This vintage Chinese chicken salad is updated and adapted from my mom’s PTA recipe from the 60s. This modified and healthier version of Chinese chicken salad has all the flavor, but less sugar and is lower in carbs.
It starts with finely shredded Napa cabbage as the base instead of iceberg or romaine lettuce. Then add plenty of shredded or diced chicken breast, Mandarin oranges, scallions, sesame seeds and sliced or slivered almonds. A sweet (but not too sweet) Asian dressing is drizzled over everything. (This post was originally published on May 18th, 2012 and has been updated to contain nutritional information. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases)
What makes this Chinese chicken salad healthier?
I often hesitate ordering a Chinese Chicken Salad in a restaurant, because they can really pack in hidden calories with the super sweet dressings! My mom made this salad for PTA functions in the 60’s, when it was considered “exotic”. A lot of Chinese chicken salad recipes use the ramen seasoning package and cheap ramen noodles.
Those packets are loaded with chemicals, MSG and who-knows-what else. This dressing recipe is just as easy, but with simple ingredients. I also use Mandarin oranges that are canned in their own juice rather than “syrup”.
I’ve also substituted swerve for the sugar. (Although if you’re not on a low-glycemic diet, the original dressing recipe contains just 3 Tablespoons of granulated sugar which amounts to just a teaspoon per person).
The weather is starting to warm up again…salad days are here again. I could eat a salad every day, and usually do in the summer. There are no outstanding favorites for me, because I like them all, from Italian Panzanella and French Nicoise to Greek and Mediterranean.
How to make Chinese chicken salad
This recipe is perfect for leftover roast or rotisserie chicken. Shred or dice the chicken, slice the green onions on the diagonal, and drain the mandarin oranges. To save time, purchase pre-shredded cabbage. To make the dressing, heat the oil, vinegar and sugars just until the sugar dissolves.
Cool and refrigerate if you’re planning on finishing the salad later. Just add all the ingredients to a large bowl and toss with the dressing. This is my favorite large bowl for big kitchen jobs. This salad will hold for at least one to two hours in the fridge without getting soggy.
This recipe is also versatile!
Swap out the Mandarin oranges for fresh tangerines or diced mango, and cashews or peanuts for the almonds. I used to add crunchy noodles, but I find that the nuts give it plenty of crunch! If I’m making this salad just for the family, I’ll add fresh chopped cilantro. If I’m making it for a big group, I omit it, since cilantro seems to have a small fan base.
It’s my “go-to” salad for baby and wedding showers and will make 8 luncheon portions. If you’re serving smaller portions as a side dish for a picnic or BBQ, it will serve double that.
Some of the items used in this post are available at my Amazon Affiliate Store.
Chinese Chicken Salad
- 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons swerve (regular sugar may be substituted)
- 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/3 cup avocado or light olive oil
- 4 cups cooked chicken breast either shredded, diced or chopped
- 1 bunch of green onions slice thin on the diagonal
- 2 11 ounce cans of Mandarin Oranges drained (or fresh oranges)
- 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 cup sliced or slivered almonds toasted
- 1 head cabbage shredded. About 8-10 cups. (you may use pre-packaged cabbage as well. 2 10 ounce packages.)
- Combine the first 7 ingredients, rice wine vinegar to vegetable oil, in a small sauce pan and heat over a low heat just until sugar is dissolved. Let cool and refrigerate.
- For the salad, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss with dressing.
Elaine Houghton says
This sounds so good. I remember your mom making it back in the days. I will try it soon. Being that my Dr. told me I was a little to chubby a couple days ago I will try and take off a few pounds first. I love your blog and all your writings.
Elaine, try staying away from wheat products, cookies, bread, cakes, etc. for a couple of weeks…The weight will slip off!
Love this salad! Sesame oil is to go crazy for! Will make this soon – or will have hubby make it which is even better. Great stuff!
Denise…sometimes I add crunchy stuff too! Fried won tons, crispy noodles!
How many servings would you say this makes? I’m hosting a baby shower on Saturday 🙂 This and your chicken salad is on the menu. Also, I’m super lazy… do I have to toast the sesame seeds and almonds? 😉
I would say 8-10…I like the toasted seeds and nuts for the flavor, but you can buy pre-toasted nuts from Trader Joe’s.
Maggie @ Mama Maggie's Kitchen says
I’m just like you. I could eat a salad EVERY day in the summer…. with some cold lemonade. YUM! This looks great, btw. 🙂
@Maggie, Totally with you on that!
Instead of sugar, substitute with half the amount of honey or agave. If you want more ‘crunchies’ add some water chestnuts! Recipe sounds great!
@Elisabeth, good suggestions! I’m not much of an agave person…Honey would be nice.
Kristen @ A Mind Full Mom says
One of my most favorite salads. Love the mandarin oranges!
David @ CookingChat says
Good healthy idea!
I love making calorie “bombs” healthier David!
Des @ Life's Ambrosia says
what a flavorful salad! And I love that it is so versatile too.
Michelle @ The Complete Savorist says
I love this recipe. I know the dish you describe from the past, I love it and can’t help but eat it when I see it. But I have wanted to make my own healthier version. You’ve done it for me.
thanks Michelle…a lot of teachers bring the ramen seasoning packet version to school and it’s just loaded with chemicals and sodium…this one is simple and yet still delicious!
Megan Keno says
Christina @ Christina's Cucina says
I’ve actually never made an Asian style salad at home. Of course, when I order one at a restaurant, inevitably, I’ll say, “Why don’t I ever make this at home?” Getting in a rut and being a creature of habit is not good!
I really need to try this at least once! Thanks for the inspiration and recipe!
minus the cilantro! 😉
Christina Conte says
abso-frickin-lutely! haha! 😉
You are my hero for making this without the salt-laden bomb that is a ramen seasoning packet! This is going on my “to make” list soon!
So true Kimberly!
Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious says
A classic, well loved salad. It looks delectable! (P.S. Cilantro on EVERYTHING!)
Christy @ Confessions of a Culinary Diva says
Definitely a classic! Light and refreshing – perfect summer fare!
I agree Christy…definitely a summer time salad!
Yum! All my favorite flavors going on. A “must try!”
Carol, one of my family’s favorites!
This is a family favorite, I love it! The mandarins make all the difference.
So true Fabiola! I’ve used oranges in a pinch, but the mandarins make it!
Steph @ Steph in Thyme says
Crunchy, flavorful, crowd-pleasing picnic goodness!
yes Steph! And it holds up reasonably well since it’s made with cabbage instead of lettuce!
I rarely order Chinese chicken salad too but your version is so fresh and I love the swap suggestions you make.
Thanks Susan, I try to make these calorie bombs at home so I can control the ingredients!
Faith (An Edible Mosaic) says
I love Chinese Chicken Salad, but never think to make it at home! Your version looks so yummy – perfect for weekday lunches!
Faith, this is one of my favorite salads, and I like being able to have a healthier version at home!
Matt @ Plating Pixels says
Sounds so healthy and refreshing. Orange and chicken make such a great combo!
One of the girl’s favorite’s matt!
This looks spectacular! Thanks for the recipe!
Nutmeg Nanny says
This salad is so light and refreshing! It’s perfect for spring…yum!
Jenny | Honey and Birch says
This sounds great – I love all kinds of salads too. I can’t wait to try this with each of your substitutions. Salad ideas for days!
Looks very tasty and easy to prepare, thank you for sharing this recipe.
thank you Florentina!It’s one of my favorites!