Every time we would pay a visit to my grandparents in Michigan, my grandmother would have a chicken salad waiting for us when we arrived (or chicken soup if it was winter). We almost always traveled there by car (= Liz getting car sick every single time), so I guess she figured we would be pretty hungry when we arrived (maybe, if I hadn’t gotten car sick…..every.single.time).
The chicken salad that I’m remembering was rice based with shredded chicken, canned mandarin oranges and pineapple and maybe some celery or grapes (it’s kind of hazy now). It was a pretty commonly served “luncheon” style salad back in the day. And oh my gosh the mayonnaise. The whole salad was heavily coated with the stuff. And therein lies the problem. Because even as a kid, I had a strong aversion to mayonnaise (I guess you can say I have good instincts). So I never really ate the salad that my grandmother made. I would push it around my plate and try to pass some of it off on my mom or dad so I didn’t look like an ungrateful little monster. But I don’t think anybody was fooled…..
Oh and sometimes my mom would make a version of this salad, completely skipping the mayonnaise in an attempt to create something that I would find more edible. But now you have a fairly dry salad on your hands. Not really a good fix.
Where the heck am I going with all this. I promise I have a point!
OK. Here it is. Some of my Michigan relatives were in Seattle this past week, causing me to reminisce about my visits there as a child. And this salad kind of jumped into my head. So I decided once and for all, it was time to reinvent it.
To create a creamy chicken salad without the mayonnaise, I used a tahini-based pesto. It was my first time using tahini in a pesto, and I must say I’m pretty smitten with the whole thing. It is wonderfully creamy and nutty and rich tasting. I also updated all the other ingredients, swapping out the rice for protein-packed quinoa and using fresh mango, avocado and grapefruit in place of the canned fruits. So much better. And Liz approved! The only thing I would do differently is toss in some additional greens, so feel free to do so if the mood strikes you.
For the chicken, I used one of those all ready cooked rotisserie chickens you can get from the grocery store. They are probably my favorite kitchen shortcut. The meat is always tender and flavorful. And you don’t have to spend hours cooking a chicken. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE making a big roast chicken. But not in the summer. In this heat, the only reason my oven will be running for over an hour is if there is pie involved. Or cake.
Recipe for the Tahini-Pesto slightly adapted from Love and Lemons