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Simple But Oh So Tasty, Chicken Pesto Salad

by | Jul 25, 2022 | Recipes

This 15-minute deliciously simple Chicken Pesto Salad is the perfect main dish to make for Summer! Bright, salty basil pesto combined with a dollop of mayo make a creamy dressing that envelops chopped or shredded chicken. Serve as is or add in diced celery and red onions for crunch and texture.

close up of chicken pesto salad on seeded toast

An easy and flavorful meal, this Pesto Chicken Salad is one of my all-time favorite ways to use up leftover grilled or pan-fried chicken. It’s one of those dishes that can be made several days in advance; making it perfect for when peak Summer heat zaps your energy and any desire to cook. I also love how versatile this chicken salad is because it makes life easier without sacrificing variety throughout the week.

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INGREDIENTS    TIPS & TRICKS    HOW-TO    RECIPE

Chicken Pesto Salad

There’s a saying about how constraints give way to innovation. I think it applies to our journeys with food as well. Well into my twenties, I was never big into the tuna, chicken, and egg salads of the world. I’ve always had a pretty big aversion to mayonnaise. And it seems that every “salad” like this is literally drowning in mayo. But one day, about 10 years ago, I was strapped for food options. Whenever working on a tight project deadline, I would hop on over to a cafe that was the one option within walking distance of my office. And every time, I would order their turkey burger. It was juicy, took less than 10 minutes, and it didn’t hurt that it was also the cheapest thing on the menu.

But after about 15 turkey burgers in 6 weeks’ time, I pretty much never wanted to see another turkey burger in my lifetime. I needed to find a new go-to, and stat since our deadlines wouldn’t be loosening any time soon! I stumbled upon pesto chicken salad by accident only because the cafe listed the sandwich as a Pesto Chicken Sandwich. Silly me thought this would be grilled chicken slathered in pesto and plopped on a bun. Imagine my surprise when I opened the foil wrapper to find shredded chicken enveloped in a green creamy sauce! I had no time to go back to the cafe, so I gave it a try. And I’m so glad that I did!!

chopped chicken with red onion, celery, mayo, and pesto in a bowl

Since then, I’ve been a fan of chicken pesto salad and making it in various incarnations over the years. It’s a staple meal during the Summer because when it’s hot, I’m rarely motivated to cook and we generally have leftover grilled chicken from firing up the barbecue at some point in the week. If you want to make this recipe even more low key and prefer a smoother chicken salad, then pull your chicken apart into a couple of chunks and toss everything together into a food processor to break it down and combine it together. But I myself like the texture better when I chop the chicken into large chunks (for a salad topping) or a small dice (like in the pictures of this post).

Gonna try out this recipe?

Leave a star rating or review in the comments to let me know what you think!

Ingredients For Chicken Pesto Salad

overhead shot of ingredients to make chicken pesto salad

…a few notes about ingredients and making this 15-minute Pesto Chicken Salad…

I like to combine the basil pesto with mayonnaise, but if you don’t mind a slight tang you can opt to use plain greek yogurt or even sour cream instead. Personally, I really dig having texture when it comes to dishes like this pesto chicken salad, which is why I dice my onion and celery. If you like the flavor of onion and celery but don’t want the texture, grate them using the fine side of the cheese grater until you have half the amounts listed in the recipe. It’s super easy to get a lot of flavor out of onion and celery when you break down their cellular walls, which is what the grater does for you. So you’ll get the same amount of flavor as if you used the full amount in the recipe.

Chicken pesto salad recipe pin for Pinterest

Pin this recipe to make later!

close up of chicken pesto salad

Recipe Notes, Tips & Tricks

Ingredient Swaps & Variations – If you want crunch in your pesto chicken salad but aren’t a fan of onions or celery, then give diced sweet bell peppers a try. When Summer’s in full effect and so are ripe tomatoes, I like to toss in some halved or quartered cherry tomatoes. They give a bright, juicy burst of extra flavor to this chicken salad.

Ways to Use Chicken Pesto Salad Leftovers – This chicken salad can be used in so many ways! It’s great for a quick sandwich or wrap, an excellent (and flavorful) way to add protein to a mixed green salad, and a satisfying option for a snack plate-style lunch eaten with crackers. You could also use it to make a riff on an avocado toast (or WITH avocado toast!). Wanna turn this deliciousness into a dip for a party platter? Add your leftover pesto chicken salad to a food processor along with an extra dollop of pesto and mayo. Then, blitz it into a creamy puree.

How to Make Chicken Pesto Salad

Step 1. Chop or shred your cooked chicken and then add the chicken to a large bowl.

chopped chicken in a bowl

Step 2. Finely dice your red onion and celery. Then add the onion and celery along with your pesto and mayo to the bowl with the chicken.

chicken pesto salad ingredients in a bowl

Step 3. Mix well to thoroughly combine everything.

ingredients of chicken pesto salad mixed together

Ta-da! You’re done. You just made a 15-minute, protein-packed meal that’s bursting with flavor and ready to go distance. It’s great as a sandwich filling between two slices of whole grain toast or wrapped up in a tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes, and some mozzarella cheese. It also perfectly complements a mixed green salad for the days when you’re looking for a light, but filling meal. And, it’s honestly pretty damn good just digging into it with some crispy crackers, sliced cucumber, or sliced carrots.

overhead shot of an open-faced chicken pesto salad sandwich

If you make this recipe, tag me in your photos on Instagram—I love seeing what you guys decided to make!

Frequently Asked Questions

How far in advance can I make this Pesto Chicken Salad?

This chicken salad will last up to 7 days in the refrigerator and while delicious on the first day, only gets better with time. So, you can easily make this up to 5-6 days in advance.

Any ideas for how to turn this Pesto Chicken Salad into an easy appetizer?

Yes!!! Two simple appetizer ideas where you can use this chicken salad. First, pesto chicken salad filled mini bell peppers! Slice the peppers in half length-wise and remove the seeds. Then, fill with the chicken salad. Second, pesto chicken salad mini toasts! Slice a large baguette on the diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices and toast the slices under the broiler of your oven. Then, spread a couple of generous tablespoons of chicken salad on your toasts. Finally, top with freshly sliced ribbons of basil and a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella or grated parmesan cheese.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

close up of chicken pesto salad on seeded toast

Chicken Pesto Salad

Yield: About 2 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

A quick and deliciously simple meal, this Chicken Pesto Salad combines basil pesto and mayonnaise to create a creamy dressing and mixes in red onion and celery for the perfect amount of crunch and texture.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 cooked chicken breasts
  • 1 quarter-inch slice of red onion
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • 1/4 c pesto
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise

Instructions

1. Roughly chop the cooked chicken into 1/2-inch cubes. Alternatively, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

2. Add the chicken to a large mixing bowl.

3. Finely dice the onion and celery, then add them to the mixing bowl.

4. Add the pesto and mayonnaise to the mixing bowl.

5. Use a large spoon to mix everything well.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 230Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 58mgSodium: 171mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 21g

This nutrition data is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. Please keep in mind that your specific nutritional values may vary based on the brand of ingredients you use to make this recipe.

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About photo

Hey there! I’m Krystal, the sassy-mouthed, self-taught, home cook behind the content here at Sweet, Savory & Sassy. I have a deep love for sharing food with people and showing folks just how easy it really is to make dishes that will bring a little extra joy to those you love. There’s nothing like making something special for friends and family and seeing their face light up in delight during that first bite!
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2 Comments

  1. Karla J Iaeger

    This looks yummy for lunch. I will try it for myself as my other half wouldn’t like it. Do you have a recipe for homemade pesto?

    Reply
    • Krystal

      A couple years ago, I had a massive amount of basil come out of my garden and so I started experimenting with making pesto at home. Sadly this year, no Summer gardening. So I’ve been sticking to jarred pesto. Trader Joe’s makes a good pesto that’s very affordable; I tend to use theirs or Classico brand pesto. Two of the recipes I looked to for guidance as I began experimenting with making pesto from scratch are this one from the NY Times’ Cooking section and this one from Epicurious. They both produced very tasty pestos!

      Reply

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