Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad With Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Sometimes in life you just have to have a salad, like all summer long. All summer long, nuttin’ but salads. And watermelon. I’ll do a post or twelve starring watermelon another time. I have one (recipe, not watermelon) that has been brewing in my brain since the end of last summer–does that mean that I have fermented watermelon thoughts after all this time?

….. Wait a minute. I get sidetracked so easily when I write. Have you ever noticed that I have that issue? I start out talking about one thing and then switch to something completely unrelated. I especially want to talk to you about this Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette Dressing. 

I know that, officially, chopped salads are supposed to be all mixed up together with the salad dressing. Believe me, I tossed my salad together with the dressing plenty when I sat down to eat it. For pictures, however, I have issues with trying to make a chopped salad look appetizing after it is all mixed up with the dressing. It’s kind of like posting a picture of a casserole—definitely takes a bit of finesse. Or something.

Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Oh, and speaking of food styling and photography, I own several books on the subject. One of the books is brutally honest about the whole process of making food look amazing. I say food, but sometimes what you’re seeing is not really food, and definitely is not edible. Here are a couple of things that I have learned.

  1. Poultry. You know how the turkeys on magazine covers always look plump and gorgeous with that amazing all-over rich golden brown color, but your own home-cooked turkey does NOT come out looking that way? Here’s the reasons why magazine turkeys look like they do. Try not to get queasy, okay?
    • The neck and innard’s cavities are stuffed with, um, stuff. For instance, the neck cavity may be stuffed with cotton balls,  cheesecloth, or meticulously folded paper towels. The innards cavity is often stuffed with wadded up aluminum foil. The purpose of the ‘stuffing’ material is to help the bird hold its shape when baked, or rather, sort of baked.
    • The skin of the turkey or other poultry is stretched, then pinned into place with T-pins, toothpicks or skewers.
    • The bird is baked for only a few minutes, just long enough to tighten the skin and make it look smooth. A chicken may have been baked for only 10 minutes and a turkey for maybe 25-40 minutes. Yes, they are essentially raw. (Insert immediate gag reflex here.)
    • A colorant is painted or dabbed onto the pale, partially baked skin to give it a deep, rich golden brown color. One recipe I read about calls for cooking oil, brown colorant, and dish soap. Oh yeah, baby, I want to have a piece of that fowl.
  2. Ice cream. All of those magazine pictures of perfect ice cream scoops? Fake. It ain’t ice cream.
    • Fake ice cream can be made from mashed potatoes, a mixture with shortening as a main ingredient, or even store-bought frosting with a lot of extra powdered sugar blended into it so that it is nice and stiff.
    • It’s easy enough to continue the complete fake-out by adding food coloring to the fake ice cream to make it whatever color it needs to be to best imitate the desired real ice cream.
    • If the real ice cream has bits of chocolate pieces, nuts, etc. then those items are also added to the fake ice cream. The fake ice cream is scooped into nice rounded shapes, then placed on serving object, be it dish, cone, or the edge of a glass. Extra bits of frosting can be added to the scooped ice cream to make it appear that the ice cream was ruffling around the edges.
    • To complete the fake-out, simulated melted ice cream drips are also added. The drips are merely a mixture of the fake ice cream and Elmer’s glue and are added in just the right places. Gee, would you like your ice cream in a cup or a cone?

The real deal. To restore your faith in some honest to goodness recipes that use lusciously edible ingredients and no trick pics, for poultry try Fruit and Juice Brined Turkey, Roasted Lemon-Thyme Turkey with Lemon Sauce, or Herbed Roasted Chicken and Vegetables. For some ice cream I highly recommend Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard, Cake Batter Ice Cream or Caramelized Fig and Banana Cinnamon Ice Cream. They are wonderful; I promise!

Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Once again, I am at a point in a post where I have to stop and look back at where I started and try to figure out how in the heck to get back on topic. Remember that we started with Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette. Let’s talk about it some more.

This salad completely embraces all that is great about the summer season. It is loaded with fresh vegetables and is full of gorgeous color. There are lots of different textures so that your mouth won’t get bored after the first few bites.

I like using those wonderful roasted chickens from Costco for this salad. Any deli roasted chicken will do, of course. Naturally, you can use whatever chicken is available to you; this salad is a great way to use up that leftover chicken from Sunday dinner. An easy and very tasty alternative for a precooked chicken is this Taqueria-style Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken. Yum!

The cilantro-lime vinaigrette is super simple to make and really brightens the salad. I am a cilantro fan and love its unmistakable boldness. The lime and vinegar bring the expected tart counter point and the jalapeno adds just the right amount of heat for interest.

The elements for this salad would work very well in a salad bar-style setting. Put the various ingredients in separate bowls and let everyone build their own salad. Add some sliced bread or cornbread and you’ll have a wonderful light, but filling meal.

Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Southwestern Chicken Chopped Salad With Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4-6 full dinner salads

This flavorful salad is designed to be a full meal. It is easy to prepare and can be served fully prepared or salad bar-style with each ingredient in a separate bowl to allow individualized salads.

Recipe by Terri @ that's some good cookin'


    For the Salad:
  • 10 cups chopped Romain lettuce (about 1 head)
  • 4 cups chopped purple cabbage (about 1/2 of a small head)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black olives, sliced
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 avocados, diced (sprinkle with a little lime juice to retain color)
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced into fourths
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced into rounds--include some of the dark green stems
  • 1 Anaheim pepper, seeded and small diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and small diced
  • 2 cups medium diced cooked chicken
  • 3/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese (grated Monterrey Jack is also a good option)
  • For the Cilantro-Lime Dressing:
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 packed cup rough chopped cilantro


    For the Salad:
  1. Place all ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss together until ingredients are well distributed.
  2. For the Cilantro-Lime Dressing:
  3. Place the lime juice, rice vinegar, jalapeno, garlic, salt and sugar in a blender and blitz until smooth.
  4. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to create an emulsion.
  5. Turn off blender and add the cilantro. Pulse blender to chop cilantro into small pieces. Do not chop too finely. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
  6. May be served right away or chilled to allow flavors to blend.
  7. When ready to serve, pour salad dressing over salad and toss well. Serve immediately.
  8. Optional serving method: Place ingredients in separate bowls or dishes. All each person to build their personal salad.

Continuing Education

Here’s an interesting video from McDonald’s which gives insight into how a burger is styled for a photoshoot.


You may also like:
Traditional Chicken Salad
Traditional Chicken Salad
Crab and Shrimp Chopped Salad with Thousand Island Dressing
Crab and Shrimp Chopped Salad with Thousand Island Dressing
Restaurant-style Salsa
Restaurant-style Salsa


  1. Dalila G. says

    I use to always wonder how all the “beautiful” food stayed beautiful while they shot it for magazines and such. As time went on I found out what the ‘stylist??’ actually did to all the food before it was shot…….eewww!!
    The food does look so yummy, makes you want to take a big bite, but it’s just for a picture…NO EATING IT!! Between the sprays that are applied and the colors painted on the food….no thanks, I’ll pass.
    My recipes do come out looking pretty good, not fabulous like the magazines, but at least mine are edible. 🙂
    I didn’t know about the ice cream, pretty wild method. I guess they have to do whatever it takes to sell. Bottom line, it’s all about selling to the public and making lots of money and I’m very good at spending money! LOL!!
    This salad looks great for lunch or dinner. We are big salad eaters and I’m always on the look-out for new to me recipes. I plan on making this one for us soon. Just need to gather some missing ingredients and then it’s a go.
    Thanks Terri! Another cool salad recipe, my file is expanding nicely with your fad food ideas. 😀

  2. Dalila G. says

    Geez!! So sorry Terri, I meant fab not fad……I’m such a dork at times. *^_^*
    Have a great day!

  3. Carol says

    Oh Terri, this salad looks AMAZING……it’s got everything we love in it from the goodies in the salad to the dressing. I can’t WAIT to try this one…….what a perfect one dish summer meal on a hot humid night.

    I hear ya on that whole food styling thing……my stuff rarely comes out looking like the magazine or cookbook photo but hey-taste is what counts. I saw a show on how they make food look good for the camera on one of the cooking channels one night-a real eye opener. Around here, the photos get shot then on the table it goes. No dish soap in anything but the dishpan.

    Tell you what…….your photos of that salad make me want to grab a fork and dig right on in! 🙂

    • says

      Hi, Carol. Since I have been reading about food styling, I have been looking intently at various photos in my food magazines to try and identify the ‘tricks’ involved in the presentation. I find that I vacillate between saying “oh, I know exactly how they did that” and “that’s not real, cheaters”.

      Thanks for the compliments on the salad; it was a nice break from actual cooking. ~Terri

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