Ditch the calories, bring on the flavor…and the savings. From restaurant classic to a homemade masterpiece, this Southwest Chicken Salad Recipe is light, healthy, and guaranteed to satisfy any appetite!
It features juicy, chile-rubbed chicken, sliced avocado, black beans, and corn. Top it off with a quick and easy ranch dressing spruced up with fresh-squeezed lime juice, chopped cilantro, and chipotle peppers, and get ready to enjoy an explosion of flavors!
This dish is perfect for both a light dinner or a make-ahead lunch — meal-prep instructions below! Love Southwestern flavors? Our Southwest Chicken Salad Tacos are a must-try!
WHAT IS SOUTHWESTERN FOOD?
Southwestern food and flavors have quite a bit in common with Tex-Mex, only there’s less gravy, more corn, and more black beans. Both cuisines boost the flavors of Mexican, but when it comes to Southwestern cuisine, you’ll also find a heavy Native American influence.
Southwestern food isn’t necessarily known for being super spicy, but it is, however, known for its dedication to the chile.
In this Southwest Chicken Salad Recipe, not only will you find both corn and black beans, but you’ll also find chiles both in the rub for the chicken and in the dressing!
HOW TO MAKE SOUTHWEST CHICKEN SALAD
This is a three-part recipe, and every step should be considered a building block for great, big flavor:
- Make the Chicken
- Prepare the Dressing
- Chop the Veggies
- Assemble the Salad
1. SEAR AND BAKE THE CHICKEN
To make the chicken, begin by combining the spices together. Once your spices are ready, pat the chicken dry and rub it with oil. This will help the spices to adhere to the chicken.
Then, you’ll add oil to an oven-safe pan over medium-high heat and quickly sear the chicken on both sides. Once the chicken is ready, transfer it to the oven to finish cooking.
While the chicken is baking, move on to making the dressing and prepping the remaining ingredients for your salad.
2. MAKE THE DRESSING
To make the dressing, you can either begin with a store-bought ranch dressing or make it completely from scratch using this Chipotle Ranch Dressing Recipe.
If you are using a ready-made ranch dressing for your Southwest Chicken Salad, all you’ll need to do is finely chop some fresh cilantro and chipotle pepper and add it to one cup of ranch dressing. Then, squeeze in some fresh lime juice, and give it a stir!
3. CHOP/PREPARE THE VEGGIES
While the chicken is finishing in the oven, it’s the perfect time for you to prep your veggies and other ingredients. Go ahead and get all of the chopping done at this point, as well as draining the canned corn and black beans!
Be sure not to skip rinsing the black beans! This is an important step, as it removes any residual grit from the can still clinging to the beans.
Once all of the veggies are prepped, go ahead and add them to a large mixing bowl. Unless you’re planning to meal prep, that is. If you’re meal prepping, see below!
4. ASSEMBLE THE SALAD
Once the chicken has finished baking, you can either cut it into slices (taking care to cut against the grain) or into 1″ cubes. Toss the chicken in any accumulated juices on the cutting board to ensure every bite of protein is extra juicy and extra flavorful!
When you have your chicken all cut up, add it to the bowl of veggies, along with the desired amount of ranch dressing, and toss until well-combined. Then, serve and thoroughly enjoy!
INGREDIENTS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
Chicken | Boneless, skinless chicken breasts get a serious flavor face-lift for this Southwest Chicken Salad!
Both the flavor (and the cooking method) is very similar to our Blackened Chicken Recipe, only this chicken has less of a Cajun vibe and all the Southwestern feels.
Spices | The spices used to amp up those chicken breasts are as follows: Garlic powder, Kosher salt, smoked paprika, cumin, pepper, and onion powder.
Oil | The oil in this recipe is used both on the chicken (helping the spices to adhere) and is also used for the pan-searing. You can use avocado oil, canola oil, or even olive oil if you’d like.
Cilantro | Cilantro goes in the dressing and in the salad itself. If you don’t care for it, feel free to leave it out altogether.
Lime | Lime juice is added to the prepared Ranch Dressing to give it a flavor boost and a Southwestern vibe. If you have extra limes, squeezing a wedge or two over the finished product certainly won’t hurt a thing.
Chipotle Peppers – Chipotles in Adobo are dried, smoked jalapeños that come fully drenched in Adobo Sauce. They add a smoky, tangy vibe to dishes and especially to condiments.
Lettuce | Romaine lettuce works beautifully in this recipe, adding a crisp, refreshing crunch to every bite. If you’d prefer to use Iceberg, go right ahead and use it.
Tomatoes | Both grape and cherry tomatoes tend to hold their own when it comes to both flavor and quality outside of tomato season. However, if you are in the midst of tomato season while whipping up this Southwest Chicken Salad, just about any variety of tomato will do!
Avocado | Avocado makes for a yummy, creamy addition to just about any salad, but especially those with a Southwestern flair! However, if you’re not a fan (or you just want to cut back on the ingredient list), you can nix it.
Corn | Canned corn (white or yellow) works great in this salad, and is a quick and convenient addition!
Black Beans | Remember, as mentioned above, you must drain and rinse the beans before adding them in with the other ingredients. Don’t like black beans? Red kidney beans make for a great substitution!
Bell Pepper | You can use red, yellow, green, or orange bell pepper! Try to it up so it’s about the same size as the black beans and corn!
Cheese | As we all know, most things are better when there’s cheese involved, but cheese is totally and completely optional in this Southwest Chicken Salad. We recommend using Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a combination of the two.
MEAL PREP TIPS
You can munch on this salad for up to 4 days after you make it, but if you are planning to eat it throughout the week, you’ll want to take care when it comes to which ingredients you mix and which ones you don’t!
The corn, beans, bell pepper, and tomatoes can all be chopped and stored in a container together.
ITEMS TO KEEP SEPARATED
In order to keep your Southwest Chicken Salad from getting soggy, keep the following ingredients separated, in containers by themselves:
- Cheese (if you’re using it)
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The best recipe for a fresh and flavorful Southwest Chicken Salad! Juicy chicken, sliced avocado, black beans and corn are tossed with zesty ranch dressing.
- 1 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 3 tablespoons canola or avocado oil (separated)
- 1 cup prepared ranch dressing
- 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
- 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 1 finely chopped chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce)
- 6 cups washed, dried, and chopped Romaine lettuce
- 1 1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1 avocado, halved and cut into 1/4" strips
- 1 cup yellow corn
- 1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 cup grated Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a mix of the two (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Add all of the chicken spices to a small bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to a large oven-safe skillet or pan over medium-high heat and allow it to come to temperature. Sear each chicken breast for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, then flip, and sear 1 to 2 minutes more.
Transfer the chicken to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow to rest about 5-10 minutes. Then, cut it into thin strips or 1" cubes. Set aside until ready to use.
Add all of the dressing ingredients to a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
Add all of the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl, add the chicken, and toss to combine. Drizzle with the desired amount of dressing, serve, and enjoy!