I fell in love with curried chicken salad when I tried it from a small Santa Barbara area sandwich chain called Panino’s. We would order office takeout from them every few weeks, and it was one of the days where I was more likely to purchase my lunch than bring from home because the sandwiches, salads, and soups were delicious! One of my favorite orders was the curried chicken salad salad, where they would basically scoop some of their curried chicken salad on a bed of lettuce and top with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was delicious, simple, and perfect to enjoy on a picnic table outside overlooking the vineyard. That office did have an amazing view.
Anyway, I found myself thinking about that salad the other day as the weather turned warmer and I imagined sitting outside for lunch once again. I would make curried chicken salad from time to time with leftover chicken while we were in California, but I wanted to be sure I got as close as possible to the Panino’s version this time. I pulled up the restaurant menu, decided what I would keep and what I would change, pulled out some ingredients, and got to work! That week we had chicken salad salad, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken salad by the spoonful, chicken salad on crackers… lots of chicken salad, but I had to get the flavor just right.
My major issue with most chicken salad recipes is that they feel heavy. Chicken salad is a warm weather food for me, or maybe fall weather, and the last thing I want is something heavy. Even though there is mayonnaise in the salad, I want it to feel refreshing, you know?
One of the ways I keep this chicken salad light, and add a twist to a traditional chicken salad recipe, is by using jicama! Jicama is a member of the yam family and native to Mexico, so it’s easily found in the United States, and typically quite inexpensive too. It’s delicious roasted, sauteed, cubed into soups, and eaten raw. When it’s raw, it has a flavor similar to that of an apple, only milder. So it’s slightly sweet with a beautiful crunch, and a perfect addition for this salad. I like it as an alternative to the more traditional apples.
I kept the dried cranberries as made by Panino’s because I prefer dried cranberries to raisins in just about everything. I don’t think I’ve ever made chicken salad with raisins because the sweetness in the raisins is overpowering for me and lingers. I don’t want lingering sweetness in my curried chicken salad recipe. I want curry. For nuts, feel free to use either toasted pine nuts or toasted slivered almonds. I’ve made this salad with both and it tastes excellent either way. You can also skip them altogether and add a little extra jicama, or maybe some pepitas or sunflower seeds (yum!).
The biggest impact on the overall flavor comes from your choice of curry powder. Curry powders are a mix of other spices to make a certain flavor profile. This salad calls for an Indian curry powder, use the mild version and not the hot. Depending on the brand, the strength of the curry flavor will vary, so feel free to adjust if necessary to add a little more oomph to your salad. The powder I used here was purchased from my local international grocery store, I have made this salad before using a curry from the regular grocery store and I feel like I may have needed to add a little more, but I don’t typically measure when I make this, so can’t accurately attest to how much I used.
You may make this with cubed chicken, or if you are like me and feeling a little lazy, pull out your stand mixer, throw all the chicken in there, and shred it. The cubes make a fork friendly dish like salad, and shredded chicken is great for appetizers and sandwiches. Now go make some salad and have a picnic lunch!
- 2 cups chicken, chopped or shredded
- ¼ c + 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 3 tbsp yellow mustard
- 2 tbsp mild curry powder
- 2 tsp honey
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts, slivered almonds, or pepitas
- 1 cup finely diced peeled raw jicama
- Combine the chicken, cranberries, almonds, and jicama in a large mixing bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, curry, and honey.
- Stir the dressing into the chicken and mix well to coat evenly. Adjust seasonings if desired.
- Cover and refrigerate at least two hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend.