This healthy Chicken Salad without mayo actually tastes like classic chicken salad you get at a deli. This easy, homemade chicken salad recipe uses cottage cheese and is great for using up leftover rotisserie chicken
- About No Mayo Chicken Salad
- How to Make Chicken Salad without Mayo
- Make Ahead Ideas
- Storage Suggestions
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Nutrition benefits of Healthy Chicken Salad
- What Goes Well with No Mayo Chicken Salad
About No Mayo Chicken Salad
Chicken Salad is a fabulous thing to have on hand because it's high in protein, incredibly tasty, and quite versatile. This is a healthier version of the deli classic because it is made without mayo.
Many chicken salads made without mayo use yogurt. However, I have a really hard time with this because I think the yogurt gives the chicken salad a weird tanginess.
Some people claim that making chicken salad with yogurt tastes "just as good" as when you use mayonnaise. Frankly, I find that offensive because I have taste buds, and yogurt & mayonnaise do not taste the same.
So instead of using yogurt for the mayo-replacement, use cottage cheese in place of the mayo. The cottage cheese adds no flavor and does an excellent job at binding together the chicken salad.
As the name implies, this is a chicken salad made without mayo. This Chicken Salad recipe is your standard chicken salad with celery and onions, letting the chicken shine through.
Instead of using mayonnaise, you blend cottage cheese to use as a binder. The cottage cheese has a neutral flavor and simply holds together the chicken salad. It does not give any taste or strange texture to the chicken salad.
While I love yogurt in smoothies, mashed potatoes, king cake, dips, snacks, and more, I don't think yogurt can completely replace mayonnaise which has a much more neutral flavor compared to the tangier taste of yogurt.
I have tried many times to make chicken salad with yogurt and failed because it's too tangy. The only time it works is when I need the tangy yogurt flavor to balance the intense flavor of buffalo wing sauce in this delicious Buffalo Chicken Salad.
Chicken Salad Ingredients
Chicken: For the chicken, you simply need some kind of cooked, shredded chicken. You can poach, grill or cook chicken in the skillet. Chicken Salad is also an excellent way to use leftover rotisserie chicken, roasted chicken or crock pot chicken.
Cottage cheese: Look for a low sodium cottage cheese if needed because it is typically higher in sodium. Otherwise, any cottage cheese will work in this chicken salad. I typically buy regular but reduced-fat or 2% also works well in this recipe; I do not recommend using fat-free cottage cheese.
If possible, look for cottage cheese that has simple ingredients. Typically, cottage cheese only needs to be milk, cream, salt, and sometimes Vitamin A or Vitamin A Palmitate. Other ingredients found in cottage cheese are preservatives, stabilizers, and/or added sugar. Not a huge deal, but I like to buy food with simple ingredients if possible.
Onions: Chicken salad needs a tiny bit of onion, but be careful that you do not use too much. I use a regular yellow onion, but you can also use a sweet onion. Green onion and red onion won't give the same flavor as a yellow or sweet onion; however, I think they would still work as suitable options in this chicken salad.
Celery: I love the crunch celery adds and it gives a little extra flavor to your basic chicken salad recipe.
Spices: Salt, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and nutmeg are the spices in this recipe. None (except the salt) are completely mandatory, but I really like this combination in my chicken salad. Because the cottage cheese has very little flavor, I think the mixture needs a few spices to make it taste its best. I often forget black pepper or cayenne pepper, and it's fine. Even though it's a small amount, I really like the nutmeg in here and never skip it.
Honey: A tiny bit of sweetness helps balance the flavors. You can use regular sugar in place of honey. I think maple syrup would make the chicken salad taste a little strange, so I wouldn't use it. If you don't have honey or sugar, you can probably skip it, but I don't like to.
Lemon: Chicken salad tastes best with some lemon juice. It really brightens your chicken salad, and I won't make it without it. I tried, and I thought it was really boring. You can always use lemon zest in place of lemon juice if needed. Fresh is always ideal, but I often forget to buy lemons. So I use bottled lemon juice, and it's perfectly fine.
Optional ingredients: Feel free to add other ingredients like chopped grapes or apples, dried cranberries, pecans, walnuts, or fresh herbs. I like a classic chicken salad, but it's easy to change this up to your liking.
Cost of Healthy Chicken Salad
- chicken 10 ounces: $4.59
- cottage cheese 3/4 cup: $0.93
- lemon 1 tablespoon: $0.12
- honey 1 teaspoon: $0.10
- salt 3/4 teaspoon: $0.01
- garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon: $0.02
- paprika 1/2 teaspoon: $0.08
- cayenne pepper 1/8 teaspoon: $0.01
- black pepper 1/4 teaspoon: $0.03
- nutmeg 1/16 teaspoon: $0.02
- onion 1/4 cup: $0.25
- celery 1/2 cup: $0.28
TOTAL COST: $6.44 (Based on San Diego Sprouts 2020) or $1.29/serving
How to Make Chicken Salad without Mayo
This chicken salad is quite simple to make. In general, chicken salad is made my stirring together cooked chicken, some spices, maybe some diced veggies, and a binder of some sort like mayo, yogurt, or cottage cheese (like in this recipe).
To get the consistency of mayo, you need to blend your cottage cheese; I like to use a mini food processor. Once you've done that, mix it all together, and you're good to go. It's best to make in advance to give time for the flavors to blend, but it can be eaten immediately if needed. Here's the step by step:
- Put chicken to a bowl. Set aside.
- Blend the cottage cheese, honey, lemon juice, and spices in a food processor until completely smooth.
- Grate the onion, and add to the food processor.
- Blend together until there are no more larger pieces of onion.
- Pour the cottage cheese mixture into the bowl with the chicken.
- Using a fork, stir to completely coat the chicken with the mixture.
- Add celery.
- Stir well. Refrigerate then taste and add additional seasoning if needed. Enjoy!
Spices: The nutmeg, cayenne and paprika are all optional spices. However, I find they really contribute to the flavor and the chicken salad feels a little boring without them in my opinion.
Aromatics: A fresh garlic clove can be used in place of the garlic powder, and onion powder or dried onion flakes can be used in place of the fresh onion. Chopped green onion would also work as a substitute for fresh onion.
If you like chicken salad with grapes, you can easily add them! Add 1/2 cup sliced grapes to the mixture when you add the chicken. You can also add 1/3 cup chopped roasted pecans or walnuts for a little extra crunch and flavor. Another great addition would be dried cranberries; add about 1/3 cup to start.
For a different flavor alternative, add fresh herbs. Basil, dill, rosemary, and thyme would all be delicious in this chicken salad. Add about 1 teaspoon fresh herbs or 1/4 teaspoon dried herbs. Taste and add additional herbs if needed.
How to Make Allergy Friendly
This is a gluten free and eggless chicken salad. The cottage cheese obviously has dairy, so if you need a dairy free chicken salad try the Hummus Chicken Salad or Curry Avocado Chicken Salad for mayo and dairy free chicken salads.
Alternative Prep & Cooking Methods
If you do not have a mini food processor, you can use a blender or immersion blender to blend the cottage cheese. In case you have no option but are craving this chicken salad, I have tried using a fork to mash the cottage cheese. It isn't as smooth as it would be if you used the blender or food processor, but it still works fine! Be sure to dice the onion really small if you manually mash the cottage cheese.
What to do if you make a mistake
First of all, this recipe is pretty easy to adapt to your taste preferences, and it is hard to mess up. See above for flavor and prep options. However, some common mistakes are:
- too salty: add more blended cottage cheese and more chicken.
- too much onion: add more blended cottage cheese and more chicken.
- not enough onion: wait to add more onion until at least 60 minutes after making the chicken salad, so the onion flavor has time to develop. It's easier to add more than it is to lessen the onion flavor.
- not enough spices: same as with the onions; wait to add more until 60 minutes after making.
- mixture is too thin or watery: pat chicken salad dry with a paper towel to absorb excess liquid. Then add more chicken with a small amount of blended cottage cheese.
- mixture is too thick or hard to stir: blend more cottage cheese. Add a spoonful at a time & stir into the chicken salad until it has thickened to your desired consistency. Or you can add additional lemon juice.
Make Ahead Ideas
Chicken Salad is one of my favorite recipes to make ahead of time because it gives the flavors time to come together. I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe to serve a crowd or to meal prep lunches and/or snacks for the week.
Keep the chicken salad tightly covered in a glass or plastic bowl in the fridge when not in use. It should not be at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, so serve in a bowl resting on ice if needed to keep it chilled. It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you make chicken salad without mayo?
Yes, you can make chicken salad without mayo! This recipe proves you can, and you don't have to use yogurt -- hooray!
What can you substitute for mayo in chicken salad?
Cottage cheese or yogurt can be used as a substitute for mayo in chicken salad. I prefer cottage cheese as it has a neutral flavor unlike yogurt which is tangy.
As mentioned multiple times above, cottage cheese is blended to have a smooth consistency, and it used as the binder for this chicken salad recipe. This gives you a similar texture and mild taste for a chicken salad that tastes just like your favorite deli staple.
Can you taste the cottage cheese?
No, you absolutely cannot taste the cottage cheese. I don't really like the way cottage cheese tastes, and I practically live with this chicken salad in my fridge. In fact, usually no one even notices a difference in this chicken salad versus a mayo-based chicken salad.
How long is chicken salad good for?
Chicken salad keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days tightly covered in a glass or plastic container. I do not recommend freezing chicken salad as it gets a strange texture when defrosting.
You can use defrosted cooked chicken though; be sure to taste the chicken before adding to the cottage cheese mixture to make sure it does not have any freezer burn.
Is Chicken Salad healthy?
The short answer: it depends. Long answer: Chicken Salad of all different types can be found in pretty much any deli or sandwich shop, and while it sounds healthy with "salad" is in its name it usually isn't the most nutritious. Most chicken salad uses mayonnaise as a binder meaning it's pretty rich without many nutrients. Luckily, there is a way to make chicken salad more nourishing by skipping the mayo.
I'm cool with that on occasion, but I want to eat chicken salad daily (especially in the summer) because it is so easy to make in advance and tastes delicious. But having that much mayo all week is gonna leave me feeling not-my-best.
However, this No Mayo Chicken Salad could be considered healthy since it is high in protein and not too rich thanks to the cottage cheese. The chicken and cottage cheese also offer vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
Nutrition benefits of Healthy Chicken Salad
Chicken is full of protein along with many vitamins and minerals like Niacin important for normal cell growth and function, Vitamin B6 supports your nervous system, Pantothenic Acid helps your body break down carbs, fat & protein, Magnesium.
Cottage cheese is high in Vitamin B12, Riboflavin, Phosphorous, and Selenium.
What Goes Well with No Mayo Chicken Salad
Chicken Salad can be served as a snack or appetizer with some sliced veggies or crackers, on a bed of lettuce for a light lunch, or spread between some bread for a more substantial meal. You can also make Cucumber Chicken Salad Bites or a Chicken Salad Grilled Cheese.
I can't say enough good things about this Chicken Salad, and while I probably shouldn't toot my own horn so much, I don't care because this stuff is so amazing! Make it NOW! You'll wonder how you spent so much of your life without it, and you'll never want to wait long before making it again.
MORE CHICKEN SALAD RECIPES YOU'LL LOVE:
- Buffalo Chicken Salad: like Buffalo Chicken Dip but in chicken salad form. This super easy chicken salad is the only type I'll make with yogurt.
- Curry Avocado Chicken Salad: a dairy free, mayo free chicken salad made with avocado and seasoned with curry powder
- Hummus Chicken Salad: dairy free, gluten free, mayo free hummus for an allergy friendly chicken salad
- Pimento Cheese Chicken Salad: a mix of two Southern staples -- chicken salad and pimento cheese
- Mexican Chicken Salsa Salad: a fresh salsa-like version of chicken salad with veggies
- 10 ounces cooked chicken 2 1/2 packed cups
- 3/4 cup cottage cheese
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- dash nutmeg optional
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper or white pepper, optional
- 1/4 cup onion diced or grated (about 1/4 small onion)
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- Add the cooked chicken to a large bowl. Set aside.
- Add the cottage cheese, lemon juice, honey, salt, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper and nutmeg (if using) to the bowl of a mini food processor or blender. Process until completely smooth, about 30-45 seconds.
- Add in onion and process for about 10 seconds until the onion is incorporated and the pieces are very small.
- Transfer the cottage cheese mixture to the chicken. Stir well until completely combined.
- Add in celery and stir well.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Taste and add extra lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and/or garlic powder if desired (but wait to add extra seasoning until after the chicken salad has been refrigerated for at least 1 hour). Enjoy!
This post was originally published June 26, 2014. Text, recipe, video and photos have been updated.
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