~ This delicious chicken salad is bursting with juicy grapes, crisp apples and crunchy pecans, topped off with a you’d-never-guess-it’s-healthy dressing (secret ingredient alert!). It’s just as fabulous as a weekday sandwich or at a casual picnic as it is at a bridal shower, Mother’s Day tea or ladies’ lunch. It’s so versatile … we’ve got lots of tips and serving ideas, too! ~
Somewhere out there is a waiter I really need to thank. No idea who he is – I’ve never actually met the guy.
But he’s the key to the secret ingredient that truly elevates this chicken salad recipe to new heights.
You see, back when my twins were tiny toddlers, I loved packing up lunches and heading out on big adventures … well, as big as the zoo or the park gets – and really, with two little ones, that was adventure aplenty!
If you’ve been through the toddler years, you know that a mom’s lunch is usually scraps left over from whatever the kiddos just ate. So you’ll understand when I say that an ultimate treat in those days was when, alongside PB&J for the kiddos, I’d throw together a fruity chicken salad for myself. I’m not kidding – as a frantically busy young mom, that pretty much qualified as deliriously indulgent nirvana (as did Blueberry-White Chocolate Muffins, but that’s another story).
I’d quickly chop some refreshingly juicy grapes and crisp-sweet apples, toss in some crunchy pecans, and head out the door a happy woman, my chicken salad nestled between the sippy cups in the cooler.
But then I learned a
life-changing chicken-salad-perfecting secret!
Drumroll, Please … The Secret to the Best Chicken Salad …
On the topic of chicken salad (because, you know, I’m pretty much always talking about food), my dear friend said to me one day, “Oh, well you always use tarragon, right?”
“Oh, yes,” she assured me – tarragon was the key to the best chicken salad ever.
And that’s where my nameless, faceless waiter joins our story. My friend explained to me how, while attending a ladies’ luncheon at a local country club, she’d once enjoyed the most fabulously delicious chicken salad she’d ever tasted. The kind waiter whispered to her the secret …
… Yep, you guessed it … tarragon! Always use tarragon!
Now, I’m entrusting that whispered secret to you. Tarragon. Trust me on this.
From that day forward, the juicy grapes and crunchy pecans in my chicken salad were always joined by just a little hit of tarragon. And that, my friends, is the subtle yet decisive difference!
The Joys of Greek Yogurt Dressing (No One Will Ever Guess!)
After Gretchen and I started THK, though, I wondered if I could make one more tiny improvement. (Ya know – to earn the coveted THK stamp of approval!)
This improvement was all about nutrition. I really wanted to jettison the reduced-fat and olive oil mayos I’d been using through the years, and swap in Greek yogurt. Because, really, once you discover the versatility of fat-free, protein-packed Greek yogurt, you get kinda caught up in the exciting possibilities! (Ummmmm … ok … I realize that makes me sound like a total food nerd. I own that.)
So, anyway, I wanted to upgrade to Greek yogurt, but I was absolutely unwilling to compromise on nirvana-esque flavors. Could I do it???
I looked back at some of our other recipes, particularly our Greek Yogurt Coleslaw (one of our most popular recipes ever!), and I got to work stirring, adding, mixing and tasting.
The resulting creamy, tangy-tart dressing melds perfectly with the sweet fruit. My family didn’t notice the change. It was still a delicious chicken salad, so they didn’t care one bit that I’d made a teeny nutritional upgrade. I’m betting you and your family will feel the same!
And I guess that’s actually my second secret of the day: Greek yogurt. ‘Nuff said. Lucky you – two secrets today!
The Perfect Chicken for This Chicken Salad
One important note on the chicken for this recipe: I don’t want you to get hung up on what chicken to use, or to avoid making this because you never seem to have chicken on hand at the right moment. No, no. You need this chicken salad in your life – so do whatever it takes to make that happen!
What’s the perfect chicken? You’ve got lots of options!
If you’re grilling some chicken breasts or poaching, sautéing or roasting chicken one day, cook up a couple of extra chicken breasts so you can enjoy this salad for lunch all week. Easy! I just recommend that, for this recipe, you don’t use chicken that’s got prominent flavors from marinades or spices, as those might overpower the beautiful flavor profiles of the fruit and tarragon in the salad.
But you wanna know one more little secret? (Ooooohhhhh … that’s three secrets today!) Rotisserie chicken. When I’m short on time, I grab a perfectly cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. The breast meat from one rotisserie bird (skin removed, of course!) is just about the perfect amount for this recipe. Easy just got even easier! Love that.
So, if you’re keeping track … that’s one killer-good chicken salad recipe, plus three secrets! A mighty good day here at THK!
And, we all have a waiter to thank.
If you see him, be sure to send my regards.
Looking for More Healthy “Salad” Sandwich Recipes? Check Out …
- Egg-amole (Mexican Egg Salad with Avocado and Greek Yogurt) from Two Healthy Kitchens
- Italian Style Tuna Salad from Julia at A Cedar Spoon
- Lightened Ham Salad from Christie at Food Done Light
- BLT Egg Salad form Two Healthy Kitchens
- Avocado Tuna Salad from Davida at The Healthy Maven
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- 2 cups diced, cooked, skinless chicken breasts (see note)
- 1 cup halved red grapes (or quartered if the grapes are large)
- 1 cup diced apple (we prefer crisp, sweet apples in this recipe)
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- ½ cup chopped celery
- ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- ½ tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
- For serving: spinach or other leafy greens and whole grain wraps or toasted bread for sandwiches; greens as a base for a salad plate; or whole grain crackers or endive spears for serving as an appetizer
- In a medium bowl, combine chicken, grapes, apples, pecans and celery, stirring gently to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt, cider vinegar, tarragon, sugar, kosher salt, and mustard. Pour dressing over chicken mixture and gently stir again, just to combine evenly.
- Serve as desired, as a wrap, sandwich, salad plate or appetizer.
To serve as an appetizer: If you're planning to serve this chicken salad as an appetizer (with crackers or endive spears), you may wish to chop the chicken, grapes, apples, pecans, and celery a little smaller than if you're serving this as a sandwich or salad plate, to create a more finger-food-sized presentation.
Make-ahead tips: You can prepare this salad a few hours or even a day ahead, and refrigerate until serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated for another day or two.