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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Comments

  1. BLueberry and lemon martinis! Specifically from Lucca in the E Village. YUM-O!

  2. kristy 02.06.2012

    Your salad looks even better than Panera’s! Can’t wait to try it! my favorite drink is malibu and pineapple juice…or malibu and cranberry juice. Actually, the combo of all 3 is amazing!

  3. Jv 02.06.2012

    Sangia… I just love it

  4. Heather 02.06.2012

    I love mine simple….Jameson and ginger ale. Salad looks to die for! I must try!

  5. Mollie 02.06.2012

    I love malibu pineapple!

  6. Amanda 02.06.2012

    I am really not a drinker, but this weekend I tried a chocolate martini and it was quite yummy!

  7. Emily 02.06.2012

    I like an amaretto sour!

  8. Andrea 02.06.2012

    You got me totally hooked on the Cinnamon Crunch bagel with hazelnut cream cheese…mmmm!

  9. Jeff 02.06.2012

    Cosi Cucina used to make a wonderful drink called a “Black Tie”; Vodka, Scotch & Campari garnished with cocktail onions. Its now my “House Cocktail”

  10. Jenni 02.06.2012

    I love a classic margarita!

  11. Rachelle 02.06.2012

    I love kahlua coladas! Delicious!

  12. Nicole 02.06.2012

    Southern comfort and cranberry…delish!

  13. Amy M 02.06.2012

    I love any cocktail with Baileys!

  14. Abby 02.06.2012

    Definitely a Bloody Mary.

  15. My favorite cocktail is a dirty martini – yuuuum!!! :)

  16. Tessa 02.06.2012

    Love this salad! They don’t have Panera in AZ, and I’ve been missing things like this. Now you just need to recreate the berry salad they have come summer!

  17. Alexandra 02.06.2012

    My favorite cocktail would be either a Chocolate or Banana Split martini!

  18. Kelley 02.06.2012

    Love your blog and your “copycat” recipes- the salad looks delicious!

    As for me, can’t beat a vodka cranberry!

  19. Marsha 02.06.2012

    mojito

  20. Vanessa 02.06.2012

    This is my ABSOLUTE favorite thing at Panera!!!! I’ve been looking for a recipe for that dressing for ages! :) Thanks!

  21. Brittany 02.06.2012

    My fave is a Big Ginger (ginger ale + whiskey). Delicious!

  22. Cookies and Cream ice cream :)

  23. I daresay, my dear, your salad looks WAY better than Panera’s!

    What would I make healthy? Chocolate chip cookies. Specifically all the ones I downed this weekend.

    oops.

  24. Lisa 02.07.2012

    Dirty Shirly…. vodka, 7up, grenadine and a couple cherries. Yumm

  25. Maria 02.07.2012

    My go-to cocktail is a Ketel One Martini with blue-cheese-stuffed olives.

  26. uhh yea, a copycat Panera cinnamon crunch bagel would be the best.thing.ever

  27. Linda 02.07.2012

    You salad looks delicious and way better than Panera’s!!

  28. Sheila 02.07.2012

    Extra Dirty Martini with blue cheese stuffed olives!

  29. Alissa 02.07.2012

    My favorite is cherry vodka, sprite, and a splash of grenadine.

  30. Caitlin 02.07.2012

    I love a good mojito- so sweet, so refreshing, so delicious.

  31. Lani Moeller 02.07.2012

    Definitely a White Russian

  32. rebann 02.07.2012

    Definitely a Bloody Mary!

  33. Micah 02.07.2012

    Malibu pineapple is probably my easy go-to, but if I’m somewhere that has a great mojito or sangria, I’m all over that.

  34. lindsey 02.07.2012

    i am definitely a sangria girl…it has fruit so it is healthy, right??!

  35. Allison 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail is a margarita – with salsa and chips, of course.

    I made your Healthy Hamburger Helper on Saturday. I don’t like Hamburger Helper, but my fiance used to live on it and pizza, so I decided to take one for the team and make it. I was really surprised at how much I liked it! Way better than Hamburger Helper, really.

    I went to Panera yesterday and had MY favorite – the BBQ chopped chicken salad. I would love to recreate that one at home! I never can resist getting a sweet treat from the Panera bakery after my meal though, so I know that I am in for high calories if I walk thru the Panera door.

  36. As someone who worked at Panera throughout college, I would say this looks almost like the real deal!!! The asian salad is one of my favorites, I can’t wait to try out your recipe!

  37. Jessica 02.07.2012

    Dos Rios Rojo Sangeria is perfect for summer!

  38. Tim 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan made with Templeton Rye Whiskey served up with two cherries.

  39. Chad 02.07.2012

    I will take a 7 and 7!
    Now Please!

  40. Christa 02.07.2012

    Love me some margaritas!!! probably because it usually comes with chips and salsa!

  41. Bethany 02.07.2012

    I had a snickers martini at the Stuffed Olive in Cedar Falls once. AMAZING! But I do not even want to know the calorie count!

  42. Bethany 02.07.2012

    P.S. I plan to attempt to copycat the Panera Cinnamon Crunch Bagel this weekend… I will let you know how it turns out!

  43. Jennifer W. 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail is a basic vodka tonic w/ lime. :)

  44. Josh D. 02.07.2012

    3oz of Templeton Rye poured over a pair of large soapstones right out of the freezer! Mmmm :)

  45. Kelly 02.07.2012

    Pineapple Upside Down Cake from Court Ave. Brewery!

  46. Allison 02.07.2012

    I love mojitos made with fresh lime juice and fresh mint. This event looks really fun and not too far from Cedar Falls!

  47. Sierra Kelly 02.07.2012

    You have got to be the cutest food blogger I know of, and your just so darn adorable. did i mention my obsession with your layout? ah so much to love!

    I’m Sierra Kelly from Young Alumni and I’m hosting a giveaway with a beautiful leather tassel earring. I couldn’t resist a chance to pass along the link. It’s available until Friday and it’s just perfect for Valentine’s Day!

    http://youngalumni.squarespace.com/young-alumni/2012/2/6/ks-valentines-giveaway.html

    I also do a lot of food updates, one of my upcoming posts is about some inspiration you gave me with my own little twist. I’ll be sure to share it, cheers!

  48. ErinJMT 02.07.2012

    My favorite cocktail is a Lemon Drop from the Cosmo Lounge in Suites @ 800.

  49. Julie D 02.07.2012

    Margarita! Preferably in Mexico on the beach! :)

  50. Kate 02.07.2012

    I just love fruity slushy drinks! And being able to enjoy them someplace warm!

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