Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto

  • Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto
  • Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto
  • Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto
  • Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto
Posted on August 6, 2014

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

Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto

Serves 4

Chicken-Quinoa Bowls with Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto


  • For the Tahini-Mixed Nut Pesto
  • 1 cup nuts (I used a mix of hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • Water to thin

  • For the Chicken-Quinoa Bowls
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 cup mango, chopped
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 3/4 cup red onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 8 slices peeled grapefruit


  1. Cook the quinoa. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the quinoa and the water to a boil. Then turn down the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer with the lid on for 15-17 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool slightly.
  2. Make the pesto. Toast your nuts until they become fragrant (about 2-3 minutes) in a small dry skillet over medium heat. Watch them carefully and stir frequently, because they can easily burn. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of your food processor with the blade attachment, pulse together the toasted nuts and garlic. Then add the tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, pureeing until a thick paste forms. With the food processor running, add water a tablespoon at a time until the pesto has thinned out and resembles more of a sauce than a paste (I probably used around 5-6 tablespoons of water). Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (if you used unsalted nuts, you may want to add more salt at this point).
  3. Assemble the bowls. Transfer the cooked quinoa to a large bowl. Add the pesto and olive oil, tossing gently to combine. You can add another tablespoon of olive oil if things are looking dry. Fold in the chicken, mango, avocado, red onion and additional salt and pepper, if desired. Divide into serving bowls. Top each bowl with about 1 tablespoon of sliced basil and a couple slices of grapefruit.
  4. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

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