Leftover Grilled Chicken? Give It New Life With This Cabbage and Tahini Salad


Are you a fire-saver? Do you hate to see a good fire go to waste? Does it physically pain you when you light up a chimney of coals for the grill, cook your dinner, then realize that you've still got a good hour or so of heat from those burning coals, and nothing to cook on 'em?

Yeah, I get that way, too. When I light a fire, I make darn sure that I use it from start to finish, which means that I often end up with more grilled meat or vegetables than I can comfortably eat or serve in a sitting.

But here's the thing: Most grilled meats, especially lean meats like grilled chicken, don't fare particularly well on the reheat. Grilling, by its very nature, dries foods out more than most other cooking methods. It generally uses high heat, which dries out the exterior of foods; at the same time, you don't have the benefit of the shape of a skillet or griddle, which protects the undersides of foods from excess evaporation to some degree.

That's not such a big deal when you're eating your food hot and fresh, but when a grilled chicken breast has cooled down and sat in the fridge for a day or two before you try to reheat it? Forget about it. You may as well be chewing on strips of jerky.

I've been trying to come up with great ways to use leftover grilled chicken breasts that mask their dryness and give them new life. One of my favorites is a fresh, crunchy salad with cabbage, red onion, and a ton of fresh herbs in a tahini-based dressing.


There are a couple of keys to making sure that this salad works and that your chicken stays tender, moist, and flavorful. The first is to dress the chicken on its own, and to really work that dressing into it. I put the shredded chicken in a bowl, then massage olive oil (for the added fat and moisture), lemon juice (for its brightness and tenderizing effects), and garlic (because it tastes awesome) into the meat, getting deep-tissue, shiatsu-level rough on it to help break down the chicken's tough muscle fibrils.

Next, I add salt, pepper, shredded cabbage, and thinly sliced onions to the bowl, toss it all together, and set it aside while I make the dressing. Letting the salad rest helps the cabbage soften up a little bit, while still retaining most of its crunch.


The dressing is a simple mix of tahini thinned out with water and flavored with garlic, lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil. I love using tahini here because it adds a rich, creamy mouthfeel without the heaviness or greasiness of mayonnaise or sour cream. The only trick is in forming the emulsion: Make sure to combine the tahini and lemon juice before drizzling in olive oil as you whisk, so that it all incorporates without breaking.

The final ingredient is fresh herbs, and lots of them. Big handfuls of chopped parsley, mint, and cilantro add a ton of flavor and freshness. The salad ends up so damn good that I'm tempted to say it's worth breaking out the grill and cooking the chicken just so you can use it for this dish. But then, of course, we'd have to cook something else while the coals die down, which leaves us with a whole new set of leftovers to deal with.

Oh, the headaches of summer!