Old-fashioned curried chicken salad, the kind you find in the supermarket deli case, seldom floats my boat. Too much curry powder makes it bitter; too much celery overpowers the curry. Too much mayonnaise drowns it all. If that sounds familiar, then this curried chicken pasta salad with apricots and cashews just might restore your faith. Start with big chunks of chicken, add your favorite small pasta (I love the mini penne and mini bow ties), some crunchy Granny Smith apple, plump dried apricots, and cashews. Use mango-studded Major Grey's chutney in the dressing. Make all of the components ahead, and combine at the last minute for a very fresh, fruity, un-gloppy chicken salad.
Curried chicken pasta salad with apricots and cashews
For the dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp chutney (I use Major Grey's mango chutney)
1/2 tsp sweet or hot curry powder
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
Pinch of fresh black pepper
For the salad:
4 oz mini penne, rotini or other short pasta
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (defrosted, if frozen)
A sprinkling of kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped roasted, unsalted cashews
1 Granny Smith apple, diced (do not peel)
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to use (can be made one day ahead).
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a pot on the stove top. Cook the pasta until al dente (1 minute less than the recommended cooking time on the package). Drain, rinse, and set aside to cool slightly. (Can be made ahead.)
Dry the chicken breasts, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook on a grill, a stove top grill pan, or under the broiler, for approximately 4 minutes per side, or until the inside of the chicken is no longer pink and the pieces are firm to the touch. When cool enough to handle, dice into 1/2-inch pieces. (Can be made ahead.)
Place the cooked pasta, diced chicken breast, apricots, cashews and diced apple in a large mixing bowl. Stir in as much of the dressing as you need (you might not need all of it). Taste, and season with black pepper, if needed.
Serve at room temperature or cold. If you're going to serve the salad cold, chill, covered, until ready to serve. Taste again, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.
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