California chicken salad is an easy lunch salad recipe loaded with tender chicken, juicy grapes, poppy seeds, and crunchy pecans. Sonoma chicken salad is a colorful mixture of textures and flavors tossed together with a sweet and creamy Greek yogurt dressing. Perfect for a quick, on-the-go lunch and meal prep.
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Homemade Sonoma chicken salad
This California chicken salad starts with a plethora of aromas and textures. It’s made with chicken, refreshing grapes, crunchy celery, toasted pecans, topped with a poppy seed and honey yogurt dressing.
Let me go ahead and emphasize that this yogurt dressing is incredibly scrumptious! It’s a delightful addition to any salad, and the combination of sweet, creamy, and little tangy is something you’ll be making regularly.
Cold chicken salad is fantastic for lunches on the go and meal prep. You can layer the different components into a mason jar or Tupperware and keep the dressing in a small jar. When it’s time to eat, just pour the salad sauce into the container, seal, shake, and enjoy your quick meal.
What is California chicken salad?
California chicken salad, aka Sonoma chicken salad, is a classic Whole Foods Market dish. The salad is made with chicken breasts, red grapes, celery, and pecans in a creamy mayonnaise and poppy seed dressing.
I’m not the biggest fan of salads that are drenched in mayonnaise, so I opted for plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo. By making this simple switch, you’ll end up with a lighter chicken salad that still has a delicious creaminess.
Although this California chicken salad is loaded with complex flavors, the ingredient list is pretty simple. It’s definitely an easy lunch recipe. Here’s your shopping list! (Note: You can find the full ingredient amounts in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.)
For the salad
- Chicken: You need boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this recipe. Feel free to use shredded chicken or roasted chicken breasts to cut back on prep time.
- Red grapes add great color and a refreshing fruitiness to the salad. Green, black, or rose grapes are great substitutions.
- Celery is a classic chicken salad ingredient, and you’ll need a few celery stalks into thin slices.
- Pecans produce a delicious crunch and earthiness. I like to toast the pecans, but unroasted works too.
For the dressing
- Greek yogurt: I lightened this salad with plain Greek yogurt to create the base of the creamy salad dressing. I like the slight tang yogurt introduces.
- Poppy seeds are traditionally in Sonoma chicken salad. They add an interesting flavor and texture.
- Honey adds a little sweetness to the dressing. Be sure to use clear honey.
- Apple cider vinegar brightens up the dressing and adds a little bite. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, feel free to use balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar.
- Salt and pepper: Fine sea salt and a few cracks of black pepper round out the other flavors.
How to make California chicken salad
Time to make chicken salad with grapes! It’s super simple to put together. The recipe shows how to cook the chicken from scratch. To save time, take a shortcut and buy pre-roasted chicken breasts or shredded chicken. Let’s go over the California chicken salad recipe step-by-step:
Step 1: Make the dressing
To a medium bowl, add the plain Greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, clear honey, poppy seeds, salt, and black pepper. Whisk together until everything is well combined. Store the dressing in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can prepare the dressing up to 2 days in advance.
Step 2: Preheat oven
Position a baking rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F / 190°C / gas mark 5. We’ll first cook the chicken and then toast the pecans.
Step 3: Cook the chicken
Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then place in a single layer a large baking dish. Add 1/2 cup / 125 ml water. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked through. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes.
Step 4: Cool
Transfer the cooked chicken breasts onto a platter and allow to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes. Then cover with foil and refrigerate until cold.
Step 5: Toast the pecans (optional)
While the chicken is cooling, toast the pecans. Arrange the nuts in an even layer on a lined baking sheet. Then roast in the preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant and start to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. This step is optional; you can also prepare the salad with untoasted pecans.
Step 6: Cube the chicken
Once cold, cut the chicken breast into bite-sized cubes and put them into a large salad bowl.
Step 7: Assemble the salad
To finish the Sonoma chicken salad, stir in the grapes, celery, pecans, and yogurt dressing.
Step 8: Serve
Serve the easy chicken salad immediately or refrigerate until ready to eat. You can serve the salad over lettuce, make lettuce wraps, or whip up a chicken salad sandwich.
This copycat Whole Foods chicken salad recipe salad is not only tasty and healthy, it’s super flexible! Tailor it to your tastes and try any of the following variations and substitutions!
- Roasted chicken: Sonoma chicken salad is also delicious with roasted chicken instead of cooked chicken.
- Other protein: Turkey, salmon, shrimp, or pork tenderloin are also delicious options for Sonoma salad.
- Fruit: Instead of grapes, prepare the salad with strawberries, peaches, avocado, or drained mandarin oranges.
- Nuts: Chopped walnuts, pine nuts, almond slivers, hemp seeds, cashews, or pistachios are great substitutes for pecans.
- Mayonnaise: For a richer version, swap out the Greek yogurt for mayonnaise. You’ll need 1/2 cup.
Making Sonoma chicken salad ahead of time
When making salad in advance, there’s the risk of it getting soggy. But the Sonoma chicken recipe is actually great to make ahead of time without ruining it.
Simply roast the chicken, toast the pecans, prepare the grapes and celery, and mix up the dressing. Store everything separately in airtight containers in the fridge. You can do this up to 2 days in advance.
Just hold onto the dressing and wait to assemble the Sonoma chicken salad recipe until you’re ready to dig in. Once it’s time to eat, drizzle the dressing and toss everything together.
How to store California chicken salad
Store this cold chicken salad recipe in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Can you freeze chicken salad?
No, the California chicken salad recipe cannot be frozen. Although chicken freezes fine, grapes don’t hold up well, and the yogurt dressing can change its texture.