Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad

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If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, then you know I have a fondness for making healthier versions of my favorite, not-so-healthy restaurant dishes at home, such as…

P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps (less grease!), Food Court Baked Ziti (less cheese!), Pizza Rolls (less shame!), Chipotle Burrito Bowls (less funky chicken!) rise to the top as some of my top picks.

But some of my favorite dishes to grab on the go, don’t necessarily need a makeover. They’re light and satisfying on their own, without having to go back to the drawing board. One such meal is Panera’s Asian Sesame Chicken Salad.

All-natural, antibiotic-free chicken, romaine lettuce, fresh cilantro, sliced almonds, sesame seeds, crispy wonton strips & our reduced-sugar Asian sesame vinaigrette.

I recently enjoyed one of these masterpieces as part of Panera’s You Pick 2 Combo, natch, and it was perfectly light, crunchy, sweet and savory. The only thing that needed changing was the location of the salad. As in, from Panera’s kitchen, to my own. :)

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Reader Lisa took care of my dilemma by pointing me to Art + Food + Life, who has an awesome copycat version of the dressing recipe on her blog. Sweet!

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The recipe for this salad is broken into 3 parts for easy preparation. Don’t let the long(ish) ingredient list scare you – it comes together lickity split.

Part 1: The Chicken

Start by mixing up a savory, sesame-flavored marinade for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, that combines sesame oil and soy sauce with ground ginger, garlic powder and some other far-east flavahhhs.

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Marinate the chicken in the mixture for 15 minutes, or up to an hour, then grill or cook in a non-stick sprayed skillet until done. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then slice, and set aside.

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Part 2: The Dressing

This recipe for Panera’s perfectly sweet & tangy Asian Sesame Dressing is SPOT ON, plus it’s a cinch to make. Start by whisking sugar into boiling vinegar until it fully dissolves, about 30 seconds.

 

Once cooled, combine it with canola oil, sesame oil, salt & pepper.

 

Next, add in toasted sesame seeds. You don’t HAVE to toast the seeds, but it adds so much, plus it takes like 4 minutes. Just add the seeds to a dry skillet over medium heat, and shake the pan every 30 seconds or so until they’re are golden brown. Presto.

Add ‘em in, and shake ‘er up!

 

Dressing = done!

Part 3: The Toppings

Toppings are what make the world go round, and this salad has no shortage of them. I used chopped cilantro, mandarin oranges packed in water (just rinse and pat dry if they’re packed in syrup!)

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sliced almonds, and baked wonton strips. You could snag some fried wonton strips from your grocery store’s Chinese buffet ($.50 or so) or do what I did and cut wonton squares into strips, spray with non-stick spray, and bake at 400 degrees for 3-4 minutes. I wouldn’t buy a package of wontons just to make these strips, but dear Ben cleaned out the freezer for us this weekend (cabin fever makes husbands do crazy things – j/k he actually loves organizing,) and found a whole, unopened package of wonton wrappers, which is why I made my own vs buying. This is far longer than I wanted to talk about wonton strips.

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Assemblage:

Pile romaine lettuce and baby spinach onto a plate, then top with the chicken and toppings. Drizzle with zee dressing, and dive in! :D

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Copycat Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad

Print this recipe!

Serves 4

Dressing from Art + Food + Life

Ingredients:
1 bag pre-washed romaine lettuce
1 bag pre-washed baby spinach
4 medium chicken breasts

For the chicken marinade:
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar (or agave nectar, or honey)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

For the dressing:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

Salad toppings:
Chopped cilantro
11oz can mandarin oranges packed in water or 100% juice (rinse in water if packed in syrup)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Baked or fried wonton strips
Sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. For the chicken: Whisk together chicken marinade ingredients, and marinate chicken for 15 minutes. Grill, or cook in a non-stick sprayed skillet until done, then let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Cut into slices.
  2. For the dressing: Bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, then add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Let cool. Combine with the rest of the dressing ingredients in a jar, and shake to combine.
  3. Divide lettuce and spinach between four plates. Top with sliced chicken, salad dressing, and toppings.

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Panera’s version:

and mine!

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The addition of mandarin oranges, which Panera doesn’t use, to this salad was totally clutch. That burst of juicy sweetness is fantastic with the bold cilantro, and sesame-laced dressing.

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The textures in this salad were out of this world too. Love it when a recipe remix comes together like this!

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Now if only I could find a recipe for Panera’s Cinnamon Crunch Bagel… ;)

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In other news, all that salad must’ve gone to my brain because Ben just talked me into going for an evening walk in the snow. Wish me luck…

See ya’!

~~~~~

If you could make any food instantly healthy, what would it be?

Easy. Oreos.

~~~~~

LOCALS:

Care to partake in mini martinis, bite-sized sweets, and an olive bar this weekend? (Twist my arm, right?!)

Living History Farms is hosting an event called Spirits & Sweets this Saturday, February 11, from 3-6pm. Local Iowa artisan distillers, including Templeton Rye, will be on hand mixing mini martinis to sip on while nibbling sweets from local bakeries. Gateway Market will also be onsite with an olive bar. YUM!

Tickets are $18 for LHF members, and $20 for non-members, but they gave me 2 tickets to giveaway for free – whee!

Enter to win 2 tickets by tomorrow at 5pm by telling me what your favorite cocktail is in the comments section below. Ready, set, go!

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