull, and it seemed no matter how much citrus I added, I couldn’t get it to perk up. The homemade pesto, on the other hand, is naturally fresh and bursting with herby goodness. Make your own if you can; you won’t regret it!
Walnuts, red bell pepper, and celery are added to the chicken, providing gobs of nutrition, crunch, and color. Mayo and Greek yogurt combine to make a dressing base that is creamy without being heavy, and the fresh pesto and lemon pack it with flavor. I love that this salad is easy enough for everyday yet fancy enough for a Mother’s Day brunch.
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2/3 cup homemade basil pesto (see note in the Tips and Tidbits section below)
- Juice from one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
- Finely grated zest from one lemon
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 4 cups cubed cooked chicken
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced red bell peppers
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, pesto, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper until combined.
- Place the chopped walnuts in a dry skillet over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until fragrant, shaking the pan occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Combine the toasted walnuts, cubed chicken, celery, and red bell pepper in a large mixing bowl; pour the pesto dressing over the ingredients and toss to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
- You may serve the salad immediately or refrigerate for 1-2 hours to chill. It is scrumptious on a bed of greens, tucked between a couple slices of toasted bread, or my personal favorite – straight up with a fork.
Adapted from Cooking Light.
Tips and Tidbits
- With this chicken salad, fresh pesto makes all the difference! I find myself going back to Food Network’s recipe time and again, except I reduce the amount of olive oil and substitute almonds for the pine nuts since they provide a great nutty flavor at a fraction of the cost. Pesto is something that is nice to have on hand, so I often make a double batch and freeze it in ice cube trays until I need it. (Note that the Food Network recipe calls for adding certain ingredients at different times if the pesto will be frozen. I don’t fiddle with that and instead blend everything together at once.)
- In terms of the cubed cooked chicken, you can use meat from a variety of sources. Leftover rotisserie chicken works well, or just season skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs with salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven for 50-55 minutes at 375 degrees. If all I have is frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, I’ll toss a few in a covered skillet and cook them gently over medium heat until they are cooked through. And when time is of the essence, drained canned chicken breast works like a charm.
- Like most of the recipes I post here, there is a lot of freedom to add and subtract ingredients to suite your preference. Want to use fresh grape tomatoes instead of red bell pepper? Go ahead! Thinking of tossing in some diced red onion? Sounds delish. You are the boss in your own kitchen, so make your own rules and cook what you love!