For decades, Chinese chicken salad has been one of my go-to orders at restaurants. Oddly, I rarely, if ever, order it at Asian restaurants. But it’s often a good dairy-free option on American-style or chain menus. We eat out a lot less these days, so I recently started craving this flavorful dish. Fortunately, it’s very easy and inexpensive to make! This particular recipe is also great for gluten-free and nut-free dietary needs.
Chinese Chicken Salad on Budget for Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Dinners
I originally shared this recipe back in 2009, but since I’ve started making it again, I’ve decided to update it. Here are a few ingredient notes and tips to help customize your perfect Chinese Chicken Salad.
- Sweetener: Brown sugar is my favorite in this type of recipe, but honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, or plain old sugar also taste delicious.
- Oil: The sesame oil adds richness and flavor, so I highly recommend using it unless you are allergic. But feel free to use your favorite salad oil for the base oil. I just lean toward olive or neutral-tasting oils.
- Greens: There are no rules. In general, I like to add crunchy green and/or red shredded cabbage, but I mix up the other greens. You can use Napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, spinach, etc. Most greens go well with the bold flavors of Chinese chicken salad. And I won’t tell if you decide to use bagged coleslaw mix and pre-cut greens. Confession: I’ve done it many times. No judgement here.
- Optional Add-Ons: If serving four or more people, I like to set all of the optional toppings out in bowls. But if it is just a party of two or three, I usually choose a few based on the group tastes. In this case, I might do sliced almonds or chow mein noodles, water chestnuts or cucumber, cilantro or green onion, etc. In general, I focus on covering the textural bases. A good dairy-free Chinese chicken salad should have a balance of tender, juicy, and crunchy elements, in my opinion.
Special Diet Notes: Chinese Chicken Salad
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, optionally gluten-free, optionally nut-free, and peanut-free.
For a vegan Chinese Salad, substitute extra-firm tofu for the chicken. Marinate it and cook as you would for the chicken.
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed or minced
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar (unseasoned)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar or sweetener of choice
- 1½ teaspoons sriracha or chili-garlic Sauce
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons peanut, olive, or grapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 8 to 10 cups greens (I use a combination of regular salad greens and cabbage)
- 1 large carrot, shredded or julienned
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced or chopped
- 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
- ¼ to ½ cup sliced water chestnuts
- 1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
- ½ cup crispy chow mein noodles (not gluten-free)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- If the chicken breasts are thick, butterfly them. Place the chicken in a single layer in a glass baking dish.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Drizzle this mixture over the chicken.
- If you have time, allow the chicken to marinade for at least 30 minutes or overnight. If not, pop them in the oven as soon as it preheats.
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- Bake the chicken for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is cooked through. The juices should run clear, but be careful not to overcook the breasts, as they can easily dry out.
- Slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces or shred it with two forks.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce or tamari, sugar, sriracha or garlic sauce, and ginger.
- Drizzle the oils into the dressing while whisking.
- Add the greens, carrots, bell pepper, and cooked chicken to a large bowl.
- Drizzle on the dressing and toss to coat.
- Add any Optional Add-Ons that you like and briefly toss the ingredients together. Or, serve the add-ons in small bowls and let people choose their own garnishes.
- Divide the salad between four plates, to serve.