Pecan Apple Chicken Salad Sandwiches
This delicious fall-inspired Pecan Apple Chicken Salad Recipe is filled with the flavors of autumn. Juicy chicken (or leftover holiday turkey), sweet apples, tart dried cranberries, and crunchy toasted pecans are mixed with a lightened-up greek yogurt and mayonnaise dressing with just a hint of spice.
Best of all, you only need 5 minutes to prep it. Make a big batch today for the best chicken salad sandwiches in your lunchbox all week long!
Why I Love This Fall Chicken Salad Recipe
Let me tell you: there’s nothing more stressful than trying to cook up a whole feast from scratch while hungry family members crowd your kitchen in hopes of scavenging a few bites. During the holiday season, most people only think about the big family dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but what about the other meals? Have you figured out breakfast or lunch yet?
If not, I’ve got you covered. Luckily, this recipe is easy enough to throw together in a few minutes. I love to set out the bowl of chicken salad, a head of butter lettuce, and some halved crusty rolls in the dining room for everyone to serve themselves so I can keep working towards my dinner masterpiece in peace.
These easy-to-make apple pecan chicken salad sandwiches are also great during normal, non-holiday weeks. The recipe comes together in a flash and is filled with healthy protein, fiber, and nutrients to keep you and your family satisfied until dinnertime.
The sweet tartness of the fruits makes this apple and chicken salad totally kid-friendly, while the tangy, slightly spicy dressing is sophisticated enough for adults. As a bonus, there is almost no prep work to be done. If your chicken is already cooked, you only have to invest a total of five minutes in the kitchen!
Ingredients & Substitutions
This cranberry apple chicken salad requires just a few easy-to-find seasonal ingredients. Here’s what to grab:
- Chicken – Any cooked chicken or turkey will do. Be sure to chop or pull it into bite-sized pieces for easy eating.
- Granny Smith Apple – I love the super tart flavor of green apples against the heat of the dressing and the sweetness of the cranberries. Feel free to swap in any other type of apple you like eating out of hand like Honeycrisp or Pink Lady.
- Dried Cranberries – For delicious sweet-tart texture. You can also swap in other chopped dried fruits like raisins, currants, or apricots.
- Pecans – For richness and crunch. You can also swap in different nuts like sliced almonds or chopped walnuts if you prefer.
- Mayonnaise – Any high-quality mayo will do.
- Greek Yogurt – For a bit of tang and a lighter caloric profile. Feel free to use nonfat, light, or whole yogurt depending on your needs.
- Balsamic Vinegar – For sweet acidity. Feel free to swap in apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar if needed.
- Lime Juice – For brightness. Make sure to use fresh lime juice for the best flavor. To get the most juice from your fruit, give it a firm roll on the counter for 10-15 seconds before cutting it open.
- Honey – For a touch of sweetness. If possible, opt for local honey for a more complex flavor profile. You’re also welcome to swap in maple syrup or agave nectar if needed.
- Salt – For seasoning.
- Ancho Chile Powder, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, Paprika – For plenty of smoky warmth. Feel free to use your favorite ground chili powders here. You can also increase or decrease the amount used depending on your heat preferences.
- Garlic Powder – For sweet allium complexity without the bite of raw garlic.
- Ciabatta Roll – I’m a sucker for crusty rolls. Feel free to use your favorite sandwich bread like multigrain or whole wheat instead .
- Butter Lettuce – Light green leaves of mild butter lettuce are a classic pairing for chicken salad. You’re welcome to swap in peppery arugula or watercress, earthy spinach, or crunchy romaine if you prefer.
How to cook chicken for chicken salad
As long as your chicken is free from bones, you can use just about any kind you like.
- If you have a little time on your hands – I love to use my oven-baked chicken breast recipe whenever I have a little extra time on my hands. Poached chicken breasts or any boneless skinless chicken that you cook in the Instant Pot will also work.
- If you’re short on time, a shredded rotisserie chicken does the trick. You can also use any leftover chicken that isn’t already sauced. In a pinch, drained canned chicken will also work.
- Turkey works too! With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, this is an awesome way to repurpose your leftover holiday turkey.
How to Make Fall Chicken Salad With Apples & Pecans
Like I said before, this apple cranberry chicken salad is a super simple meal that requires just minutes of prep. So as long as you have your chicken (or turkey) cooked and shredded, the whole operation takes just five minutes to throw together.
Step 1: Prep Ingredients. Wash and dry produce. Pull or chop chicken. Chop apples. Rough chop the pecans and cranberries. Toss everything into a mixing bowl
Step 2: Make Dressing. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together your mayo, yogurt, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, honey, and seasonings until thoroughly combined.
Step 3: Assemble. Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture, then stir to incorporate. Feel free to eat immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to five days.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best chicken salad sandwich recipe around. That said, you’re welcome to make any substitutions or customizations you need! Here are a few variations to consider:
- Dairy-Free – If lactose makes your tummy sad, swap in plain plant-based greek yogurt or more of your favorite mayo in place of the yogurt.
- Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad – Sliced almonds and chopped celery make for a fun twist on this pecan apple chicken salad.
- Chicken Salad with Grapes – If you don’t have apples and dried cranberries on hand, swap in sliced red or green grapes instead.
- Chicken and turkey are easiest to shred when they’re still warm. If you’re using a rotisserie chicken, make sure to pull it before popping it in the fridge.
- To get the most out of your holiday leftovers, pull the meat from the bones during kitchen cleanup. When there’s no meat left to scavenge, toss the whole carcass in a stockpot, cover it with a few inches of water, and simmer for 4-12 hours to make a very simple (and free) stock.
- Don’t bother peeling the apples. It’ll keep your prep to a minimum and add color and nutrients to every bite. Be sure to wash them thoroughly before chopping, though!
If you’re worried the salad will become boring throughout the week, just imagine the many ways you can serve it. Here are a few ideas:
- As a sandwich: If you’re yearning for a Panera-style chicken salad sandwich, nothing beats loading this fall chicken salad onto a lightly toasted ciabatta roll with a few slices of butter lettuce.
- As a Lunchable: In a bento-style box, neatly pack in some crackers, apple slices, a wedge or two of cheese and a scoop of my apple chicken salad. Kids will have a great time eating this little snack pack!
- As an after-school snack: Tuck this chicken salad with apples into the grooves of celery stalks for a high protein, healthy finger food.
- On a green salad: Toss a few handfuls of salad greens with a light vinaigrette then add a scoop of my fall chicken salad to boost your protein content. Chicken salad salad FTW!
- Straight from the bowl: Because sometimes, hunger just won’t wait. Don’t worry, I’m not judging you.
Frequently Asked Questions
My family loves this fall chicken salad, so it doesn’t stay around for very long. That said, I’d put a conservative estimate that anything mayonnaise-based should probably be eaten within five days.
You can eat this chicken salad immediately after mixing the salad together. That said, the flavors of the spices will become more pronounced after a few hours of marinating in the fridge. I find that it is even more delicious after it rests overnight.
It sure is! Feel free to double (or halve) the recipe according to your needs.
More Quick & Easy Lunch Recipes
- Molletes Mexicanos with Refried Beans
- Healthy Homemade Crunchwrap
- Tuna Patties
- Green Chile and Cheese Quesadilla
- Caprese Avocado Toast
- BLTTA Tortas
If you made this Fall Chicken Salad with Apples recipe, please be sure to rate and review it below. I love knowing how your kitchen adventures are going!
Pecan Apple Chicken Salad Sandwiches
- 3 cups cooked and shredded chicken (or turkey)
- 1 granny smith apple, chopped
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Ciabatta roll, for serving
- Butter lettuce, for serving
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
- Serve on a ciabatta with lettuce. Serve as a sandwich or over salad.
- Use any leftover chicken, rotisserie chicken, or leftover turkey to make this fall chicken salad even easier! You can also bake chicken breasts or poach them if you want.
- Toasting your buns adds a lot of texture to the sandwich, but is not necessary.
- To make this recipe Dairy-Free swap in your favorite unsweetened plain plant-based Greek yogurt or use extra mayo.
- Refrigerate and eat within 5 days.
Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: November 2020.