This Vietnamese Chicken Salad is a flavor extravaganza. The fresh and bright flavors, slaw-like texture, and magical balance of sour, sweet, salty, umami and bitter flavors create a chicken salad that’s super yummy and nutritious.
My inspiration for this salad came from traveling in Vietnam a few years ago. I ate many shredded salads like this loaded with fresh herbs, chicken and fish. In these salads the herbs are used like vegetables, very generously.
Here I use lots of fresh mint and cilantro. You definitely don’t want to skimp on the herbs.
This slaw like chicken salad is packed full of vegetables.
We use napa cabbage, cucumbers, sweet red pepper, carrots, scallions (green part only), the herbs, chicken and cashews. In Vietnam they use peanuts but I prefer roasted cashews.
Yes there is a bit of chopping to do but it’s worth it. Cutting everything into julienne shapes creates the slaw like texture that soaks up the tangy-salty dressing making the salad incredibly tasty and easy to digest.
Tips for Preparing Vietnamese Chicken Salad
It’s best to use Napa cabbage if available. You’re only going to use the top 2/3, the base tends to be a bit too thick and crunchy. Save the remainder for a stir fry.
Cut 2 slits vertically, then thinly slice the cabbage horizontally.
Green cabbage will also work, but toss it with some dressing and set aside to soften for about 30 minutes before adding the rest of ingredients.
The boneless chicken breasts are cooked in boiling water. It’s easy and is the perfect way to get to tender, juicy chicken that’s easy to shred.
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the chicken breasts, turn heat off, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let the chicken sit for 25-30 minutes – while it’s cooking, you can prep the other ingredients.
Remove from water, let cool slightly, and shred with two forks.
Pour a small amount of the prepared dressing on the chicken to give it flavor and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
Making the Nuoc Cham Dressing
The dressing is a Vietnamese sauce called Nuoc Cham. It’s a basic sauce that’s a staple of Vietnamese flavor, used in a variety of dishes. There are many different recipes for it but in this salad I use a mixture of lime juice, fish sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, coconut sugar, avocado oil and chili peppers.
TIP: Don’t skip the fish sauce, it’s what makes the dressing have it’s incredible umami taste when paired with the other ingredients.
I use serrano peppers which have a lot of flavor but are not hot. I add a little Thai Chili to give it a bit of heat, but it is optional.
The easiest way is to pulse all the dressing ingredients EXCEPT THE CHILIS in a food processor until smooth. Then stir in the sliced serranos and Thai chili if using. Set aside 10 minutes to let flavors meld.
Alternately mince the garlic and shake the dressing ingredients in a jar.
Once everything is prepared mix the vegetables and chicken together using most of the dressing. Let sit 5 minutes to let the vegetables soften.
Add the mint and cilantro and mix thoroughly. Taste and add the rest of the dressing if desired. Serve topped with cashews.
If you’re not going to eat all the salad in one sitting only mix the vegetables you are using with the dressing. Leave the rest of the vegetables separate from the dressing and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Store the chicken separately.
This recipe makes enough for 3 huge servings or 4 regular servings. It’s a nutrient dense dish with lots of flavor, vegetables and protein. You’ll be very satisfied but you’ll still feel really light. The perfect summer salad!
If you leave out the the chicken, this would make a terrific side salad for any Asian dish.
Recipe adapted from the Vietnamese Chicken Salad in the Saveur New Classics cookbook.
If you like this recipe you may also enjoy these other salads:
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Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Fresh Herbs is made with chicken, lots of slaw like vegetables, mint, cilantro and a traditional homemade Vietnamese dressing.
- 2 serrano chili peppers
- 1/4–1/2 teaspoon Thai chili (optional)*
- 4 small cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 6 tablespoons lime juice
- 6 tablespoons avocado oil
- 16 ounces boneless chicken breasts
- 6 cups napa cabbage, top third sliced*
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and julienned or shredded (about 2 cups)
- 1 small cucumber, seeds removed, thinly sliced in half moons (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup scallions green part only, thinly sliced
- 1 cup mint leaves, lightly packed, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup cilantro, tightly packed, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
- Thinly slice the serranos and set aside.
- Chop the Thai chili if using and set aside.
- Pulse all the remaining dressing ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
- Stir in the sliced serranos and Thai chili.
- If you don’t use a processor, mince the garlic and shake dressing ingredients in a jar. Set aside 10 minutes to let flavors meld.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the chicken breasts, turn heat off, and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
- Let the chicken sit for 25-30 minutes – while it’s cooking, you can prep the other ingredients.
- Remove from water, let cool slightly, and shred with two forks.
- Pour a small amount of the prepared dressing on the chicken to give it flavor and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
- Use only the top 2/3 of the napa cabbage. Make 2 horizontal cuts, then thinly slice vertically.
- Cut red pepper in half, remove seeds and ribs, thinly slice, lengthwise.
- Julienne the carrots using a julienne tool or shred on a grater.
- Remove the seeds from the cucumber and thinly slice.
- Toss the chicken, vegetables, most of the dressing together.
- Let sit 5 minutes to let the vegetables soften.
- Add cilantro and mint, mix. Taste and add the rest of the dressing if desired.
- Top with cashews and serve.
If you use serrano chilis and want additional heat add 1/2 teaspoon Thai red chili, seeds removed (soften in hot water if dried) or red pepper flakes.
Green cabbage will work if you can’t find napa cabbage. Toss it with some dressing and set aside to soften for about 30 minutes before adding rest of ingredients.
If you’re not going to eat all the salad in one sitting only mix the vegetables you are using with the dressing. Leave the rest of the vegetables separate from the dressing and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Store the the chicken separate from the vegetables.
- Category: Salad, Main Dish
- Method: Chopping, Processing
- Cuisine: Paleo, Gluten-Free
Keywords: Vietnamese Chicken Salad
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