Chicken salad exists in numerous guises and presentations, with recipes and too numerous to count. You'll see it with celery, nuts, and halved red grapes. With blue cheese and bacon. With tarragon, dill, and chives, With curry powder and raisins. On whole wheat toast. On good, fresh-from-the-bakery bread. On a leaf of crisp iceberg lettuce...
But one thing chicken salad can claim as a common denominator is mayonnaise. And if you're having chicken salad without mayo, well then, you shouldn't call it chicken salad, now should you?
I do love a basic chicken salad, creamy and cool, perked up with the crunch of bits of celery and scallions, sometimes nuts or dried fruits, but for this week's column I wanted to go a bit outside of the usual box, or glass-encased deli counter.
This chicken salad is easy to make, but has an interesting combination of herbs that make it stand out. To begin, mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves—intensely aromatic and sultry, with no resemblance in flavor to supermarket variety jarred curry powders—are quickly sautéed in oil until the seeds begin to pop and the leaves turn crisp. These will add depth and crunch to the salad. Mayonnaise is mixed in, followed by cilantro, lime zest and juice, jalapeño pepper, fresh ginger, scallions, and mint. This dressing is rich and velvety, but has enough acid, heat, and herbs to be vibrant and bold. Serve it on warm toasted naan and garnish with toasted curry leaves.
Note: Fresh curry leaves are available in the refrigerated section of specialty markets. You can also order them online at Kalustyan's.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 30 fresh curry leaves (see note)
- 4 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon juice and 1 teaspoon finely grated zest from about 1 lime
- 1 jalapeño chile, seeded, ribs removed, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 pieces naan, warmed (preferably homemade)
In medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add curry leaves and mustard seeds and cook, stirring, until mustard seeds begin to pop and curry leaves are toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Set 12 curry leaves aside.
Add mayonnaise, cilantro, lime juice and zest, jalapeño, scallions, mint, and ginger and stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in chicken and season to taste with salt and pepper. Scoop chicken salad onto warm naan and top with reserved curry leaves.