The Southwest Chicken Salad is among the most popular menu items at local restaurants and chains. If you’ve ever had a really good one, you probably know why. A hearty and flavorful mix of classic Tex-Mex ingredients, it makes for an incredibly filling, yummy and satisfying meal. But when it comes to nutrition, it’s those exact ingredients and how much of them are used, that dictate the overall quality of this bold and tasty blend.
Whether you like authentic Mexican cuisine or Tex-Mex, you’ll love the nutritional spin we’ve put on the traditional Southwest Chicken Salad recipe. Ours is jam-packed with perfectly seasoned chicken, fresh veggies, black beans and corn, along with a rich and deliciously savory salsa ranch dressing. Full of protein, fat and fiber, it’s super easy to make and an excellent choice for your big-batch meal prep. So, get ready to build your bowl!
THE BALANCING ACT
Sticking with staple ingredients we include plenty of black beans and corn in our Southwest Chicken Salad recipe. Since both are starches and have relatively high carbohydrate counts, we wouldn’t expect this recipe to be a top choice for carb watchers. But, here at That Salad Lady, we don’t view all carbohydrates the same. We believe what matters most is the overall nutritional quality of the carbs – and black beans and corn have a whole lot of it.
Corn, for instance, aids in good digestion as it’s high in health-promoting fiber. The same is true for black beans. Additionally, the starch housed in beans is a slow-burning starch, which essentially means it digests “slowly” in a way that helps reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. As with many whole foods, the key to eating starches lies in portion control.
Below we suggest sensible portions of black beans and corn – just enough to complement all the other ingredients in the salad bowl. If you have an all-inclusive diet, by all means give them a shot. Otherwise, you can easily make a few tweaks to our recipe for a more carb-friendly bowl. Perhaps swap out the black beans for black soybeans, or maybe the corn for non-starchy veggies like cucumber or even asparagus. Remember, it’s your bowl!
Now, let’s talk more about what’s in our Southwest Chicken Salad recipe and why?
Kale and Romaine for Delightful Texture
While leafy green vegetables are usually just a topping for traditional Tex-Mex cuisine, here we use them as more of a base. The darker the leaves, the more nutrient-rich the greens so our recipe specifically calls for kale and romaine lettuce. Mixed together, these leafy greens bring delightfully crunchy texture, hearty flavor and superior nutrition to the salad bowl.
The vitamin C and beta-carotene content of both make them disease-fighting functional foods. They’re also rich in vitamin K, an underrated but incredibly beneficial fat-soluble vitamins that supports heart and bone health (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn more).
Shredded Chicken with Southwest Seasonings
What’s a Southwest Chicken Salad without the “chicken,” right? Besides being chock-full of quality protein, chicken is a great source of B vitamins and antioxidants. Our recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken breasts. The breast is the leanest and most nutritious cut. Below we include instructions for cooking and shredding up the breasts for the bowl. Also included are ingredients for That Salad Lady’s Southwest seasoning blend for a powerful flavor punch.
Beans and Corn: A Protein Power Couple
As mentioned before, our recipe calls for black beans and corn. In addition to fiber, together these classic ingredients supply hefty doses of B vitamins and valuable minerals along with all the essential amino acids you need to build high-quality protein (check our Nutrition Glossary to learn why). Not to mention the collective soft and buttery, mild and creamy flavors they bring to the salad bowl.
For convenience sake, we suggest using frozen corn and canned black beans for our Southwest Chicken Salad. No worries, the overall nutritional quality of both is well preserved. Just choose canned black beans that are low in sodium or free of added sodium – organic too if you can spring for it. For the frozen corn, a small microwavable pack that cooks in the bag will do as it’ll deliver all the sweetness of fresh.
Other Tex-Mex Staple Ingredients
Ingredients like avocado and tomato are synonymous with Tex-Mex cuisine. We totally understand why as the deliciously savory and sweet flavors of both really balance each other out. In case you didn’t already know, avocado and tomato are actually classified as berry fruits. And, besides the rich flavors these berries bring to our Southwest Chicken Salad recipe, each is incredibly nutritious.
Whereas most fruits contain significant amounts of sugar, avocados are loaded with good quality fats. Then there’s the tomato, which packs lots of vitamin C and countless other health-promoting nutrients. We use grape tomatoes for this salad bowl, but cherry, vine or Roma tomatoes also work – and they’re equally nutritious.
Another staple ingredient we simply had to include is cheese. Our recipe specifically calls for cheddar, which is more of an American pairing. Full-fat or reduced-fat cheddar? The choice is yours! Depending on your eating style, fat could be a friend or foe. Aside from different fat compositions, there’s really not much of a different in their nutritional profiles. Both are great sources of protein, calcium and other nutrients.
We round out the traditional ingredients list with red and green onions, fresh jalapeño pepper and cilantro for garnish and even more authentic Tex-Mex flavor. Though not necessarily a “traditional” ingredient we couldn’t miss an opportunity to throw in some bell pepper too! Collectively, these ingredients aren’t only excellent flavor enhancers, but they’re also nutritional powerhouse that naturally help boost your body’s ability to burn fat.
Rich and Creamy Salsa Ranch Dressing
Finally, we top off our Southwest Chicken Salad recipe with That Salad Lady’s salsa ranch dressing. A rich and creamy, full-flavored combo of Greek yogurt, salsa, garlic and other herbs and spices, this dressing brings the whole salad bowl to life.
Cooking is only required for a few ingredients: (1) chicken breasts, (2) black beans and (3) corn. But it’s a very simple and straightforward process (see recipe card).
You’ll initially cook the chicken breasts through a quick poaching method. All you’ll need to do is add the breasts to a large pot along with a little salt, cover them with water and then simmer them over low heat until they’re no longer pink. This process takes about 10-12 minutes. Once done, allow the chicken breasts to cool for a few minutes, and then shred them using a blender, a food processor or even a fork and a knife.
After you’ve shredded the chicken, you can then add it to a large skillet with 3-4 tablespoons of the Southwest seasoning blend (or more to taste) and enough water to cover the seasoned chicken. At this point just bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and then cook the mixture for about 4-5 minutes with occasional stirring until the moisture absorbs into the chicken. That’s it.
Then there are the canned black beans, which only require a little heating. In a small skillet or pan, just empty all contents from the can including the liquid as there’s a lot of flavor in it. Bring the beans to a boil and then simmer them on low heat, stirring occasionally, until they’re nice and tender. This should only take a few minutes.
The frozen corn is the easiest to prepare since it cooks right in the bag. Simply place the bag in the microwave for 5-7 minutes and you’re done. If you have canned corn, just heat the corn on the stovetop for 4-5 minutes. Like canned beans, canned corn also retains its nutritional quality.
GET YOUR CHOP ON
Our Southwest Chicken Salad recipe calls for either chopping or slicing all the fresh ingredients including the kale and romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper and avocado.
If using grape tomatoes (as per the recipe) just slice those in half. You can then dice the red onion and bell pepper into bite size pieces and slice the green onions and pepper crosswise into slices. We suggest chopping everything but the avocado in one take as avocado tastes best when it’s freshly cut. You can either chop the avocado into small chunks or slice it into thin wedges.
Once the veggies and fruits are chopped up, set them aside until you’re ready to eat/serve the salad.
Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients for the salsa ranch dressing (see recipe card), simply adding everything to your blender or food processor.
With variable speed units, start with a low speed. From there, you can gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth. That’s it!
BUILD YOUR SALAD BOWL
Once you’ve cooked and prepared all the fresh ingredients, you’re ready to build your salad bowl.
Start by spreading out the kale and romaine mixture in a large bowl or on a large plate and then add layers of seasoned chicken, shredded cheese, beans, corn, onions, bell pepper, tomato and avocado. You can add the salsa ranch dressing between layers or on top of the blend.
Finally, season the salad to taste with black pepper, and garnish the finished blend with jalapeño pepper slices and cilantro. You can also add sprinkles of tortilla strips for added crunch but this is totally optional.
Our Southwest Chicken Salad recipe is large enough for six deliciously filling servings. With a salad bowl that’s packed full of protein, good fats and fiber, you’ll get plenty of nutrition bang for your buck. Depending on your eating style, you can double your portions and eat less meals or store leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days.
For leftovers, simply arrange your chicken and all other ingredients in their own sections on a serving plate or in a to-go container, include a separate container of dressing, and you’ve got yourself a quick and convenient meal.
Leftover ingredients make for great lettuce wraps.
Simply fill 2-3 layered romaine or butter lettuce leaves with chicken and top them off with equal portions of all the ingredient layers. Once your leaves are stuffed, top them with dressing, jalapeño pepper and cilantro. You can use the same filling method with tortillas, or your favorite grain wraps too.
It’s all about building your bowl, your way!
SHOW US YOUR BOWL
That Salad Lady wants to see your bowl! If you like it, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.
Southwest Chicken Salad with Salsa Ranch DressingCourse: MainCuisine: Mexican, AmericanDifficulty: Moderate
Whether you like authentic Mexican cuisine or Tex-Mex, you’ll love the nutritional spin we’ve put on the traditional Southwest Chicken Salad recipe.
- Southwest Salad Blend
2 chicken breasts (about 1 pound), boneless and skinless, poached and shredded*
6 cups of kale and romaine lettuce, mixed, roughly chopped**
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (full-fat or reduced-fat)***
1 can black beans (reduced sodium), 15-ounce can
1 cup corn, cooked from a microwavable pack****
1 large bell pepper (red, orange or yellow), diced
1 small red onion, diced
4 green onions (or scallions) with tops and bulbs, thinly sliced
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 ripe avocado peeled, pitted and diced or sliced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
1/2-1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
8 tablespooons corn tortilla strips, optional
- Southwest Seasoning Mix
4 teaspoons chili powder
3 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2 pinches cayenne pepper (optional)
1-2 pinches red pepper flakes (optional)
- Salsa Ranch Dressing
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1/2 cup your choice of prepared salsa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon prepared Southwest seasoning mix
1 teaspoon lime juice
1-2 tablespoons buttermilk or regular milk, as needed for desired consistency
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cook Raw Ingredients
- Poach chicken breasts by adding them to a large pot along with a little salt, cover them with water and then simmer them over low heat until they’re no longer pink (about 10-12 minutes). Set aside to cool for 2-3 minutes.
- Shred cooked chicken breasts using a blender, a food processor or a fork and a knife.
- Season shredded chicken by adding it to a large skillet with 3-4 tablespoons of the Southwest seasoning blend (or more to taste) and enough water to cover.*****
- Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and then cook the mixture for about 4-5 minutes with occasional stirring until the chicken absorbs all the moisture.
- Microwave the frozen corn as per the manufacturer’s instructions, usually about 5-7 minutes. Once done, set the corn aside.
- Heat the beans by first emptying the can (along with all the liquid) into a small skillet or pan and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, simmer the beans on low heat, stirring occasionally, until they’re nice and tender. This should only take a few minutes. Once done, set the beans aside.
- Chop Fresh Ingredients
- Rinse and chop kale and romaine lettuce. Set aside.
- Slice tomatoes in half, dice red onion and bell pepper into bite size pieces and cut green onions and jalapeño pepper crosswise into slices.
- Chop avocado into small chunks or slice it into thin wedges.
- Prepare the Dressing
- If using our salsa ranch dressing, start by simply adding all the ingredients to your blender or food processor.
- With variable speed units, start with a low speed and then gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth.
- Build the Salad
- Spread out the kale and romaine mixture in a large bowl or on a large plate and then add layers of seasoned chicken, shredded cheese, beans, corn, onions, bell pepper, tomato and avocado.
- Add salsa ranch dressing between layers or on top of the blend.
- Season the salad to taste with black pepper, and garnish the finished blend with jalapeño pepper slices, cilantro and tortilla strips if using.
- *Feel free to slice or cube the chicken breasts prior to seasoning if it’s easier. You can also use pre-cut and pan-ready chicken (available in fresh and frozen varieties) or replace the chicken with equal portions of your favorite meatless substitute.
- **You can use baby kale leaves or even kale mixes along with pre-cut romaine if it’s more convenient for you. You can find each of them prepackaged in the produce aisle.
- ***The noted calorie count applies to “full-fat cheddar.” Aside from different fat compositions, there’s really not much of a difference in the nutritional profiles of full-fat and reduced-fat cheddar. Reduced-fat cheddars generally have a hard, somewhat rubbery texture and typically don’t have that classic “aged” flavor. Choose what’s best for your eating style and personal preferences.
- ****For convenience sake, we suggest using a small microwavable pack of frozen corn that cooks in the bag as the overall nutritional quality is well preserved and it’ll deliver all the sweetness of fresh. The recipe calls for just one cup cooked. Remaining corn can be stored for later use.
- *****Start with 3-4 tablespoons of seasoning mix and add more to taste. Save a teaspoon for the dressing and then store any remaining mix for later use.
- Depending on your eating style, you can double your portions and eat less meals or store leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days. For leftovers, simply arrange your chicken and all other ingredients in their own sections on a serving plate or in a to-go container and include a separate container of dressing.
- Transfer any leftover dressing to an airtight sealed container and store it in the fridge for 5-7 days.
This information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate. Please review our full disclaimer to get a clear understanding of the nutrition and health information and resources presented and written on our website.