Chipotle Chicken Salad

Chipotle Chicken Salad

This spicy Chipotle Chicken Salad is a complete flavor explosion with a sweet chipotle-lime vinaigrette, crisp corn, spiced beans, creamy avocado, tangy red onion, crunchy pumpkin seeds, rotisserie chicken, and citrusy cilantro.

Chipotle Chicken Salad

This delicious Chipotle Chicken Salad is a part of my mini-series “cook once” enjoy all week long with these homemade, from-scratch black beans. A quick run-down: grab some dried black beans and prepare them (I promise, it’s so easy!) in the slow cooker or instant pot at the beginning of the week (or whenever you’ve got a free moment). Enjoy those beans as a side dish that day for dinner and then use the leftovers in recipes throughout the week like this very recipe you’re reading!

Beyond this Chipotle Chicken Salad, I also share how to use those homemade black beans in these southwest egg rolls and these black bean bowls. Cook once and enjoy some kitchen short-cuts in the remaining meal preparation throughout the week!

Chipotle Chicken Salad Ingredients

Below I’ll chat the actual components in this salad (tips, notes, or alternative options) and in the following section, we’ll break down the dressing!

  • Green cabbage. For a great crunch and complementary flavor to the romaine, the cabbage makes for a fantastic salad base.
  • Romaine lettuce. When shopping for romaine, look for heads that are firm and heavy for their size (with tightly closed leaves). The outer leaves should be a dark green, look crisp, and hae no signs of wilted leaves or brown/rusty color. 
  • Black beans. We love the saucy-from scratch beans best in this salad (discussed in the above paragraph). If using those, drain off the surrounding liquid and add them to this salad. Alternatively, canned black beans work very well in this salad too.
  • Corn. We love raw corn on the cob — it adds a great crunch! For all the options on preparing the corn for this salad, see the “quick tip” box below.
  • Red onion. If you’re sensitive to the flavor of raw red onion, soak the diced onions in ice cold, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly before adding into the salad.
  • Cilantro. If you don’t love the flavor of cilantro, replace with green onions!
  • Chicken. While you can certainly prepare your own chicken, I like using leftover rotisserie chicken to keep things quick, easy, & flavorful for minimal work!
  • Fresh avocado. The avocado lends an amazing creamy texture to this Chipotle Chicken Salad. Wait for perfectly ripe avocados, as they make a huge difference in this salad. You can tell an avocado is ripe if it yields to firm gentle pressure (feels slightly soft, but not mushy).
  • Pepitas: Roasted and crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds) make for the best addition in this Chipotle Chicken Salad! They add a sweet and nutty flavor, similar to sunflower seeds, but a bit sweeter. You can make your own roasted pepitas or buy them at the store. If you buy them, make sure they’re roasted and salted (not raw). You can generally find them in the bulk section of a grocery store, or with other salad toppings like candied nuts and dried cranberries.

QUICK TIP

There is nothing that compares to good, sweet, fresh corn on the cob! That said, frozen (and thawed) or canned (and thoroughly drained) corn also works well. When preparing the corn for this salad there are two options:

  1. Add the raw corn to the salad. Simply cut the corn from the cob, thaw the frozen corn, or drain the canned corn and toss it in the salad. My family loves the crunch of uncooked corn kernels in this salad– plus, it’s easy!
  2. Char the corn. If you’d like the corn roasted or charred, cook it on a grill pan or grill or in a nonstick skillet. Here are more instructions:
    1. To char canned corn, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon butter or oil and then the well-drained corn in one even layer. Let it sit, stirring occasionally until you get a nice browning on the outside of the corn (I don’t stir often so it browns!). Remove the corn from the heat and set aside allowing it to cool completely.
    2. To grill corn on the cob, I have detailed directions in this Elote post. 

Chipotle Vinaigrette

This dressing is one of our absolute favorites — it’s a mix of red wine vinegar, honey, oil, herbs, garlic, lime juice, and chipotle pepper. It’s such a great complement to all the veggies and chicken in this chipotle chicken salad. Below are a few notes about this dressing:

  • For the chipotle pepper in the dressing, we use chipotle chilies in adobo (1 pepper and the accompanying sauce). You can find canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce in the Latin aisle of most grocery stores. See the section below on storing leftover chipotles!
  • Taste and adjust the dressing to personal preference. The chipotle is important to balance the dressing (so it isn’t too sweet), but add it slowly and taste as you go, so you don’t end up with an overly spicy dressing. Remember the dressing will taste spicier straight out of the blender but does simmer down when you add in all the veggies, cabbage, and lettuce.
  • While this dressing can be made ahead of time (and leftovers stored), note that flavors intensify and it becomes spicier as it sits
  • If the dressing ends up too spicy, try adding some more honey to sweeten and counteract the heat.
  • If you’re concerned about the spiciness of the dressing, use the sauce from the can instead of the actual pepper; it has the same great flavor, but much less heat. As a last resort option, chipotle chili powder can be used (I’d start with 1 teaspoon and increase to personal preference from there)

What to do with leftover chipotle peppers

There’s nothing worse than using only one or two peppers (like in this Chipotle Chicken Salad) and not being able to use the rest of the can before it goes bad. Luckily, canned chipotle peppers freeze beautifully! Here’s how to freeze leftover chipotles:

  • Spread a sheet of parchment paper onto a large pan.
  • Spoon out peppers with sauce, 1/2 inch apart, on to the pan. Place the pan in the freezer until peppers and sauce are frozen solid, about 1 hour.
  • Once frozen, the peppers and sauce will easily peel off the tray.
  • Add all the frozen peppers to a freezer-safe plastic bag, seal while pressing out any air, and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • To thaw, take as many peppers as needed out of the bag and let stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes or until thawed through (or pop individual peppers in the microwave for 10-15 seconds).

Quick Prep Tips

  • Grab packaged (shredded) coleslaw instead of cabbage to save some chopping time.
  • For the fastest possible prep time, I recommend buying rotisserie chicken meat that has already been pulled from the bones and shredded. I’ve seen pre-shredded rotisserie chicken meat at Costco®, Smith’s® (Kroger), Trader Joe’s®, and Walmart®. Grocers recognize a valuable service when they see it!
  • A lot of stores sell pre-diced red onion in the produce section. If you’re in a hurry, that can save a bit of time.
  • Use a salad spinner to have the produce for this salad dry in a hurry! (Besides, there is nothing that ruins a salad faster then being watery!)

Chipotle Chicken Salad Storage

Unfortunately, this salad doesn’t sit very well with the dressing and avocado mixed into it. If you aren’t planning to eat the entire salad at one sitting, toss and add dressing to only what you’ll be eating at this time. If you keep the dressing separate, this salad can store in the fridge for up to 3 days (with the exception of the avocado). The avocado browns and takes on an odd texture, so I add half the avocado one day and place the other half in a plastic bag (squeeze some lemon or olive oil on the exposed side) in the fridge until I’m ready to prepare another serving.

More salad recipes to try next time

Chipotle Chicken Salad

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This spicy Chipotle Chicken Salad is a complete flavor explosion with a sweet chipotle-lime vinaigrette, crisp corn, spiced beans, creamy avocado, tangy red onion, crunchy pumpkin seeds, rotisserie chicken, and citrusy cilantro.

Chipotle Chicken Salad

.wprm-recipe-rating .wprm-rating-star.wprm-rating-star-full svg * { fill: #33658a; }

This spicy Chipotle Chicken Salad is a complete flavor explosion with a sweet chipotle-lime vinaigrette, crisp corn, spiced beans, creamy avocado, tangy red onion, crunchy pumpkin seeds, rotisserie chicken, and citrusy cilantro.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (158g) chopped Romaine lettuce (~1 large head)
  • 3 cups (192g) thinly sliced green cabbage (~1/2 small cabbage)
  • 2 cups (280g) diced rotisserie chicken
  • 1 can (15.25 oz.; 432g) black beans, drained & rinsed Note 1
  • 1/3 cup (45g) finely diced red onions
  • 1 ear fresh corn (or 3/4 cup canned or frozen corn)
  • 1 large avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1/2 cup (18g) chopped fresh cilantro (measured before chopping)
  • 1/2 cup (59g) roasted & salted pepitas Note 2
  • Optional: sprinkle of cotija cheese and tortilla strips for extra crunch if desired!

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons (45g) red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (45g) honey
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (84g) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH: ground cumin, dried oregano
  • 1 clove coarsely chopped garlic
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (19g) 1 large chipotle pepper (with surrounding adobo sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Instructions

  • DRESSING: Add all the dressing ingredients to a small blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (I add about 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, but add to your preference.) Blend until smooth. Store dressing in a sealed Mason jar in the fridge until ready to use. (The heat from the chipotle pepper will intensify as this dressing sits.)

  • SALAD: Add the cut, washed, and completely dried cabbage and romaine to a large bowl (if either are still wet from washing it will make the salad soggy; I like to use a salad spinner).Add the remaining salad ingredients: chicken, black beans, red onion, corn, avocado, cilantro, and avocado (Note 3).

  • ENJOY: Drizzle dressing over salad and gently toss to combine. Once tossed, add a sprinkle of cotija and/or some crunchy tortilla strips if desired. Enjoy immediately!

Recipe Notes

Note 1: OR use these tasty from-scratch black beans
Note 2: Or add crunchy salad tortilla strips! Pepitas can generally be found in the bulk section of a grocery store, or with other salad toppings like candied nuts and dried cranberries. Make sure they’re roasted and salted (not raw) for best flavor.
Note 3: Unfortunately, this salad doesn’t sit very well with the dressing and avocado mixed into it. If you aren’t planning to eat the entire salad at one sitting, toss and add dressing to only what you’ll be eating at this time. If you keep the dressing separate, this salad can store in the fridge for up to 3 days (with the exception of the avocado). The avocado browns and takes on an odd texture, so I add half the avocado one day and place the other half in a plastic bag (squeeze some lemon or olive oil on the exposed side) in the fridge until I’m ready to prepare another serving.
Here’s how I store this salad to eat throughout the week:

  • Prepare the salad as the recipe indicates, but leave out the avocado and don’t add the dressing.
  • Divide the salad evenly into four containers, leaving space for the dressing 
  • Add the dressing to small containers or snack-sized bags and then add the sealed cheese and dressing packets to the meal prepping containers.
  • Seal the containers and store them in the fridge until ready to eat.
  • For the avocado: On the first day you’ll be enjoying the salad, halve the avocado. Chop 1/4th of the avocado and add it to the salad. Take the remaining avocado and squeeze lime juice over it all and refrigerate it in an airtight plastic bag. Add 1/4 of the avocado each day, slicing off the top layer if it’s browned.
  • To enjoy a portion of salad each day: Add the avocado, pour the dressing over everything, toss to combine, and enjoy!

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