School lunches. Are you ready for them? Well today I want you to think past the old standby of peanut butter and jelly (which I love). And I want you to take a walk past the deli counter (and keep on walking). Today I want you to consider chicken salad. Chicken salad is one of the most versatile lunch options around. It is so much more than just a mayonnaise laden sandwich filling. It’s a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with anything that your creativity and taste buds can imagine.
The recipe that follows is for my tried and true chicken salad. It’s one that I make on a weekly basis for my family. It includes ingredients that I almost always have on hand and is both kid and adult friendly. This recipe yields 8 hefty servings which is enough to feed two adults with normal appetites, three teen-aged boys with ravenous appetites, and leaves enough leftovers for the next day. You can easily cut the recipe in half for a smaller quantity.
Since back to school time is upon us, I wanted a fun little, kid-friendly way to serve my chicken salad. I found this perfectly sized star cookie cutter at my local craft store (score – it was only $0.99). It made perfectly cut stars from my bread slices.
I added some of my Apple & Kale Chicken Salad to my cut outs and topped them with a little note. Never underestimate how important your little notes to your kids are. Last year my 17 year old son showed me a box that he had kept since his time in first and second grade. When he opened it I was moved to tears. It contained every little note that my husband and I had ever put into his lunchbox. I was just in awe that he had the mindset at the age of six to keep them. Just wow! So, write some notes, send some encouragement, and remind them that they are loved!
While you can follow my chicken salad recipe below, you can also create your own. Below, I’ve listed a few guidelines that I use when thinking about what new ingredients to add to my chicken salad. I’m sure to select at least one item from each of the categories. This helps to ensure that my chicken salad is well rounded, nutritious, and super tasty!
I opt to use lean, white meat chicken. Instead of cutting or cubing the cooked meat, I prefer to shred or pull the meat apart. I find that chicken salad made of shredded meat holds together much better than cubed meat. No more chicken chunks in your lap or down the front of your shirt thank you very much.
Spinach, kale, and watercress are among my favorite greens to include. They are nutritious, delicious, and provide a bright punch of color as well. I prefer to finely chop all of my greens to ensure that each bite of salad contains some of the green goodness. Other great options include arugula, endive, microgreens, or Napa cabbage.
NUTS & SEEDS
The addition of nuts and seeds not only enhances the flavor of your chicken salad but provides for some much needed crunch as well. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, and pecans are among my favorite add-ins. Choose your favorite; just be sure to chop them into manageable pieces. If time permits, you may choose to toast seeds and nuts to bring out even more flavor.
I love adding a bit of sweetness to each of my salads. The fresh fruit that I add often reflects the season. I love adding berries in the summer, apples and pears in the fall, clementine segments in the winter, and apricots and grapes in spring. The possibilities here are endless. Just be wary of adding fruit, such as watermelon, that has a high water content. It will add unwanted sogginess to your salad.
Fruit juice sweetened cranberries, tart cherries, blueberries, raisins, currants, or apricots all make a wonderful addition to chicken salad. I do use dried fruit sparingly, especially if there is already a fresh fruit component in my chicken salad.
Something has to hold your chicken salad together. The obvious choice is mayonnaise. I like mayo, and it’s my fat of choice for this dish. Of late, I’ve been opting for a healthier, avocado based mayo. My suggestion is to use as little mayo as possible to get the results that you want. While mayonnaise may be the most obvious option, there are other choices as well. Ever tried stirring hummus or a homemade bean dip in? You should, because it is absolutely delicious! When time permits, I like to create a white bean puree with cannelini beans, lemon juice, herbs, garlic, and avocado oil. I then fold some of the bean puree into the salad. It adds great flavor!
Herbs and seasonings can really transform an ordinary chicken salad into an extraordinary one. While I typically use common herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, or an Italian seasoning blend, you can be a bit adventurous. Try adding curry, cayenne, jerk, or cajun seasoning.
Other flavorful add-ins include bacon, Canadian bacon, barbecue sauce, sriracha, feta cheese, sun dried tomatoes, pesto, cucumbers, and peppers. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.
HOW TO SERVE
The most obvious choice is to make a chicken salad sandwich. My favorite gluten free bread comes from Canyon Bakehouse. Their bread tastes like real bread…real, delicious bread. It also has great texture and comes in a variety of flavors. My go-to breads are the Mountain White and Heritage Style Honey White. The Heritage Style bread offers a larger slice of bread which my teenagers really like! You can also opt to simply add homemade chicken salad to the top of a green salad or eat atop of some gluten free crackers or rice cakes.
Gluten Free Apple & Kale Chicken Salad
8 – 1/2 cup servings
4 cups cooked, white meat chicken, shredded (about 3-4 small/medium boneless chicken breasts)**
1/3 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
1 cup diced apple, cored, deseeded, skin left on
1/3 cup thinly sliced celery hearts
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, ends trimmed
1 cup, packed, finely chopped kale leaves
1/2 – 2/3 cup good quality mayonnaise (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
Simply mix all of the ingredients together. Keep any extra chicken salad in an airtight container in your refrigerator. I would be sure to use up all of your chicken salad within 2 days time to ensure freshness.
A FEW HELPFUL NOTES:
- When creating your sandwich cut-outs, I find it much easier to cut the bread into shapes first and then fill them with chicken salad.
- To make my life simple, I typically place raw chicken breasts into my slow cooker, add enough chicken stock to cover the chicken by one inch, and cook on low until the chicken falls apart (4-6 hours). Then the chicken shreds up with ease.
- I prefer to have a chicken salad that is light on the mayo side, as is reflected in my recipe. Feel free to add more mayo to suit your preferences, just be sure to do so in small increments. The same applies to the salt content.
This post has been sponsored by the fine folks at Canyon Bakehouse, purveyors of the finest gluten free bread around (and that’s my honest opinion). I only work with and recommend brands that I love and use in my own home.
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