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The BEST Mayo-Free Chicken Salad

At least that’s what both of my sisters said last week when I had them sample it. 😀

I first whipped up this interesting little gem of a recipe back in February, when we had just begun the modified elimination diet before going to see Dr. Vikki Petersen.  I think the hardest foods to give up for the modified elimination diet were citrus and vinegar because that meant no condiments.  No ketchup, no mustard, no salad dressing and no mayo.  How in the world do you make chicken salad without mayo?

The inspiration for this sauce came from a recipe I made out of Shauna and Danny Ahern’s cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes called Seared Shrimp with Garlic Almond Sauce, you can see a picture of it in this post.

I first tried to make chicken salad with the Garlic Almond Sauce, but it just wasn’t “right” for chicken salad.  After some experimentation, I finally landed on using macadamia nuts, with their light and buttery flavor.  It worked so well that I felt as though I had struck gold (literally, the sauce is a beautiful golden color!).

But first, I want to tell you about some of the health benefits of this salad.

Did you know that macadamia nuts are a not only a good source of magnesium and potassium, but they’re also packed with copper, iron, vitamin B3, phosphorous, vitamin B1, zinc and vitamin E?  Macadamia nuts also provide monounsaturated fat and arginine, an essential amino acid.  Some studies have even shown that macadamia nuts aid in lowering LDL cholesterol levels.

Macadamia nut oil provides other significant health benefits.  While olive and canola oil are the most common monounsaturated oils to use in cooking, macadamia nut oil is superior to cook with because of its lower level of polyunsaturated fat (3% for macadamia nut oil versus 8% for olive oil and 23% for canola oil).  As a result, while olive oil and canola oil can form lipid peroxides at relatively low cooking temperatures, macadamia nut oil is stable at much higher temperatures (over two times more stable than olive oil and four times more stable than canola).  Macadamia oil, like olive oil, is also very high in natural antioxidants.  In fact, it contains more than 4.5 times the amount of vitamin E as olive oil.  To read more about the macadamia nut’s amazing health benefits, check out this article.

Another ingredient I add to my chicken salad are Eden Food’s Dried Montmorency Tart Cherries, which are not sweetened with cane sugar.  Now, I like tart foods in general (I love to eat raw added sugar, LOL!), but there is something very special about Montmorency Tart Cherries!

Cherries, in general, are rich sources of flavonoids, specifically anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, the molecules that give this fruit its deep red-blue color.  In general, the darker the cherry, whether sweet or sour, the better it is for you because it contains a higher concentration of flavonoids.  The flavonoids exert a number of beneficial effects.  Did you know that cherries are natural COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors (to read more about this, click here).  The COX-inhibitory activities of cherries have been found to be comparable to those of NSAIDS (like ibuprofen), and the best part, cherries do not come with serious side effects! 😀  Hungry for more information on tart cherries? Check out these articles:

Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Cancer Compounds from Tart Cherries

Montmorency Tart Cherries – Fighting Pain, Heart Disease, Inflammation

My chicken salad also contains garlic and scallions, which are some of the sulfur-rich foods that contain flavonoids which stimulate glutathione production.  To learn more about glutathione, check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s excellent article, Glutathione: The Mother of all Antioxidants.


Mayo-Free Chicken Salad (corn free, dairy/casein free, egg free, soy free, vinegar free, citrus free)

Printable Recipe

Chicken Salad

5 Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts, baked or grilled (I’ve been grilling my chicken lately, using Stubb’s 100% All Natural Texas Roadhouse Wood Chips and the smokiness adds an additional layer of flavor that is wonderful).

1 cup Eden Organic Dried Montmorency Cherries

1/2 cup Scallions, diced

Macadamia Nut Dressing (see recipe below)

  • Shred chicken breasts (or chop into cubes), place in a large bowl.
  • Add macadamia nut dressing, toss to combine.  I recommend adding about half of the dressing, then taste to see if the salad is moist enough for your taste (I typically use 2/3 of the dressing).
  • Add Dried Cherries and Scallions, mix to combine.  Add more dressing if needed.

Macadamia Nut Dressing

1 cup Macadamia Nuts

2 Garlic Cloves

1/2 tsp. Sea Salt

2/3 cup. Olive Oil

  • Add macadamia nuts, garlic cloves and salt to a blender* (see notes), blend until the nuts and garlic are finely chopped.
  • Slowly add all of the olive oil and continue to blend until the sauce is completely smooth and velvety.


I’ve only made this in my Vitamix, but it might work in a regular blender (or a food processor) too.  Just make sure to pulverize the nuts as much as possible.  Mincing the garlic beforehand, may also be helpful.

I make a TON of this salad and Mike and I each grab a bowl for lunch on most days (we like it that much).  It’s a great salad to make a large batch of on Sundays, that way you can just grab some to pack in a lunchbox or simply snack on (really, it’s addictive).  I made a large batch and took it to California with us back in February and it was an absolute godsend, since we couldn’t go to any restaurants.

My sisters asked for a photo tutorial since they each have a brand new Vitamix and aren’t quite sure how to use it yet, LOL!

5 Grilled or Baked Chicken Breasts.

I like to shred the chicken (but you could also cube it), set aside.

1 cup of Macadamia Nuts.

Add Nuts to your blender (I used the wet blade container for the Vitamix), along with 2 Garlic Cloves and 1/2 tsp. Sea Salt.

Get ready to rip…

Pulverize the nut mixture until it looks like this.

Add olive oil.

Blend again.

Until it looks like this, smooth and creamy.

Liquid gold. 😀

Pour 1/2 of the dressing over the chicken.

Toss to combine.

Add dried tart cherries and chopped scallions.


Lastly, I would like to share and encourage you to read one of the most wonderful blog posts I’ve read in a long time.  It’s on a very important topic for those in the gluten free community; the topic of mourning a lifestyle gone by, stage one on the journey to embracing a new lifestyle and the newfound health and joy that comes with it.

My very dear friend (and gluten free super hero), Shirley Braden of Gluten Free Easily has written a post that I have long wanted to write, but somehow the words wouldn’t come.  If you have ever felt the transition to a gluten free life is something akin to the Five Stages of Grief, this is EXACTLY the article you need to read: Grieving Gluten: The Five Stages of Loss of Gluten Plus a New One.

I am very happy to say that after a few years of conflicting emotions and many episodes of deep anguish (plus a boatload of d.e.n.i.a.l. and a thousand hours on my shrink’s couch), I am now LOVING my gluten free life…and I would not give it up for anything.

(And no, I’m not lying). 😀

This post is linked to Real Food Weekly over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang


The W.H.O.L.E. Gang - Real Food Weekly



  1. I love mayonnaise like Hugh Heffner loves blondes, but this looks AMAZING. I seriously love macadamia nuts and I would have never thought to make it into a dressing, let alone use it for a chicken salad. I am so gonna try this!

    • I feel the same way about mayo and agree with you, it does look amazing! I've been hearing a lot about macadamia nut oil and the whole nut lately, this sounds perfect. I'll have to give the dressing a try. Thanks for sharing!

    • AndreAnna,

      You so have to make this salad, especially if you like contrasting flavors (think salted chocolate).

      Please let me know what you think! 😀

  2. For those of us without the Vitamix (ahem), we might try it with macadamia nut oil. Any idea about how much liquid you're getting out of the macadamia nuts? They're pretty moist, but I know it won't be one cup.

    • The whole macadamia nuts weren't used for the oil they contain, they were used to provide "body" to the dressing. I have been giving this some thought though (for people who are allergic to tree nuts) and I think this recipe would taste equally as well just using an oil (either olive oil or macadamia oil), plus the garlic and salt. This will still give the salad moisture and a lovely flavor.

      If you try it this way, please let me know how it turns out!



      • The pictures of your dressing look AMAZING. I may try grinding them up without liquifying them (the texture would be different, but maybe good). I'll let you know how it turns out!

  3. Oh Heidi!!! There you go again making me salivate. Ok, so lots of questions about travelling because we are going Santa Cruz in August and we are gfcfsf and oh boy. What did you pack for foods on your vacation? Will your kids eat this? Ok,maybe it's dinner tomorrow night since today is my Birthday and I am goin' out…thanks, Tracy

    • Hi Tracy!

      Oh boy is right, LOL!

      Traveling is certainly easier if you are driving because you can pack a lot more necessities without fear of over-weight luggage!

      That being said, when we flew to California, I packed an entire suitcase with kitchen gadgets: my Vitamix, a collapsible colander, a saucepan, a skillet, a cutting board, one of my knives and a few wooden spoons (we stayed at a hotel with a kitchenette).

      I also packed a few dozen blueberry muffins since I didn't want to mess with baking (and we couldn't have cereal or other traditional breakfast foods at the time). This worked really well for our family of 4 since my little ones only took one suitcase each (and you are allowed 2 per person on Southwest).

      I also have two different backpack coolers:… and… and these were GREAT for packing cold stuff: lunches and snacks for the flight as well as this chicken salad.

      Once we arrived in Sunnyvale, we staked out the closest Whole Foods and stocked up on produce for our daily smoothies, as well as other food items for lunch and dinner. We also purchased disposable plates, utensils and cups, plus a couple cases of bottled water.

      I know it seems like a lot of work, but Mike and I were pleasantly surprised at how well it worked (not to mention how much money we saved by not dining out for 3 meals a day). We have actually decided that when we travel from now on, we are going to try and rent a house instead of staying at a hotel so we can prepare our own delicious, safe food. 😀

  4. Amanda Schmidt says

    I LOOOOOOOVE this chicken salad! I too love mayo, but this dressing blows mayo out of the water! I can't wait to get my vitamix, this is going to one of the first things I make for sure! Thanks for sharing sis!

    • I was really excited when you and Gretchen reacted to this salad the way you did…I had been afraid to post the recipe before that (seeing that I can't taste much and I think Mike says he likes things just because he's afraid not to, LOL!).

      Congrats on your Vitamix…just don't let it sit on your counter top for the first 6 months because you're afraid to use it (like me)…I even gave you a photo tutorial so no excuses! 😉


  5. I stumbled across this recipe through another GF blog. I made it but had to modify just a bit because it didn't have enough macadamia nuts (plus they are really expensive). I use 1/2 c macadamia nuts and 1/2 c raw cashews (soaked for 2 hours). It is wonderfully creamy and still has the butter flavor of the macadamia nuts. Yum Yum!

    • Brenda,

      I can't believe you've already made this, you ROCK! I will definitely be trying your modified recipe on my next batch, you're right…macadamia nuts are EXPENSIVE! (This is like the Kobe beef of chicken salad, LOL!).

  6. I have been making chicken salad with chicken, avocado, dried cherries wrapped in a lettuce leaf. If you avocado is soft enough, it will smash up and be creamy like mayo

  7. Oh wow! This sounds incredible! I usually use Greek yogurt, avocado, vinegar and seasonings to make chicken salad, but this is a must! Thanks for sharing this one!

    In addition, I am so happy that you have now adjust to the gluten-free life style. It fits you very well! Given lemons, you've certainly made lemonade!

  8. Rebecca S says

    That. Looks. So. Good. Oh, how I wish we could have nuts!

  9. That looks incredibly good, Heidi! We're all about chicken salad in my house. I like this recipe because there's no soy like in traditiona OTC mayo! Great tutorial, dear, and a million thanks for linking to my latest post with such generous words. I'm so glad you have reached that "loving it" stage!



  10. OH, Heidi! Chicken salad is one of my favorite foods! I've always made it with mayo but this is awesome! I made it today and I used a smoked sea salt in it because I didn't grill the chicken. In my house the grill is "man zone" and my husband was busy reworking shelves in his bar so I baked the chicken. The smoked sea salt add just enough "grill flavor". But the dressing is just yummy! I'm thinking it'll be yummy on a pasta/veggie salad, too. Time to get more macadamia nuts! Thanks, Heidi!

  11. Gretchen Schmidt says

    This chicken salad is AWSOME!!!!!! And it is fresh, not heavy like the chicken salad used with mayo. This is sure to be a favorite in our home 🙂 I don't know how you do it, but you rock my beautiful sister!!!!!!!!

  12. Would cashews work here? Macadamias are way way way out of my price range—cashews are already pushing my limits. 🙂

  13. YUM YUM YUM!!! Made this yesterday and almost cried! I have not had Creamy Garlic dressing in years after going GF/CF etc… and this tastes JUST as good if not better then dairy/chemical based Creamy Garlic Dressing! I am THRILLED! Thanks SO MUCH for all you do! This by far is my FAVORITE recipe blog EVER! 🙂 Love your positive attitude as well! 🙂 THANKS AGAIN!

    Real Food Mama… Jeni Clark~

  14. I actually do NOT like mayo and am super-psyched to try this recipe. I can't believe I have ALL the ingredients at home right now. I'm making this tonight. Thank you!

  15. Heidi, I made this and didn't use all the sauce on my chicken so I took the left over sauce and used it instead of peanut sauce for a spicy peanut sauced noodle salad recipe I got from a friends ex-wife who grew up in Laos. Yummy!

  16. I am OBSESSED with this dressing! OMG heaven! I did add some red wine vinegar (edens) and dry mustard to the original recipe. Anyway, thanks so much AGAIN bec. its been YEARS since I had a creamy dressing! YUM!!!!! Its even good on peas! 🙂

  17. Wow, I need to get more recipes like this, my friend! My first week on their elimination diet and I'm finding I need to get creative, especially with my son. That recipe looks wonderful! So glad I saw it! 🙂

  18. I just made this for dinner and my family LOVED it! This is such a great recipe!!

  19. I HAVE to post again as this is the BEST dressing recipe EVER! I am addicted! LOL! 🙂 For those of us who cant have dairy, I want to scream on the roof top, this is JUST LIKE DAIRY! YUM! I crave it! 🙂 I did a few things different…

    Splash of Eden Organic Red Wine Vinegar

    1/4 tsp of dry mustard

    1/4 tsp of salt

    AND I soaked the nuts for a bit before putting them into the blender (yes BLENDER!) 🙂

    I also added about1/4 c of water.


    This dressing on Tri Colored peppers, to die for! 🙂


  20. Thanks so much for sharing this on Chowstalker Heidi!! I can't wait to try it,…sounds really delicious.

  21. Holy Moly, Heidi! I just made this and it is like the Big O on a plate! 🙂 I had to stop myself from eating it, SO delicious and SO healthy! You rock girlfriend!

  22. Alison Cervantes says

    There you go again making me salivate. I also added about1/4 c of water. I stumbled across this recipe through another GF blog.

  23. Thank you so much for this recipe. I don't have gluten sensitivities. However, I don't love mayo and I really dislike the use of soybean oil and canola oil in commercial preparations. I went looking for a non-mayo chicken salad recipe and luckily came across this post. Macadamia nuts fit perfectly into my real food "primal" diet . YUM!

  24. GF & CF LIving says

    Yumm! I have been looking for a healthier chicken salad alternative. This is perfect. Thank you!

  25. I made this over the weekend. I literally had a dream about it that night. It was fantastic. My daughter has taken it for school lunch for the last two days. Thanks for that great classic recipe! I will be making it many times in the future.

  26. Truly Madly Freely says

    Ok, crazy questions. I went to Whole Foods to get Macadamia nuts and all of their nuts say “made in same facility as wheat”. I’m not sure how safe they are and I have Celiac. What brand of nuts do you use? I’m also very afraid of buying them out of any bulk container due to CC issues. Who knew buying raw nuts would be so challenging?!!

  27. Nancy Olson says

    This Salad is really amazing! it looks so delicious, I guess I will have to try this at home!

    Thanks for sharing!

  28. In the Paleolithic period dairy products were not consume because animals had not been domesticated.
    Finally, you will find that it is not appropriate for you
    to order oatmeal when you are out in a restaurant because you will never know if it is pure or
    not. The internet is a wonderful resource for finding out some common sources of gluten.


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