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There is so much flavor and crunch in this Chinese Chicken Salad with Cashews, making it the perfect lunch or dinner option! The homemade orange sesame dressing adds a fresh finishing touch to the sweet, savory, and satisfying meal.
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What Is Chinese Chicken Salad?
This colorful salad, also commonly called Asian chicken salad, has a variety of textures and flavors—especially sweet and salty. The base of the salad is shredded lettuce, usually romaine lettuce, napa cabbage, or a coleslaw blend of green and red cabbage. It’s topped with an array of colorful, fresh vegetables and finished off with a sweet orange sesame dressing. The combination of salty nuts, crisp veggies, and fresh orange slices will have your taste buds singing!
I serve this Chinese-inspired chicken salad as a make-ahead dinner, but the leftovers make a perfect lunch the next day. Plus, it’s hearty enough that even the men in my house consider it a real meal!
Why Is It Called Chinese Chicken Salad?
The name for this American-created salad comes from the flavor profile, mostly of the dressing used on the salad. The flavors of sesame, soy, and ginger are distinctly Asian-inspired. You’ll usually find Chinese chicken salad served with some variety of sesame-based dressing, whether it’s a sweet and tangy orange sesame dressing or a zesty sesame ginger dressing. Toppings also usually include a crispy element, like crispy chow mein noodles, ramen noodles, or crispy rice noodles—all of which come from Chinese cuisine. No matter the origin, the flavors of this easy and delicious salad are perfect for anyone craving an Asian-inspired recipe.
Ingredients for Homemade Chinese Chicken Salad with Orange Sesame Dressing
Below is an overview of the ingredients you need to make your very own Chinese chicken salad recipe. Keep in mind this is how I make my Asian salad—you’re more than welcome to adjust based on your preferences. As always, you’ll find the complete list of ingredients and directions in the printable recipe card below.
- Chicken: pre-cooked chicken works best for this recipe; grilled chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken makes prep quick and easy.
- Romain Lettuce: the base of the salad. You want crisp, fresh lettuce. You can use a mixture of lettuce and cabbage or just one kind.
- Celery, Bell Peppers, & Green Onions: these fresh vegetables add color and texture to the salad. They’re light on flavor but heavy on crunch and freshness.
- Mandarin Oranges: using sweet mandarin orange segments in this Asian salad adds color, texture, and sweetness that compliments the orange sesame dressing.
- Cashews & Chow Mein Noodles: crispy toppings that also add a hint of salt, which balances out the sweetness in the salad.
- Oil: a neutral oil is the base of the Chinese chicken salad dressing. Use a high-quality, neutral oil, like olive oil or avocado oil.
- Sesame Oil & Rice Vinegar: these two ingredients give the sweet and savory dressing its characteristic Asian flavors—do not skip out on quality sesame oil and rice wine vinegar!
- Orange Juice: sweet and just a little bit tangy.
- Dijon Mustard: mustard serves as a flavorful emulsifier that brings the dressing together.
- Sugar, Salt, & Pepper: seasonings to enhance the flavors of the dish.
What other toppings can you add to Chinese chicken salad?
It’s all about the toppings, friends! From the tangy dressing to the crisp, fresh vegetables, the sweet and juicy fruit, and the crunchy, buttery cashews, the combination of flavors and textures is what makes this Chinese Chicken Salad so delicious and satisfying.
There’s a whole host of additional toppings you can include in Chinese chicken salad: crunch carrots, broccoli florets, or bean sprouts are common ingredients. You can include any variety of crunchy noodles and nuts—from ramen noodles to crispy wonton strips, crunchy almonds, or toasted sesame seeds.
I modeled my Chinese Chicken Salad after the entree salad from California Pizza Kitchen that I grew up on. I honestly haven’t been to that restaurant in about 20 years, but I still remember that salad! The crunch of the sweet red bell pepper, the juicy mandarin orange segments, and the tender cooked chicken all work perfectly together.
How to Make Chinese Chicken Salad
This is one of those main-dish salads that the whole family will love. You can easily make a big batch for meal prep throughout your busy week, giving it yet another reason why it’s become one of my go-to salads!
- Make the easy homemade dressing by adding all the ingredients to a mason jar and shaking until combined.
- Toss together the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
- Dress with enough salad dressing to lightly coat all the ingredients.
- Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.
The Perfect Asian Dressing for Chinese Chicken Salad
The key ingredient, in my opinion, is definitely the toasted sesame oil that I use in the homemade Chinese salad dressing. It adds such a unique, rich flavor that I strongly urge you to use it in this dish. It just wouldn’t be the same without it!
And don’t worry — you’ll have plenty of other opportunities to use up the rest of the small bottle of sesame oil. From 10-Minute Oven-Roasted Sesame Broccoli to Cold Peanut Sesame Noodles and One Skillet “Egg Roll in a Bowl,” the ingredient will soon become a staple in your kitchen.
Have extra dressing? The recipe makes more dressing than I ever need, so save the extra in a jar in your refrigerator and enjoy it throughout the week. It’s so tasty!
Chinese Chicken Salad Recipe Tips and Variations
- Want to make this more kid-friendly? My boys like the “deconstructed” version — chicken, cashews, orange slices, peppers, and chow mein noodles — all served side by side in their own separate piles. Hey, whatever it takes!
- Using pre-cooked or leftover chicken is the easiest way to make this Chinese chicken salad prep even quicker. Use leftover rotisserie chicken (or buy a fresh one from the store) or leftover grilled or pan-fried chicken from a previous dinner.
- Instead of using just romaine lettuce as the bed of this salad, prepare a mixture of romaine, iceberg lettuce, and Chinese cabbage (red/purple cabbage and green cabbage) for a more textured variety.
- Instead of an orange sesame dressing, try another Asian-inspired salad dressing, like a sesame peanut sauce, a honey sesame sauce, or a classic teriyaki dressing.
- You can use either fresh mandarin orange segments or canned mandarin oranges in juice; either one works. I prefer canned, so I don’t have to spend extra time cleaning the orange segments.
Chinese Chicken Salad with Cashews
- 4 cups diced, cooked chicken (grilled chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken work well)
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1 cup mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 cup salted cashews
- 1 cup Chinese chow mein noodles
To prepare dressing:
- Add all ingredients to a jar with a tight lid and shake until completely combined. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.¼ cup sesame oil, ¼ cup olive oil or avocado oil, ½ cup fresh orange juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 4 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, Freshly ground pepper
To prepare salad:
- In a large bowl, toss together chicken, celery, lettuce, bell peppers, onions, and oranges.4 cups diced, cooked chicken, 2 ribs celery, chopped, 1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped, 2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped, 4 green onions, sliced, 1 cup mandarin oranges, drained
- Add enough of the dressing to lightly coat. Chill, covered, for up to 2 hours (or serve immediately).
- When ready to serve, divide evenly between four plates and garnish with cashews and chow mein noodles.1 cup salted cashews, 1 cup Chinese chow mein noodles