I never get tired of chicken salad. Maybe that’s because that recipe title can refer to seemingly endless combinations of ingredients and flavors to suit any mood or whatever we might have on hand.

If you search for “chicken salad” in our Recipe Finder, you will find nearly a dozen kinds, from mayonnaise- and tahini-based to mixtures with abundant chopped vegetables, nuts and fresh herbs.

When I got an advance copy of “Simply: Easy Everyday Dishes” by Sabrina Ghayour, which is due out in October, I was immediately drawn to her light chicken salad made with rice noodles and a dressing flavored with harissa that is spooned atop lettuce cups.

It was a twist I had yet to try — and I’ve tried a lot of twists on this dish.

In her cookbook, the Iranian British author writes about being an only child whose parents did not cook. Rather than a negative, she viewed that as an opportunity, saying she was unencumbered by traditions or expectations, and that gave her space to experiment.

Her cookbook, “Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes” was one of The Post’s inspirational cookbooks of 2019. This one is equally intriguing. In it, Ghayour offers twists on traditional dishes, such as green hummus made with parsley, cilantro and tarragon. The ingredient lists are tight because, Ghayour noted, if she can strip one item out, she does.

While the chicken salad falls in “The Melting Pot” chapter, I’d consider it a twist on tradition as well. The dish calls for poached chicken and just a few ounces of rice noodles as well as raw carrots and tender green beans all tossed in a spicy-sweet dressing.

For her salad, she makes the dressing with harissa, the chile paste used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking that is made with peppers, olive oil, garlic and various spices. Ghayour calls for the version of the paste made with rose petals or rose water, which softens the chile’s kick.

I am a sucker for sweet, citrusy dressing with a kick, and this one delivers just the right balance for the mild chicken and crunchy vegetables.

Ghayour makes a point of noting that we should all substitute and omit ingredients based on our personal taste. I agree, so I’ve since made this dish with sriracha and substituted the full bunch of cilantro for a mix of equal parts cilantro and parsley.

Serve it as a meal. Or, place the chicken mixture in a bowl with a tightfitting lid and you can enjoy the lettuce cups over several days — as a quick snack.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.


For the lettuce cups

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)

3 cups water

Kosher salt

3 ounces rice vermicelli noodles or angel hair pasta

2 1/2 ounces French green beans, thinly sliced

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks (about 3/4 cup)

1 bunch (about 1 ounce) fresh cilantro, finely chopped

2 heads baby romaine or bibb lettuce

Freshly ground black pepper

Lime wedges, for serving (optional)

For the dressing

3 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons rose harissa, or your favorite spicy chile paste, such as Sriracha, chile-garlic paste, gochujang or sambal oelek, or more to taste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime, or more to taste

1 teaspoon nigella seeds, or black or toasted sesame seeds


Step 1

Cook the chicken: Cut the chicken in half or thirds crosswise, depending on how large the pieces are. In a medium saucepan over medium heat bring the water to a gentle simmer — do not let the water come to a boil — and add the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest pieces of the chicken, 10 to 15 minutes.

When the chicken is done, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a cutting board and let cool. Using two forks, shred the meat, then coarsely chop.

Step 2

While the chicken is cooking, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the vermicelli or angel hair, letting it soak until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. (If using angel hair pasta, you may want to chop it into bite-size pieces.)

Step 3

Make the dressing: In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine the honey, rose harissa, soy sauce, olive oil, lime zest and juice, and nigella seeds. Taste and season with more harissa, soy sauce and/or lime zest/juice, if needed. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the dressing.

Step 4

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, noodles, green beans, scallions, carrots and cilantro. Toss with the remainder of the dressing. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, as needed.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a serving platter. Divide the chicken-noodle mixture among the lettuce cups and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Serve, with lime wedges, if using.

Adapted from “Simply: Easy Everyday Dishes” by Sabrina Ghayour (Mitchell Beazley, October, 2020). 

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.

Browse our Recipe Finder for more than 9,000 Post-tested recipes at washingtonpost.com/recipes.

More recipes from Voraciously:

Double Mango Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

Tahini Chicken Salad

Sesame Chicken Salad


Calories: 396; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 122 mg; Sodium: 598 mg; Carbohydrates: 33 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 16 g; Protein: 42 g.

This chicken salad recipes gets its kick from harissa

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