This light Southern Chicken and Rice Salad is a satisfying dish that's perfect for easy summer dinners or a fancier lunch with the ladies. The marinated chicken, sweet fruit, crunchy almonds, and hearty brown rice, offer a variety of flavors and textures for the ultimate crowd-pleasing dish!
When faced with the sweltering summer heat in Virginia, the last thing that I want to do is prepare a hot, baked casserole for dinner. Instead, I crave cold, refreshing dishes that taste fresh and still include plenty of hearty, satisfying ingredients!
What makes this cold rice salad so special?
I basically just borrowed all of my favorite components from a classic chicken salad, but added brown rice as the base. The end result is a one dish meal that's filling and delicious, with layers of texture for happy tastebuds!
It's the perfect meal to bring to a summer potluck or picnic, because it feeds a crowd and you can prepare the rice salad in advance.
Whether you're a Southern lady who loves to host friends for lunch, or a busy mom who's just trying to get dinner prepped during nap time, I know that you're going to love this healthy recipe!
Tips for preparing a summer rice salad:
First of all, the shortcuts -- because we all love those!!!
- I like to use microwaveable cups of brown Minute Rice. It's fast, it's easy, and it doesn't require any planning on my part.
- You will notice that I marinate my chicken tenderloins for at least 1 hour (or overnight) before browning them in a skillet. If this sounds annoying, if it's too much effort, or if you just can't be bothered with taking the time to marinate and cook your chicken, I totally understand! While I love the flavor of the orange juice-marinated chicken, you can definitely use any other pre-cooked chicken as a shortcut! Try purchasing a cooked rotisserie chicken, or use leftover grilled chicken from another meal.
And here are a few more notes before you hustle off to the kitchen:
- You can substitute white rice for the brown rice if that's your preference. I like how the hearty brown rice tastes, and I think it holds up nicely in the dressing. However, white rice works too!
- I specify chicken tenderloins (rather than chicken breasts or chicken thighs), only because they cook fastest. If you have chicken breasts on hand, or if you prefer the taste of dark meat, by all means use something else. We're flexible here! You'll just need to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
- Wait to stir in the almonds until you're ready to serve the rice salad. Otherwise the nuts soften and lose that great CRRRRUNCH!
I hope that you, your family, and your friends will all enjoy this simple, fruity, nutty, and delicious Southern Chicken and Rice Salad this season.
It will be a welcome addition at your next cookout, and it will make weeknights (or weekday lunches) much easier when it's prepped in advance and ready to go!
More easy chicken salad recipes that you might enjoy:
- Curried Chicken Salad
- Dump-and-Bake Southern Chicken Salad Casserole
- Chinese Chicken Salad with Cashews
- Mexican Chicken Salad
- Mediterranean Chicken and Tortellini Salad
Southern Chicken and Rice Salad
For the Chicken:*
- 1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins (about 3 cups cooked and diced)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (or additional 1 tablespoon of olive oil)
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or sub with white or cider vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
For the Salad:
- 3 cups cooked brown rice**
- 1 (8 ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained
- 1 (15 ounce) can mandarin orange slices, drained
- 1 cup halved red grapes
- 1 cup diced celery
- ¼ cup mayonnaise***
- ¼ cup sour cream or plain Greek-style yogurt
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- Optional garnish: chopped fresh parsley
Prepare the chicken at least 1 hour in advance (or overnight):
- In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and orange juice. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and place chicken in a large zip-top bag. Pour marinade into the bag and gently toss to coat chicken. Marinate chicken in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (or up to overnight).
- Remove chicken from bag and discard marinade.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place chicken in the skillet and allow the chicken to cook on one side, undisturbed, for at least 4-5 minutes. Flip, and cook the chicken for about 5 more minutes, or until it is nicely browned on both sides and cooked through.
- The chicken is cooked through when the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F, or when juices run clear.
- When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the skillet and place it on a cutting board to rest.
- Once chicken has cooled to the touch, diced into bite-sized pieces.
Prepare the salad:
- Place diced chicken in a large bowl. Add pineapple, oranges, celery, and grapes. Fold in cooked rice. Add mayonnaise and sour cream; season with salt and pepper, to taste. You can stir in additional mayonnaise, as needed, to reach desired consistency.
- Stir in almonds just before serving. Garnish with fresh parsley.