I tend to be skeptical of mayo-drenched dishes passed off as “salads.” To me, they tend to be heavy on the grease and lacking in fresh flavor. This vegan chicken salad, however, changed my mind! You add just enough mayo to moisten the mixture and help offset the richness with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs.
You’ll love this retro vegan chicken salad because it has:
- The perfect balance of crunchy and creamy textures
- A nice contrast of sweet, salty, and herbaceous flavors
- Endlessly versatile uses, from lettuce cups to wraps, sandwiches, salads, and more
Key Ingredients In Vegan Chicken Salad
This salad is inspired by Ina Garten’s chicken salad veronique, a retro classic. I made a few tweaks to keep it plant-based and fresh — because that’s our business over here.
Vegan chicken: Make sure to buy an unbreaded variety. Morningstar Farms, Gardein, and Daring all make good options, with Daring being the gluten-free choice. If you prefer to make your own, try my vegan chicken recipe. You can also substitute chickpeas here.
Vegan mayo: As much as I love supporting 100% vegan brands, I’ve tried most popular plant-based mayos and my favorite time and time again is Hellman’s vegan.
Pecans: You can also use walnuts. They add such a lovely toasty nuttiness to the salad, don’t skip it!
Green grapes: I know this is controversial, but grapes are a classic addition to chicken salad. I prefer them to raisins or other dried fruit because of the fresh, juicy sweetness they bring. It compliments the nuttiness of the pecans so well and gives the salad a sweet-and-salty vibe that makes it so addicting.
Chives: Really, use whatever fresh herbs you like here. Parsley, dill, tarragon, scallions, or basil would also make good choices.
Celery: Finely dice your celery so you don’t end up with large chunks. You want it well dispersed throughout the salad. I love the freshness and crunch it lends the dish.
How To Make Vegan Chicken Salad
This dish comes together in just 20 minutes.
First, toast your pecans. Use a large skillet over medium heat and toast the pecans, stirring constantly, watching closely so they don’t burn. You’re looking for just a hint of browning and a nice toasty, nutty smell. Once you get there, immediately remove them from the heat to cool.
In the same pan, cook the chicken. Add a touch of oil and increase the heat to medium high. You want to cook the chicken until all the sides are nicely browned. Remove from the heat and dice it up.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat everything in the mayo.
Enjoy the salad served in lettuce cups, a tortilla, bread, or over a salad.
Why Is My Chicken Salad So Bland?
The number one reason for bland chicken salad is not enough salt and pepper. Properly season your salad to lift all the flavors.
Once it’s well-seasoned, add a boost of fresh flavor with herbs like parsley, dill, tarragon, and chives. All of these compliment the chicken and creamy sauce well.
Another reason your salad is bland could be the way you cooked the chicken. In this recipe, we sear the vegan chicken in a hot pan to get the outside nice and browned. Color equals flavor!
I love how versatile this chicken salad is! There are so many ways to enjoy it. Here are some suggestions:
- Salad: Pile it on top of chopped romaine for a leafy salad. Add cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever else you like in your salad! If you want it saucy, add some dressing — but it’s good without it too.
- Lettuce cups: Scoop it into lettuce cups for a handheld lunch.
- Sandwich: Slather it in between good sourdough bread with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions for a classic sandwich.
- Wrap: Add the chicken salad to a tortilla with avocado, lettuce, tomato, onions, and whatever else you like in your wraps.
Make ahead: If you’re making it ahead, assemble the entire salad up to 3 days in advance, but don’t add the salt. Adding the salt in advance will cause it to become watery. Just remember to salt before serving.
Recipe Substitutions and Variations
This recipe is flexible, so use what you have!
- Chicken: Replace the vegan chicken with chickpeas
- Mayo: Replace the vegan mayo with plain, vegan unsweetened yogurt
- Chives: Replace the chives with fresh dill, green onions, or finely diced red onion
- Pecans: Replace the toasted pecans with almonds or walnuts
- Pickles: Add finely diced pickles for a tangier chicken salad
- Curry powder: Add curry powder for a curried chicken salad
Vegan Chicken Salad
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 13.5-oz package unbreaded vegan chicken (such as Morningstar Farms)
- 1/2 cup vegan mayo (such as Hellman's)
- 2 stalks celery (diced)
- 2 tbsp chives (minced)
- 1 cup green grapes (halved)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- lettuce, tortillas, or bread for serving
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast the pecans until they just begin to take on some color and they smell toasty. Immediately remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
- In the same pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sear the chicken until it's nicely browned on all sides. Remove from the heat and dice.
- To a large bowl, add the toasted pecans, diced cooked chicken, vegan mayo, celery, chives, green grapes, salt, and pepper. Mix well to thoroughly combine.
- Serve the chicken salad in lettuce cups, in a tortilla as a wrap, in a sandwich, or over chopped lettuce.