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Pantry Raid: Curried Chicken Salad

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Shortly after I started eating meat more regularly, I saw Ina Garten make curried chicken salad on an episode of her show, Barefoot Contessa. My immediate thought was that it looked good (and, duh, her food always looks amazing) and sounded different, but I didn’t immediately put it at the top of my “recipes to try” list, and here’s why.

I took a big pause at the idea of curry and chutney mixed together, really skeptical about how two strong-tasting ingredients like that would taste when mixed together. Also, I was never a big fan of traditional chicken salad. Growing up, my dad and I would go out for sandwiches for lunch on a regular basis. Whenever I ordered chicken salad from a nearby deli or restaurant, it often tasted bland and mushy, with tiny pieces of chicken and not enough crunch from celery and onion to make up for the amount of mayo put in the salad.

Knowing that Ina has rarely led me astray, I gave the recipe a try and was soon obsessed. For a while I made this salad at least once a week, without fail, to bring to work for lunch. It has a totally unexpected flavor on account of the chutney and curry, which do taste good together after all. It’s creamy without tasting like eating a spoonful of mayo, and super-crunchy from the celery and cashews, one of my favorite nuts.

Ina’s Curried Chicken Salad has become a pantry staple recipe; I keep the ingredients on-hand for whenever I’m in the mood to make a quick dinner or lunch for work. Using the original recipe as a guide, here are a few things that I like to adjust when I make it.

Hot curry powder—I bought a jar from Williams Sonoma last year and had great intentions to use it to make flavorful vegetarian curry dishes. It ended up lingering in my spice cabinet, unopened, until I started making this salad. I’ve used a majority of the jar and will likely need to buy some more soon. I’m not sure if they still carry the spicy curry powder in-stores and I didn’t see it online on the website, either. If all else fails, you can add a little bit of cayenne to regular curry powder; that’s what makes it “hot” based on what I remember from the ingredients list on the label.

Homemade chutney—I have a ton of peach and apple chutney on-hand from my canning spree last year and they work wonderfully in this salad. I generally end up using one of my half-pint containers (about 1 cup) since I make this in larger quantities than what the recipe suggests. I’ve never made the salad with anything different, so I can’t provide a recommendation for what store-brands might work the best. If you feel so inclined to go the extra mile to make your own, and it is a good way to use up any peaches that you might be getting now at the farmer’s market, check out recipes from Ball Fresh Preserving, Food and Wine, or Food In Jars.

No white wine—If I have a bottle open, I’ll use a little. If not, I don’t worry about it and use a touch of apple cider vinegar for the same tangy flavor and acidity.

Less mayo and lightly dressed—Instead of using all mayo, I use about half mayo and half light sour cream, which helps a little to cut down on calories. If I don’t have sour cream, I’ll use Greek yogurt; both are two of my favorite ingredients and are fairly interchangeable. Finally, after the sauce is blended up, which I do in a food processor, I pour it into the salad a little at a time so the salad is coated but not drowning in dressing.

Get the recipe for Ina Garten’s curried chicken salad from Food Network.  Leave a comment below and let me know how you like it, with or without my modifications.