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Chicken Fajita Salad

Chicken Fajita Salad bursting with juicy marinated chicken, bell peppers and onions with creamy salsa dressing! This Chicken Fajita Salad takes my insanely popular chicken fajita recipe and turns it into a healthy, satisfying salad.  It’s a fresh, vibrant, crispy, juicy, robust ,earthy, tangy explosion in every forkful, perfect for lunch, dinner, entertaining or potlucks. It's prep ahead friendly for a meal you can throw together in minutes when ready to serve. You can also customize the chicken salad recipe by using more or less of your favorite ingredients, adding corn, black beans, etc.  Now prepare to fall in love –this might just be the best chicken salad recipe of all time!
Prep Time 8 hours
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients

CHICKEN FAJITA MARINADE

SALAD

  • 2 small chicken breasts (1 pound) or boneless chicken thighs pounded to an even thickness
  • 1 red bell pepper, quartered if grilling, sliced if cooking on the stove
  • 1 orange bell pepper, quartered if grilling, sliced if cooking on the stove
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, quartered if grilling, sliced if cooking on the stove
  • 1 red onion, quartered if grilling, sliced if cooking on the stove
  • 1 large head Romaine lettuce (6 cups), chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 avocados, sliced or chopped
  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cotija cheese
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds or pepitas

SALSA SOUR CREAM DRESSING

  • 3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup medium or spicy salsa
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp EACH salt, ground cumin, pepper
  • cayenne pepper to taste

Instructions

  • MARINADE: In a large freezer bag, whisk together all of the Chicken Fajita Marinade ingredients. Remove ¼ cup to a separate freezer bag and add the bell peppers and onions. To the first bag, add the chicken and turn to evenly coat. Marinate the chicken and the vegetables in the refrigerator for 4 hours up to overnight.
  • DRESSING: Make the dressing while the chicken is marinating so it has time to chill. Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Add additional lime juice for a tangier dressing and cayenne pepper for a spicier dressing.

TO COOK ON THE STOVE

  • When ready to cook, let chicken sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Once very hot, dab excess marinade off chicken and add to skillet. Cook chicken undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, or until nicely browned (or blackened if you prefer) on one side. Turn chicken over, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for approximately 2-4 more minutes (depending on thickness of chicken), or until chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (don't overcook!).
  • Remove to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes before slicing across the grain into strips.
  • Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon oil to the leftover juices in the skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add the onions and sauté 1 minute. Add bell peppers and sauté for 3-4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add sliced chicken and toss to coat.

TO GRILL

  • When ready to cook, let chicken sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes. Skewer the quartered onions on one long metal skewer so they are easier to cook. If using a wooden skewer, soak in water for 30 minutes first.
  • Preheat grill to 400 degrees, clean and grease grates.
  • Grill chicken undisturbed for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through (an instant read thermometer should reach 165 degrees F). Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
  • Grill the onions for approximately 2-3 minutes on all 4 sides or until nicely charred. Grill the bell peppers for approximately 3-4 minutes per side or until nicely charred but not soft.
  • Transfer onions and bell peppers to a cutting board. Slice into thin strips once cool enough to handle.

ASSEMBLE

  • Add lettuce to a large bowl and top with chicken, fajitas, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocados, cilantro, sunflower seeds and Cotija cheese. If not expecting leftovers, drizzle with desired amount of dressing. If expecting leftovers, toss salad, serve and dress individual bowls with dressing.

Video

Notes

  • Chipotle chili pepper: is ground up dried chipotles and adds a smoky heat as opposed to just pure heat. It can be found in any grocery store along with the rest of the seasonings.  It is sometimes called chipotle chili powder or chipotle chile powder. If you need to make these Chicken Fajitas NOW, then you can substitute the chipotle chili powder with ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is spicier, so that is why you’ll want use less.
  • Liquid smoke: (really is liquid smoke!), is worth seeking out if cooking the chicken indoors, and I also use it when grilling the chicken outdoors as well.  I use it in many of my recipes from Mexican Chicken to BBQ Brisket to this chicken salad recipe. It is a very common ingredient and should be easy to find next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store.
  • Cotija cheese: is Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk that’s salty and crumbly, similar to Parmesan.  It adds wonderfully salty flavor and is worth splurging for.
  • Salsa:  use your favorite salsa or my homemade 5-minute blender salsa is spectacular.  I suggest medium or spicy salsa.  If you use mild, you’ll really want to amp up the flavor with cayenne pepper.
  • Recipe variations: see the post for lots of variation ideas. At the very least, feel free to add corn, black beans, jalapenos, pickled jalapenos,
  • Use a cast iron skillet. If cooking on the stove, a cast iron skillet will give you the best sear for authentic tasting, chicken for fajita salad. If you don’t own a cast iron skillet, make sure your pan is sizzling hot before you add your chicken.
  • Clean grill. If grilling, you should clean your grill grates before and after grilling with a wire grill brush to remove any residue. This will help create beautiful grill marks and help prevent the chicken from sticking.

PREP AHEAD

This chicken salad recipe can be prepped ahead so when it comes time to cook, it’s just 10 minutes to dinner.
  • Marinade: whisk all the marinade ingredients together and either store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or proceed to marinate your chicken.
  • Vegetables: chop the lettuce, slice the tomatoes, slice your bell peppers and onions and store in separate airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
  • Dressing: whisk the dressing together and store in an airtight container for up to 48 hours.

STORAGE

If you plan on storing the chicken 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 avocados should also be removed from the salad or better yet, not tossed with the salad initially and instead added to individual servings.
The chicken salad recipe without dressing will stay fresh for about 2 days in the refrigerator, but will keep for up to 4 days.