“Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dancing on a windy day.” – Shira Tamir
As a child growing up in the American South, I ate a lot of chicken salad.
And every fall – just like the leaves on the Autumn trees – my standard lunchbox chicken salad underwent a magical makeover. Without explanation from my mom, one day I’d just open my lunchbox and find my boring chicken salad transformed with sweet apples, juicy grapes, and crunchy nuts.
We called this chicken salad with added apples, grapes, and walnuts or pecans “Waldorf Chicken Salad,” but it also went by other names. Sometimes it was called “Sonoma Chicken Salad” or “Wine Country Chicken Salad” (although technically, those had sweeter dressings). Often it was just called “Company Chicken Salad” because it was a gussied-up version often served for company – especially bridal showers and birthday teas. Frequently it was served in little glass bowls, or in lettuce leaf boats, rather than just piled high on a sandwich bun.
Today, you no longer need chickens to make delicious “chicken” salad! (And, you no longer need their eggs for the mayo!) Multiple brands are making some version of vegan chicken strips – including Gardein, Beyond Meat, Morningstar Farms (yes, their Meal Starters Chick’n Strips are vegan, and even Quorn (their Naked Chicken Cutlets and Chicken Tenders have recently been reformulated to be vegan in the US).
I, however, reach for tempeh when I start craving “chicken” salad. Like the chicken alternatives listed above, tempeh has a chewy texture and umami taste. But unlike the others, it’s also inexpensive – roughly $2.50 or less per package! And it’s relatively unprocessed. No added sugar or salt; no unpronounceable ingredients. Check the ingredient list from a package of Lightlife Tempeh: Cultured Organic Soybeans, Lactic Acid from Plant Sources, Water, Organic Brown Rice.
And … talking about eggless mayo … Can you believe Vegenaise is 40 Years Old? Vegenaise was the first vegan mayo and I still think it’s the best for recipes. I can swap Vegenaise for mayo in recipes spoon for spoon, without making any other alterations. With other vegan mayos I usually have to tinker a bit with the recipe to make them work.
Ingredients for Tempeh “Chicken” Salad with Autumn Fruit and Nuts:
1 8-oz. Package Tempeh (I like Lightlife and Trader Joe’s brands)
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Sweet Onion, diced (about half a medium sweet onion)
2 Stalks Celery, diced
1 Gala Apple (or similar), cored and chopped small*
1/2 Cup Red Seedless Grapes, halved*
1/4 Cup Nuts (Walnuts, Pecans) – small pieces
For the Dressing:
1/2 Cup Vegenaise
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 Teaspoon Powdered Garlic
1 Teaspoon Celery Seed
3 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt, or to taste*
Directions for Tempeh “Chicken” Salad With Autumn Fruits and Nuts:
Break the tempeh into several chunks and steam for 25 minutes. The tempeh may have some darker spots – that is absolutely normal.
Let the tempeh cool, then crumble the tempeh with your hands into a large mixing bowl. The beans should pretty much just fall apart. You do not want large chunks of tempeh, as this will not feel like chicken in your moouth.
Add the onions, celery, apples, grapes, and nuts. Toss gently to mix.
In another, smaller bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and mix well.
Add the dressing to the tempeh and mix well. Chill for at least an hour to allow the flavors to fully develop.
If you use an organic red apple, leave the peel on. It looks pretty.
I recommend red grapes, for the visual impact. But green grapes will taste just as good.
When cooking with tempeh, typically you will need to add salt (as, unlike commercial meat substitutes, tempeh has no added sodium). However, some brands of mustard, especially Dijon mustard, can be quite salty! So go lightly on salt – you can always add more later.
Don’t be afraid of the nutritional yeast. In this recipe, it doesn’t taste cheesy or noochy. But it’s a major player in imparting a chicken-y taste. For added nutrition, choose a brand with B-vitamins (see Is Your Nutritional Yeast Actually Nutritious?)
This can be gluten-free – just be careful to check your package of tempeh and make sure you use a gluten-free nutritional yeast, like Bob’s Red Mill. Vegenaise is gluten-free.