Southwest Chicken Salad


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Southwest chicken salad is a hearty “main dish” kind of salad with bold flavors. Chicken breasts are marinated in cilantro lime goodness, then seared until golden and added to a bed of romaine lettuce along with sweet corn, black beans, and grape tomatoes. A generous drizzle of creamy avocado dressing ties it all together.

Southwest chicken salad in a white bowl next to a small bowl of avocado dressing.

As you can tell, Southwestern flavors have a special place in my heart. Which is probably why I always find myself making chicken fajitas or stuffed peppers. The blend of earthy and bold flavors turns the simplest meals into an exciting one.

And this southwest chicken salad is just that. Crisp greens get topped with juicy spiced chicken, sweet corn, hearty black beans, juicy tomatoes, and creamy avocado dressing. Let’s just say this will have your taste buds craving for more. So don’t forget to make extra chicken!

Southwest Chicken Salad Ingredients

With a few pantry staples and fresh ingredients, this recipe comes together easily. Here’s what’s in it:

  • Cilantro Lime Chicken: I typically use bone-in, skin on chicken thighs to make cilantro lime chicken. But since we’re tossing this into a salad, chicken breasts will be much easier and save you a little cooking time.
  • Romaine Lettuce: You could use any lettuce in this recipe, but romaine has that lovely crisp texture.
  • Sweet Corn: I’m using canned corn that’s been rinsed and drained. But you could use grilled corn on the cob for extra smoky flavor.
  • Black Beans: Beans provide that hearty, filling fiber to help make this a dinner salad.
  • Grape Tomatoes: I love grape tomatoes as they’re easy to cut in half, but you could use cherry tomatoes or Roma tomatoes as well.
  • Red Onion: I think onion is a necessity in a salad, for that punch of savory flavor.
  • Avocado Dressing: You’ll want to generously drizzle the avocado dressing all over this salad. See more tips on this dressing below.

The ingredients to make southwestern chicken salad all in individual bowls.

The Best Creamy Avocado Dressing

While I love adding avocado slices to my salads, a drizzle of this creamy avocado dressing creates the same flavor – but better. Think of it as my all time favorite guacamole recipe, but in a liquid form that makes it easy to pour onto salads or macro bowls.

When your chicken is almost done marinating, quickly blend together the ingredients in a food processor. Then set aside for later. Here’s what you’ll need.

  • Liquids: olive oil, water, lime juice
  • Aromatics: garlic + cilantro, basil, or parsley will work
  • Seasonings: a pinch of salt and pepper

Sliced cilantro lime chicken and southwest salad ingredients in two bowls.

How To Make A Southwest Chicken Salad

Now that your chicken is ready to go, let’s get cooking and assembling.

  • Sear or Grill. Heat up the rest of the oil in a large skillet and cook the chicken fillets for about 4-5 minutes on each side.
  • Assemble. This salad starts with a layer of chopped romaine lettuce for that crisp texture. Then complemented with layers of grape tomatoes, black beans, and corn. Classic southwestern ingredients.
  • Drizzle. Tie it all together with a drizzle of the avocado dressing.
  • Serve immediately and enjoy!

Customize Your Salad

  • Make it vegan. Substitute the chicken with one can of chickpeas and simply toss it together with the rest of the ingredients. Or make a batch of roasted sweet potatoes for a warm and filling option.
  • Switch up the dressing. If you want to add avocado slices instead of using the dressing, you can lightly drizzle citrus lime vinaigrette, lime crema, or chipotle sauce instead. It’ll add a fresh and bright punch to this salad.

Two southwest chicken salads drizzled with avocado dressing.

Meal Prep And Storage Tips

To Meal Prep: Make the cilantro lime chicken and pre-cut into strips. Store the chicken, chopped lettuce, and avocado dressing into their own containers. Then toss together the corn, beans, and red onion together in another container.

To Store: All the ingredients can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge.

To Reheat: Simply reheat the chicken in the microwave for a 1-2 minutes, then assemble the rest of the salad as is.

More Hearty Dinner Salads

For the days when you’re craving a salad that’s hearty enough for a dinner meal, these recipes won’t disappoint.

Southwest Chicken Salad

4.83 from 17 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Marinade: 6 hours
Total: 6 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan


Southwest chicken salad is a hearty "main dish" kind of salad. It's simple to make, filled with bold flavors, hearty enough to fill you up, and also makes for delicious meal prep.


For The Chicken & Marinade

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, approximately 6 ounces each
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
  • 2 limes , juiced and zested
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For The Salad

  • 4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup red onion , thinly sliced

Avocado Dressing

  • 1/2 large avocado
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water, or more for thinner consistency
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, basil or parsley leaves
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together two tablespoons of olive oil, with the lime juice, cilantro, garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. You can also pulse in a food processor until it's combined.
  • Combine the marinade and chicken fillets in a shallow dish or plastic bag. Marinate the chicken for 2-6 hours in the fridge.
  • When the chicken is done marinating, make the avocado dressing. Place all the dressing ingredients to a food processor and blend until creamy. Set aside.
  • Heat the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Then sear the chicken for 4-5 minutes on each side, until they're golden brown and have reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees fahrenheit.
  • Let the cooked chicken rest for a couple of minutes. Then slice into strips.
  • In a large salad bowl, layer the chopped lettuce with beans, corn, tomatoes and chicken strips. Then drizzle the avocado dressing on top.

Lisa's Tips

To Meal Prep: Make the cilantro lime chicken and pre-cut into strips. Store the chicken, chopped lettuce, and avocado dressing into their own containers. Then toss together the corn, beans, and red onion together in another container.
To Store: All the ingredients can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge.
To Reheat: Simply reheat the chicken in the microwave for a 1-2 minutes, then assemble the rest of the salad as is.
I also love this mini food processor for making the marinade and dressing. It's the perfect size for smaller quantities!


Calories: 518kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 72mg | Sodium: 441mg | Potassium: 1063mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 4539IU | Vitamin C: 33mg | Calcium: 71mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Southwest chicken salad, Southwestern chicken salad
Did you make this recipe?Mention @downshiftology or tag #downshiftology!

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About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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Recipe Rating


  1. I made this. My wife loved it. The only thing I changed was scaled back on lime and didn’t use beans. Great recipe5 stars

  2. The dressing was not as flavorful as I was expecting. I think the water added tones down the flavor and it is needed because it is so thick! Next time I will use Greek yogurt. And juice of one lime is a tad bit much. I had a juicy lime and used a lemon squeezer for it so I got quite a bit in the dressing. Overall it was okay but for the amount of work I was expecting a more delicious dressing 2 stars

  3. I just made this and my boyfriend loved it. I stumbled across your website weeks ago and haven’t found a bad recipe yet. I love to cook and I love your nonchalant focus on health.

    Also. I made a bad a$$ salad last night I think you might like. I mixed romaine, spinach, and fresh basil leaves. Topped it with rosemary, chives ( because the store was mysteriously out of red onions), Parmesan, and herbed grilled chicken, with a honey balsamic. 

    Anyways, I just love everything you do.

    Ashley 5 stars

    1. Happy to hear you’ve been enjoying all Downshiftology recipes so far Ashley :) Also, that salad you made sounds delicious!

  4. This was really good.  I made it exactly as you wrote and it is a keeper.  I love the avocado dressing.  Thanks, Lisa.5 stars

  5. Love this salad, I did shortcut the dressing and used Marzetti Cilantro avocado dressing and some tortilla salad topping strips5 stars

  6. This looks like a great recipe but it should not be tagged and listed under Whole30 because it is not compatible with the program rules, which do not permit legumes (black beans) and grains (corn). If you advised people to exclude those ingredients then this could in fact be labeled as ‘whole 30 with modifications’. Maybe suggesting a compatible alternative such as chopped bell pepper would be a helpful suggestion for some folks who would want to replace those items with something else but still learning program rules. Maybe it was an error to categorize it there. Love your site though! Yummy recipes!

  7. Made this today, it was wonderful! I switched up the dressing and blended salsa and paleo ranch since I didn’t have any avocados on hand.5 stars

  8. I made this salad for lunch today and it was out of this world delicious! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!5 stars

  9. The avocado dressing really puts this salad over the top! Love all the flavor combinations. It’s definitely a salad I’d happily pay for out, so it’s even better that I can make it at home ;)5 stars

  10. I love EVERYTHING about this salad – and the dressing is so delicious. I can’t wait to make this again. It’s a winner in my house!5 stars

  11. This is the perfect lunch option for a hot summer day like today! It looks delicious.5 stars

  12. My daughter is dying -pancreatic cancer- and you are a God send– my mind just doesn’t seem to stay focused lately and the way you have constructed your website– meal preparation isn’t another major hurdle I have to deal with everyday. I just go to your site and find something nutritious ,pretty to look at and most of all easy to make . my family has no idea the stress i am experiencing at this time– they all just want a meal on the table. Thank you for what you do.

    1. Hi Juanita- I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I can’t even imagine the pain you’ve been going through – but I’m glad my recipes can help in any way possible during these difficult times.