Healthy zesty chicken quinoa salad made with poached chicken, fragrant herbs and crunchy carrot and cucumber. Given a final drizzle with a flavourful orange and chili dressing. Boring salads stand aside!
Salads are healthy for us, we all know that. But if you are like me, sitting down to a bowl of salad for dinner isn’t always enticing.
This recipe is healthy but is also packed full of flavour and texture. Texture is key for me!
If you want to cut preparation time, don't overlook the use of a ready bought roast/bbq chicken. Use the breast portion and remove the skin.
Ingredients to Poach Chicken
I give the poaching liquid a Chinese flavour twist. These are the flavours and aromatics I generally use to poach chicken. Don't worry they are subtle and I feel infuse the chicken beautifully.
- Ginger - fresh ginger adds a hint of spice and gorgeous fragrance.
- Garlic - a great aromatic, but the bruised cloves add only a subtle flavour, not overpowering the delicate chicken.
- Shaoxing Wine - Chinese cooking wine, you can easily substitute dry sherry.
- Dark Soy Sauce - adds a bit more of a salty umami kick than regular soy, but of course, you can use straight soy sauce if you have it.
- Dried Chili - using a whole dried chili adds flavour without heat.
Core Ingredients Zesty Chicken Quinoa Salad
All the ingredients in my zesty chicken quinoa salad are fresh, healthy and delicious.
- Chicken Breast - I recommend chicken breast as it is the leanest cut of chicken, see my additional notes below.
- Mixed Quinoa - a mix of red, black and white quinoa, of course, you can use your preferred type.
- Carrot - adds a sweet crunch.
- Lebanese Cucumber – thin skin, minimal seeds and crunchy. You can also use English or Persian cucumbers.
- Spring Onions - also known as scallions, add a mild fresh onion flavour.
- Mint - adds an interesting and lively twist
- Coriander - also known as cilantro, haters, feel free to omit.
Ingredients for the final touch, orange dressing
The orange dressing is free from additional oil or fat but packs a flavour punch!
- Palm Sugar - adds a caramel note to the dressing, brown sugar can be substituted.
- Red Wine Vinegar - a little fragrant acidity punch.
- Chicken Stock Powder - gives the dressing a deeper fuller flavour.
- Orange Juice - fresh and fruity, use freshly squeezed if possible.
- Star Anise - an Asian spice that ties the dressing back to the poaching liquid.
- Garlic - adds flavour, and will be strained out after cooking to not overpower the dressing.
- Chili - a little heat for those who like it, can be omitted.
Is Chicken Breast Best?
Chicken breast is my recommendation as it is the leanest part of the chicken and my choice for this recipe. It does have a tendency to dry out, but as you will be poaching it, it will be moist and delicious.
Chicken thigh is not recommended as it will be too fatty. Thigh fillets are wonderful for grilling and the BBQ. That little extra fat flavours and aids keeping the piece of chicken juicy and tender.
If you want to speed up this recipe, you can always pick up a BBQ/roast chicken at your local supermarket. Break the chicken apart and use the breast part, removing skin and any bones.
How to make fluffy quinoa?
- Firstly you should rinse your quinoa. Place it in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water for around 30 seconds. Agitate the quinoa with your fingers as you rinse. This will remove any saponin present. Saponin is a natural insecticide that coats the outside of quinoa seeds. It can make your cooked quinoa taste bitter or soapy.
- Use double the amount of water to quinoa. In this recipe I use one cup of quinoa, therefore two cups of water to cook it.
- A heavy-based pot with a lid is a must. But unlike most recipes, I do not cook my quinoa covered. It only gets covered in the final steps. Place quinoa and water in your pot, bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes. If you are cooking a larger amount of quinoa the cooking time will increase. Less quinoa the cooking time will decrease.
- Then simply take the pot off the heat, cover with a lid and leave the quinoa to steam in the residual heat for five minutes. Fluff with a fork, and you will have perfect quinoa.
How long does cooked quinoa last?
If you decide to cook extra quinoa or find you made too much, it does keep well in the fridge. Cooked quinoa will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge. Alternatively you can freeze it for 8 - 12 months.
I use the Sunbeam FoodSaver system at home. This extends the life of my cooked quinoa in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Other Recipes You'll Love
Quinoa Tabouli Salad - gluten-free and vegan
Cashew Cauliflower Falafel - baked not fried
Baked Maple Garlic Chicken Thigh Fillets - easy no-fuss mid-week meal
Teriyaki Chicken Burgers - when you don't know what to cook for dinner
The Origin of this Recipe
This recipe originally appeared on Belly Rumbles March 19 2014. It has had a solid re-write to make it more useful for you to make the salad. In the original post, there was quite a lot written about my then dog Sally, and not much about the salad. She was going through a battle with cancer at the time.
The salad eventuated due to a disastrous effort to make quinoa rice paper rolls. We will call it an epic fail.
I was over messing around and all the ingredients were thrown into a bowl. As all I wanted to do at the time was snuggle my girl after bringing her home from the vet that day.
Sadly Sally passed away in 2015, but this recipe lives on. It has turned in to a family favourite and the reason why it deserves a place on Belly Rumbles.
Zesty Chicken Quinoa Salad
- medium pot with lid
- small saucepan
- fine mesh sieve
- chopping board + sharp knife
- 2 (350g approx) chicken breast fillets
- 30 grams ginger sliced
- 2 cloves garlic skin removed and bruised
- 125 ml (½ cup) shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
- 65 ml (¼ cup) dark soy sauce
- 1 whole dried chili
- 180 grams (1 cup) mixed quinoa (mix of red, black & white)
- 2 carrots small diced
- 2 Lebanese cucumbers (English/Persian cucumbers) de-seeded and diced (leave skin on)
- 2 green onions (scallions) green onions, finely sliced
- 1 bunch mint leaves finely chopped
- 1 bunch coriander (cilantro) finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar
- 60 mls (3 tablespoons) red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chicken stock powder
- 250 mls (1 cup) orange juice freshly squeezed
- 2 star anise
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1 small red chili finely chopped
Chicken Quinoa Salad
- In a large bowl place quinoa, carrot, cucumbers, spring onion, mint, coriander, and the poached chicken.
- Pour over the orange dressing, mix well and serve
- In a large pot add 4 cups of cold water, chicken breast, ginger, garlic, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and dried chili.
- Bring to a slow boil and reduce to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat and leave the chicken to cool in poaching liquid.
- Once the chicken has cooled and is easy to handle remove from the poaching liquid. With your hands shred chicken for use in the salad. Keep covered in the fridge until ready to use.
- Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse quinoa under cold water, agitating the quinoa with one hand as your rinse. Rinses for around 30 seconds.This step will remove any bitterness from the quinoa.
- Place rinsed quinoa and 2 cups of water in a medium pot that has a lid. Uncovered bring quinoa to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for around 15 - 20 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid.
- Remove pot from the stove and cover with the pot lid. Leave to steam in its own heat for 5 minutes.
- Remove lid and fluff with a fork.
- In a small pot dissolve palm sugar in the red wine vinegar over low heat. Bring to a simmer and simmer one minute. Then add chicken stock powder, orange juice, star anise, garlic and chili.
- Simmer for 5 minutes, remove the pot from heat and leave to cool. Once cool strain dressing to remove and solids.
- Set orange dressing aside until you are ready to dress the chicken quinoa salad.