In my small Alabama hometown, a restaurant lives and dies by its chicken salad recipe. Heaven help the one that decides not to include the Southern staple on its menu. For the local "ladies who lunch" crowd, it is practically a food group, and it should not to be taken lightly.
There are as many different ways to make chicken salad as there are cooks, but as for me, I seem to like them all. I don't know if I've ever made the same batch twice; I am always tinkering with ingredients to my liking. And while my favorite recipe always includes sliced almonds and grapes, I'm also quite fond of "Chinese" chicken salad—you know, the bastardized version found in American chain restaurants around the country. (How it gained that moniker I will never know).
I've been craving something a little lighter after last month's heavy fare; my body needed a break from all the rich and hearty holiday foods I (over)consumed. This cashew chicken salad offers the perfect breath of fresh January air. Not only is it incredibly easy to make, it's bright tastes and colors tease of warmer weather. I love the paring of flavors, from the nuttiness of the sesame oil, the crunch of the cashews, and the sweetness of the mandarin oranges. And don't skip the fried noodles. (They add the ultimate finishing touch.) Wrap it up in a tortilla or serve it in a bowl—it's delicious either way!
Cashew Chicken Salad Wraps
Makes 4 wraps
3 cups shredded cooked chicken 1/4 cup mayonnaise 2 teaspoons rice vinegar 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon sesame oil 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/4 cup roughly chopped cashews or peanuts 1/4 cup sliced green onions (white part only) 1/2 cup sliced mandarin oranges or clementines, divided 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped red cabbage Kosher salt and pepper, to taste Fried Lo Mein noodles, for serving 4 wraps or tortillas
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, mayonnaise, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, and Dijon mustard until combined. Season generously with salt and pepper, to taste. Fold in the cashews, green onions, half of the mandarin oranges (the citrus will crush; you want this to happen), and the chopped red cabbage. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to marry. Taste and adjust ingredient amounts to personal preference. Spread a wrap with a dollop of chicken salad. Garnish with a few mandarin oranges and fried noodles and roll up, sealing with a toothpick if necessary.
(Note: This salad is equally good served in a large bow or as a regular sandwich; garnish with remaining mandarin oranges and fried noodles before serving.)