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Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad

Cranberry pecan chicken salad is the ultimate chicken salad recipe. Perfect for lunch, dinner, parties or as a simple appetizer, this healthy chicken salad is going to become your new favorite recipe too!

This mayo free chicken salad is made with tahini instead of mayo and is packed with flavor. Naturally gluten free, dairy free and egg free this chicken salad is also paleo and Whole30 friendly!

Bowl filled with cranberry pecan chicken salad, apples in background.

Why you will love this recipe

  • Packed with flavor – this cranberry pecan chicken salad is the perfect combination of sweet, savory and crunchy, making it the BEST chicken salad recipe out there! Once you try this, you will agree! The apples and cranberries add just the perfect amount of sweetness to contrast the chicken and savory herbs!
  • Easy to make – if you have leftover chicken or turkey, you can put this salad together in just minutes! It’s a great use for meal prepped chicken! You could use rotisserie chicken or canned chicken as well.
  • Great for parties or meal prep – if you need to feed a crowd, especially at lunch, this is the recipe for you! It’s just as good the next day so if you need to make it ahead you can! Make a large batch for meal prep and enjoy all day long. If you are worried that the apples will get brown, you can wait to cut a fresh apple right before serving.
  • No mayo! Unlike most of the chicken salad recipes out there, this pecan cranberry apple chicken salad has no mayo! I used tahini instead since I wanted to keep this egg free and dairy free! You will love the creamy base from the tahini, I promise it’s incredible!
Ingredients to make cranberry pecan chicken salad.
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Ingredients

Chicken Salad

  • Chopped or shredded chicken – you can use boneless skinless chicken breast or chicken thighs or peel the chicken from the bone from a rotisserie chicken.
  • Celery – be sure you use fresh celery so that you get the crunch in the salad from the celery.
  • Apples – I like to use a sweet apple (fuji or pink lady are my go-to) to offset the savory flavors in the dressing. If you want a slightly less sweet salad, you could use a granny smith apple instead.
  • Red onion – red onion provides some contrast to the sweet apples and helps to balance out the chicken salad. If you don’t like raw onions, simply omit this from the salad or use green onion instead!
  • Pecans – pecans add another layer of crunch to the salad! You can use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds to keep this recipe nut free or use your favorite nut in this salad, it’s very versatile!
  • Dried cranberries – I like to buy dried cranberries sweetened with apple juice. This helps to reduce the added sugar but also makes sure the dried cranberries can add that sweet contrast to the rest of the recipe. Fresh cranberries would not be good in this recipe as they are too tart.

Savory Tahini Dressing

  • Tahini – tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. It has a similar texture/consistency as almond butter or peanut butter and is usually used in middle eastern dishes. I love tahini as a base for dressings as it makes the dressing thick and creamy and is so delicious.
  • Apple cider vinegar – vinegar is used to help cut through the fat from the tahini and balance out all the flavors.
  • Water – water is used to thin out the dressing so it can easily coat the chicken, fruit and veggies in this chicken salad.
  • Spices: Salt, dried thyme, dried sage, garlic powder – these spices give the dressing a savory note that pairs so well with the rest of the ingredients.

How to make cranberry pecan chicken salad

Start by making the dressing in the bottom of your bowl (for less dishes) or in a separate container so you can control how much you add and how creamy the end dish is.

Dressing before and after mixing in glass measuring cup.

Chop or shred the chicken. Add the chicken to a large bowl.

Chop the celery, apple and red onion into a small dice, add to the chicken.

Chop the pecans, you can either leave them large for a big crunch or finely chop them to mix in easier with the rest of the ingredients, that is a personal preference.

Add in the dried cranberries and stir all the ingredients together.

Cranberry pecan chicken salad before and after dressing added.

Enjoy immediately or store in the fridge for 30 minutes – 2 hours to allow all the flavors to come together and so the chicken salad will be very cold when serving.

Whole30 chicken salad in a white bowl with cranberries and pecans around bowl.
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Top tips

  • Great for leftover chicken or turkey! This is a perfect way to use up leftover chicken or turkey from the holidays or weekday meal prep! You can shred or cube your chicken depending on your preference.
  • Soak cranberries to make them plump in the salad. Dried cranberries can sometimes be a little dry, so if you want really plump cranberries in the recipe, soak the cranberries in hot water for 10 minutes before draining and adding to the salad.
  • Great for parties or meal prep! Prep this the day before for a simple appetizer or main dish for a party! Since this recipe is gluten free, dairy free, egg free, Whole30 and paleo friendly, many of your guest will be able to enjoy it! Serve with a variety of ways to enjoy like rolls, croissants, lettuce (for lettuce wraps), and crackers or sliced veggies!

How to serve apple cranberry chicken salad

Cranberry pecan chicken salad on lettuce wrap on white plate.

How to make chicken for chicken salad

  • Stove – add chicken to a large pot with enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and boil chicken 15-20 minutes until tender.
  • Oven – bake chicken in the oven at 375F for 25-30 minutes depending on how thick the chicken breast is. You want the internal temperature to be 165F. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs will take 20-25 minutes. Check out all my tips in this juicy oven baked chicken breast post.
  • Instant Pot – add chicken to the instant pot and cover with 1 cup of water. Cook on high pressure for 14-18 minutes (depending on how thick the chicken breast is) for chicken breast and 12 minutes for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If cooking from frozen, increase the cooking time to 20 minutes for chicken breast or 15 minutes for chicken thighs. Check out all my tips in this instant pot chicken thighs post.
  • Crockpot – place chicken in the crockpot and add 1 cup of water. Add the lid and cook high heat for 2-3 hours or low heat for 4-6 hours. Check out all my tips on making shredded chicken in the slow cooker in this post!
  • Store-bought – you can use rotisserie chicken. Simply remove the skin and peel the chicken from the bone. Chop into bite-size pieces.

Storage

Fridge: Store leftover apple pecan chicken salad in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

  • NOTE: If you are using leftover chicken, chicken is typically only good for 3-4 days after cooking, so this storage time could change based on how long ago you cooked your chicken.

Freezer: Fully assembled, this chicken salad is not ideal for freezing. The apples and celery will get soggy and discolored when frozen and defrosted. Omit the apples and celery from the recipe if you know you will be freezing some of the leftovers. You can always add fresh apples and celery to the defrosted chicken salad.

Spoonful of apple cranberry chicken salad.

Substitutions

  • Chicken: you can also use turkey as a substitute for chicken in this salad. If you wanted to make this vegetarian or vegan friendly, you could use 2.5 cups of chickpeas in place of the chopped chicken.
  • Celery: you can simply omit the celery if you do not have in on hand.
  • Apples: If you do not have apples on hand, you could use grapes, sliced in half for a similar sweet and savory chicken salad.
  • Red onion: Red onions add a pop of flavor and crunch. You can use sliced green onion in place of red onion or you can simply omit it.
  • Pecans: If you want to keep this recipe nut free, you could use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds in place of the pecans. If you are ok with having nuts in your chicken salad, you could also use walnuts, slivered or sliced almonds, pistachios, or cashews.
  • Cranberries: I like to use apple juice sweetened cranberries, you could also use dried cherries or raisins in place of the dried cranberries.
  • Tahini: Tahini is used to replace the mayo in traditional chicken salad recipes. If you don’t have tahini, you could try sunflower seed butter, almond butter or cashew butter in place of the tahini. The flavor will be slightly different but still should be very delicious.
  • Apple cider vinegar: This helps to balance out the flavors of the dish and cut through the fat of the tahini. You could try lemon juice in place of the apple cider vinegar.
  • Spices: You can simply omit the spice if you don’t have them on hand.

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Large bowl filled with cranberry pecan chicken salad.

Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad

Cranberry pecan chicken salad is quick and easy and packed with flavor. Perfect for lunch, dinner or parties, would also be great for meal prep or as a way to use leftover turkey from the holidays. This healthy recipe is made with no mayo and is dairy free, gluten free, Whole30 and paleo.
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Course: Lunch
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cranberry pecan chicken salad, whole30 chicken salad
Prep Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 5 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chicken, chopped or shredded - $5.99
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped - $0.25
  • 1/2 medium apple (Fuji, Pink Lady or Granny Smith), chopped - $0.40
  • 2 tbsp red onion, finely chopped - $0.10
  • 3 tbsp pecans, chopped - $0.48
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries - $0.50

Dressing

Instructions

  • In the bottom of the bowl or in a separate container, combine all the ingredients for the dressing.
  • Chop or shred the chicken, add it to a large bowl for mixing the salad.
  • Chop the celery and apple into a small dice, finely chop the red onion. Add to the bowl with the chicken.
  • You can finely chop the pecans for smaller pieces in the salad or roughly chop them for larger more prominent pieces of pecans. Add the pecans to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Add the dried cranberries to the salad (soak them ahead if you want them to be plump in the salad).
  • Add the dressing if it's not already in the bottom of the bowl and stir well to ensure all the salad ingredients are well coated in the dressing.
  • Serve immediately or store in the fridge for 30 minutes – 2 hours to allow all the ingredients to get really cold and the flavors to combine more.
  • Serve cold or at room temperature. See ideas for serving below.

Notes

How to serve apple cranberry chicken salad
  • As a sandwich: serve with bread, rolls or even croissants
  • As a wrap: Serve with tortillas or homemade flatbread
  • Veggies: Serve in a lettuce wrap or with sliced veggies like cucumber or carrots
  • Crackers: Serve with your favorite crackers, I love almond flax or pumpkin sunflower seed crackers.
How to make chicken for chicken salad
  • Stove – add chicken to a large pot with enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and boil chicken 15-20 minutes until tender.
  • Oven – bake chicken in the oven at 375F for 25-30 minutes depending on how thick the chicken breast is. You want the internal temperature to be 165F. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs will take 20-25 minutes.
  • Instant Pot – add chicken to the instant pot and cover with 1 cup of water. Cook on high pressure for 14-18 minutes (depending on how thick the chicken breast is) for chicken breast and 12 minutes for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If cooking from frozen, increase the cooking time to 20 minutes for chicken breast or 15 minutes for chicken thighs.
  • Crockpot – place chicken in the crockpot and add 1 cup of water. Add the lid and cook high heat for 2-3 hours or low heat for 4-6 hours.
  • Store-bought – you can use rotisserie chicken. Simply remove the skin and peel the chicken from the bone. Chop into bite-size pieces.
Storage
  • Fridge: Store leftover apple pecan chicken salad in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. If you are using leftover chicken, chicken is typically only good for 3-4 days after cooking, so this storage time could change based on how long ago you cooked your chicken.
  • Freezer: Fully assembled, this chicken salad is not ideal for freezing. The apples and celery will get soggy and discolored when frozen and defrosted. Omit the apples and celery from the recipe if you know you will be freezing some of the leftovers. You can always add fresh apples and celery to the defrosted chicken salad.
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Nutrition Information

Nutrition Facts
Amount per Serving
Calories
288
Fat
 
20
g
Carbohydrates
 
16
g
Fiber
 
3
g
Sugar
 
8
g
Protein
 
14
g
Where does nutrition info come from? Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy, sourced from the USDA Food Database.
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