Mediterranean Chicken Salad – with a dressing that doubles as the marinade – is vibrant, hearty, healthy and 5 star delicious!
This Mediterranean Chicken Salad is a hypnotic, fresh, bright, satisfying symphony of SO many bold alluring flavors and textures that will have everyone swooning – my husband was obsessed! It’s loaded with succulent pesto marinated chicken, smoky salami (or bacon), juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, tangy pepperoncini, fruity Kalamata olives, punchy red onions, buttery mozzarella and creamy avocados all tossed in a vibrant pesto dressing. This Chicken Salad recipe is endlessly customizable, so you can add or swap in any of your favorite ingredients that you have on hand. And the best part- the marinade doubles as the dressing – no double work! This Mediterranean Salad is also prep ahead friendly for a hassle free lunch, light dinner or entertaining. Add a side of fruit salad and raspberry bars and you have the perfect summer meal!
We are loving chicken salads lately – all the fresh flavors and textures without turning on the oven! Some of our go-to recipes include Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad, Buffalo Chicken Salad, Mango Chicken Salad, Lemon Basil Chicken Salad and Greek Chicken Salad along with this Mediterranean Chicken Salad – you will have them on repeat!
HOW TO MAKE Chicken Salad Recipe VIDEo
Why you’ll love This Chicken Salad Recipe
It’s a fresh, zesty, satisfying explosion of all your favorite Italian ingredients. This chicken salad recipe is hearty, comforting and refreshing all at the same time thanks to the JUICINESS of the chicken, the CRUNCH of the herbed croutons, the CREAMINESS of buttery mozzarella and avocados, the MEATINESS of salami, the NUTINESS of the almonds, all balanced by the ZIPPY pepperoncini and red onions, and SALTY olives. My husband could not stop raving about this salad and went back for thirds!
It’s uber VERSATILE – add any ingredients you want! While we love the rainbow of ingredients included in this recipe – they are just a guideline. Simplify the recipe with what you have on hand or with any of your favorite add-ins.
The showstopping pesto marinated chicken: Recently I shared my Italian Chicken recipe with you which is the star of this recipe! This grilled chicken is zippy, herbaceous, ultra-juicy from a tangy, savory blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, pantry Italian herbs and spices – and the secret ingredient – PESTO – that inject the chicken with loads of effortless flavor.
Marinated chicken = easy chicken: I love marinating chicken because it is the easiest way to tenderize chicken and infuse otherwise boring chicken with tons of flavor. And bonus, the marinade does ALL the heavy lifting – all you have to do is whisk, grill and devour!
The marinade doubles as the dressing – AKA – no double work! Simply whisk together a large batch of marinade and separate out some for the chicken and some for the dressing.
It’s easy to prep ahead and toss together when ready to serve: This Chicken Salad recipe is fabulous for stress free meal prep or entertaining because you literally can prep everything in advance except the avocado. Just slice and serve.
chicken Salad Recipe Ingredients
This Mediterranean Chicken Salad is loaded with flavors and textures galore. If you find green salads boring, this recipe will change your mind! The below ingredients are what we love in our chicken salad recipe, but feel free to omit or swap in ingredients that you love. (Full recipe with measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.)
How to Make Mediterranean Chicken Salad
Juicy chicken is marinated in an Italian-inspired marinade before being grilled (or pan-fried) to perfection. It’s then tossed with an abundance of vegetables, briny olives, and Genoa salami before being topped with homemade croutons and sliced almonds. This chicken salad recipe requires some advance planning so the chicken can bathe the marinade before it can be cooked; otherwise, it’s a straightforward recipe that tastes fabulous every time!
Step 1: Make the Marinade / Dressing
- Whisk all of the marinade/dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl or freezer bag. Use whatever container you plan on marinating the chicken in.
- Remove some of the marinade to a jar to use as the dressing later on.
Step 2: Marinate the Chicken
- To the remaining marinade, add the chicken and turn to coat.
- Marinate at room temperature while you prep the salad ingredients (up to 30 minutes) OR refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
Step 3: Make the Croutons
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or a nonstick silicone baking mat.
- Add the cubed bread, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with spices, then toss to coat.
- Spread the cubed bread into an even layer and bake until golden.
Step 4: Cook the Chicken
- If you marinated the chicken in the fridge, be sure to take it out about 30 minutes before you plan on cooking it. This ensures that the meat cooks evenly once it’s on the grill or in a pan.
- You have two options for cooking the chicken: on the grill or in a hot skillet (or grill pan) on the stovetop.
- Whichever method you choose, I recommend cooking the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Then, remove it to a plate or cutting board and let it rest for about 5 minutes. The heat will carry over and finish cooking the chicken to 165 degrees F.
Step 5: Assemble the Salad
- Add all of the salad ingredients to a large serving bowl.
- Chop or thinly slice the chicken and add to the salad.
- If not expecting leftovers, drizzle salad with the dressing. If expecting leftovers, add dressing and croutons to individual servings.
Tips for the best chicken salad
Marinate chicken: You can get away with marinating the chicken for as little as 30 minutes if it is pounded thin, but the longer you marinate the chicken, the more flavorful it will become. I recommend at least 4 hours but closer to 8 hours is ideal.
Don’t over marinate chicken: On the other hand, you don’t want to marinate the chicken longer than 12 hours because the acids can actually constrict the protein fibers and make your chicken chewy.
Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking: Transfer the marinating chicken to your kitchen counter 30 minutes before grilling. Room temperature chicken cooks more evenly and quickly which translates into juicier chicken because there is less time for moisture to be released while cooking.
Use a hot grill: Heat up the grill with the lid closed cranked to the maximum temperature so it can achieve temperature more quickly; plan on 10-15 minutes. Once the grill is hot, you can adjust the temperature. Don’t add the chicken until the grill reaches temperature or you won’t get those beautiful grill marks.
Flip only once using tongs: After you add the chicken breasts to the grill (or grill pan), don’t touch them for a full 5 minutes. You need enough time for the chicken to sear and then they will naturally release from the grill. Once you can easily move the chicken, then you can flip it over using tongs.
Don’t overcook! Cook chicken breasts just to 160 degrees F. Chicken breasts are a lean protein and therefore can dry out if overcooked. Use a meat thermometer to eliminate all of the guesswork to achieve succulent, juicy chicken every time.
Let the chicken rest: Let the cooked chicken rest for 5 minutes before slicing. This gives the juices that have pushed to the outside of the meat time to redistribute throughout the chicken. If you cut into the chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
Use day old French bread for croutons: 1 to 2-day old bread is easier to slice without it caving in on itself and smooshing while you slice.
Customize ingredients: The salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. After you load a large salad bowl with lettuce, you can pile on your ingredients in whatever ratios your taste buds desire. Some will like less meat, others will like less cheese – your call!
Freeze chicken in marinade: If you can’t get to cooking your marinating chicken within 12 hours, pop it in the freezer. Freeze chicken for 2 to 3 months. When it’s time to cook, thaw the chicken and grill.
possible Mediterranean Salad variations
This Mediterranean Chicken Salad recipe is a rainbow of light, fresh ingredients, comforting, hearty ingredients and zippy, tangy ingredients and of course creamy, crunchy and crispy textures. Feel free to swap in your favorite ingredients, but try and keep the playful layers of texture and flavor.
- Alternative proteins: the chicken marinade would also be delicious on shrimp, salmon, pork or steak, so feel free to mix it up!
- Alternative vegetables: add any vegetables your heart desires! Asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, snap peas, etc. would all be tasty.
- Alternative cheese: swap the mozzarella for chunks of provolone, feta, goat cheese or gorgonzola.
- Swap salami for pepperoni: American pepperoni would give the salad a different flavor while still imparting that spiced salami flavor.
- Different nuts: I used sliced almonds to make this Mediterranean salad recipe, but pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, and so on would also be delicious.
- Alternative onions: use bright, tangy, punchy pickled red onions recipe instead of raw. They’re ready in 30 minutes! fF red onions aren’t your thing, you can swap them for chopped green onions.
- Add capers: a common addition in Dodecanese islands. Capers are actually flower buds that have been brined to mellow their bitterness. The resulting brined capers are tangy, salty, lemony doses of flavOR.
- Add radishes: thinly slice radishes for a spicy, crispy, zesty kick.
- Add artichokes hearts: tender, slightly sweet and nutty additions.
- Add roasted red bell peppers: for a complex roasted sweetness. You can roast bell peppers yourself or pick up a jar at the grocery store located near the jarred sandwich fixings such as pepperoncini. Make sure to drain the jar of bell peppers very well before using.
- Add sunflower seeds: can be added in addition to the almonds or instead of. Make sure to purchase roasted and salted sunflower seeds for the best flavor.
- Add some heat: spice up your chicken salad with jalapenos! Remove the seeds and the white veins of your jalapenos because these pack the fieriest heat. You can add the seeds back to the salad after you taste it and still want more heat.
- Add hard boiled eggs: for a Cobb-salad flair. You may need to google “How to Make Hard Boiled Eggs” as I have found some methods that work for some, don’t work for others. For me, I fill my small pot rim to rim with eggs so there is no wiggle room for the eggs to rattle around and break. I then fill the water so it is almost covering the eggs. I bring the water to a boil then reduce the temperature to low for 10 minutes. Next, I remove the eggs from the heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. At this point, I sacrifice an egg to see if it’s done, if not, then I cover the eggs for another 5 minutes or so. Once done, immediately rinse eggs in cold water to keep from cooking.
How to Serve Mediterranean Chicken Salad
If not expecting leftovers: Add all of the salad ingredients to a large salad bowl. You can toss everything together with the dressing or serve it on the side and let everyone dress their own salads.
If expecting leftovers: Toss all of the salad ingredients together in a large salad bowl except the avocados and croutons. Serve the avocados, croutons, and dressing on the side. This will prevent the croutons from getting soggy and the avocados from browning when storing.
Salad bar: If you have picky eaters or want a fun entertaining idea, then consider a salad bar where everyone can pile on as much or as little of their favorite toppings. Everyone’s a winner with a salad bar!
meal prep Chicken Salad
This Chicken Salad recipe is great to prep ahead for meal prep. You can prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time or just the dressing, croutons or salad ingredients. To prep ahead:
Salad ingredients: can be chopped 24 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator. I add the vegetables/olives/pepperoncini to separate paper towels, fold up the paper towels around the contents and place in sandwich bags – this keeps excess moisture away from the veggies to keep them fresh.
Croutons: can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time and stored in a resealable plastic bag with as much air removed as possible or in an airtight container at room temperature.
Marinade/dressing: can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If making ahead, take care not to use fresh garlic or herbs because they will only last a day or so in the refrigerator.
Chicken: can be added to the marinade up to 12 hours ahead of time. Or, it can be frozen in the marinade up to 3 months in advance. You can also cook the chicken and store it separately in the fridge for up to 5 days.
HOW TO STORE FULLY ASSEMBLED SALAD
This Mediterranean Chicken Salad can be fully assembled ahead of time if you layer the ingredients in the correct order and store the croutons, avocados and dressing separately. The salad should be layered with the wettest ingredients on the bottom (tomatoes, pepperoncini, olives, cucumbers) and the driest on the top (salami, mozzarella, almonds, lettuce) to prevent soggy salad. Cover, then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
How to Store Mediterranean Chicken Salad
If you plan on storing leftover salad, do not toss the salad with the dressing or the lettuce will become soggy and wilted. Instead, store the salad and dressing in separate airtight containers. The croutons should also be stored in a separate airtight container.
The Mediterranean chicken salad without dressing will last about 3 days in the refrigerator, although the wet ingredients such as the pepperoncini and tomatoes can soften the crunch of the lettuce a bit. The croutons will last for up to 2 weeks.
What to Serve with Mediterranean Chicken Salad
This Mediterranean Chicken Salad is practically a meal-in-itself with protein, veggies and carbs – the only thing left to add is fruit! We love this salad with a simple side of watermelon or grapes, or a slightly more elaborate fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, tropical fruit salad, melon salad or berry salad in honey mascarpone.
The Mediterranean Salad is also fabulous with your favorite backyard barbecue sides such as Baked Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, and Corn Casserole. It can also be served alongside any of your favorite meatless entrees such as Cacio e Pepe, Mac and Cheese, Mushroom Orzo, and Mushroom Spaghetti.
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Mediterranean Chicken Salad
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- 3 medium chicken breasts (approx. 20 ounces)
- 1/2 cup basil pesto
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tsp EACH dried basil, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, dried oregano, dried rosemary (crushed)
- 1/2 tsp EACH paprika, pepper, sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 5 ounces spring salad mix
- 5 ounces baby spinach
- 4 oz. Genoa salami, chopped (may sub bacon)
- 1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
- 3 tablespoons chopped pepperoncini
- 8 oz. mozzarella pearls
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
EASY CROUTONS (OR STORE-BOUGHT)
- 1/2 loaf French bread (preferably day old), cubed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 tsp EACH dried basil, dried parsley, garlic powder
- freshly cracked salt and pepper to taste
- Whisk all of the marinade/dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl or freezer bag (whatever you are going to marinate the chicken in). Remove a heaping ¾ cup to a jar to use as the dressing. Add the chicken to the marinade and turn to coat.
- Marinate at room temperature while you prep the salad ingredients (up to 30 minutes) or refrigerate for up to 12 hours. Refrigerate the dressing separately. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray or use a nonstick baking mat. Add cubed bread to the baking sheet and drizzled with olive oil then sprinkle with spices; toss until evenly coated. Spread bread into an even layer and bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until golden, stirring halfway through.
TO GRILL CHICKEN:
- Preheat grill to 400 degrees with the lid closed, clean and grease grates.
- Grill chicken undisturbed with the lid closed for 5-7 minutes per side, until chicken is cooked through. (Cook to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allow to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F.)
TO COOK CHICKEN ON THE STOVE:
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet or indoor grill pan over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add chicken and cook, undisturbed, for 3-4 minutes, or until deeply golden on one side.
- Flip chicken over, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for approximately 5-7 more minutes (depending on thickness of chicken), or until chicken is cooked to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allowed to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F.
- Add all of the salad ingredients to a large serving bowl. If expecting leftovers, serve the croutons and avocado on the side.
- Chop or thinly slice the chicken and add to the salad.
- Whisk in a couple tablespoons olive oil to the dressing if it seems extra thick (it will naturally be on the thick side due to the pesto).
- If not expecting leftovers, drizzle salad with the dressing. If expecting leftovers, add dressing to individual servings. Serve with freshly cracked salt and pepper to taste.
Tips and Tricks
- Customize ingredients: The salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. After you load a large salad bowl with lettuce, you can pile on your ingredients in whatever ratios your taste buds desire. Some will like less meat, others will like less cheese – your call! See post for all sorts of add-ins such as artichokes, roasted bell peppers, capers, corn, asparagus, etc.
- Salad bar: If you have picky eaters or want a fun entertaining idea, then consider a salad bar where everyone can pile on as much or as little of their favorite toppings. Everyone’s a winner with a salad bar!
- Storage: The salad without dressing will last about 3 days in the refrigerator, although the wet ingredients such as the pepperoncini and tomatoes can soften the crunch of the lettuce a bit. The chicken will last up to 5 days and the croutons will last for up to 2 weeks.
Meal PrepThis Chicken Salad recipe is great to prep ahead for meal prep. You can prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time or just the dressing, croutons or salad ingredients. To prep ahead:
- Fully assembled: This salad can be fully assembled ahead of time if you layer the ingredients in the correct order and store the croutons, avocados and dressing separately. The salad should be layered with the wettest ingredients on the bottom (tomatoes, pepperoncini, olives, cucumbers) and the driest on the top (salami, mozzarella, almonds, lettuce) to prevent soggy salad. Cover, then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Salad ingredients: can be chopped 24 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator. I add the vegetables/olives/pepperoncini to separate paper towels, fold up the paper towels around the contents and place in sandwich bags – this keeps excess moisture away from the veggies to keep them fresh.
- Croutons: can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time and stored in a resealable plastic bag with as much air removed as possible or in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Marinade/dressing: can be made up to 2 weeks ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If making ahead, take care not to use fresh garlic or herbs because they will only last a day or so in the refrigerator.
- Chicken: can be added to the marinade up to 12 hours ahead of time. Or, it can be frozen in the marinade up to 3 months in advance. You can also cook the chicken and store it separately in the fridge for up to 5 days.
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