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Earls Santa Fe Chicken Salad (Earls Restaurant Copycat)

posted May 1, 2024
by Cassandra Morris
This recipe is a spot-on replica of Earls' famous Santa Fe Chicken Salad. Packed with avocados, dates, corn, black beans, and feta, it's topped with a homemade dressing that may just surpass the original. Trust me, this is a MUST try!

For the Canadians frequenting this site, you are no doubt familiar with Earl’s restaurant. Earls changed their recipe for this and the salad, sorry Earls, just doesn’t taste the same anymore. I went on a mission to recreate this recipe at home. After many attempts and ingredient variations, I finally crafted the perfect replica of Earls’ famous Santa Fe Chicken Salad. The taste testers—the girls I went and had this with for so many years—couldn’t believe it. Dare we say this version is even better than the original. I’m so excited to share it with you here! This salad is truly a must-try! It’s a regular in our house, and I have a feeling it may become a regular in your home as well. If you make this, please let me know in the comments under the recipe. I love to hear from you!

Ingredients Needed

Before diving into the recipe, here’s a rundown of the essentials:

Peanut Lime Vinaigrette:

  • Roasted peanuts – Adds nutty flavor and creamy texture to the dressing.
  • Garlic – Minced for a punch of savory taste.
  • Cumin – Provides warm, earthy notes to complement the lime.
  • Freshly squeezed lime juice – Adds brightness and acidity to the dressing.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil – Balances flavors and adds richness.
  • Sherry vinegar – Offers a tangy kick; red wine vinegar can be substituted.
  • Cilantro leaves – Fresh herbaceous flavor that brightens up the dressing. Discard stems before use.
  • Salt and pepper – Enhances the overall flavor profile.
  • Vegetable oil – Helps create a smooth emulsion in the dressing.

Cajun Blackening Spice:

  •  Smoked paprika – Adds smoky depth and vibrant color to the spice blend.
  • Garlic powder – Provides savory, aromatic flavor.
  • Onion powder – Adds sweet, oniony notes to the seasoning mix.
  • Dried oregano – Contributes earthy, herbaceous flavor.
  • Dried thyme – Adds a subtle floral and minty flavor.
  • Chili powder – Provides warmth and a touch of heat.
  • Cayenne pepper – Adds a spicy kick; adjust according to preference.
  • Salt – Enhances the overall seasoning of the chicken.
  • Ground black pepper – Adds a mild heat and peppery flavor.
  • Ground white pepper – Adds subtle heat and pungency to the spice blend.

Santa Fe Chicken Salad:

  • Vegetable oil – Used for pan-frying the chicken to golden perfection.
  • Chicken breasts – Juicy, tender protein base for the salad.
  • Romaine lettuce – Crisp, refreshing base for the salad.
  • Black beans – Adds protein, fiber, and a creamy texture to the salad.
  • Frozen corn – Adds sweetness and crunch to the salad.
  • Dried dates – Provides natural sweetness and chewy texture.
  • Feta cheese – Salty, tangy cheese that adds richness to the salad.
  • Avocados – Creamy, buttery slices that elevate the salad.
  • Lime – Cut into wedges for a fresh citrusy finish.

Each ingredient plays a crucial role in creating the vibrant flavors and textures of this Santa Fe Chicken Salad.

How To Make Earls Santa Fe Chicken Salad

Step One: Using a food processor, puree the peanuts, minced garlic, cumin, 4 tablespoons of lime juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and sherry vinegar until extremely smooth. Blend for 5 minutes, scraping the sides with a spatula throughout this process.

Step Two: Add the cilantro, remaining lime juice, salt, and pepper. Continue to puree until the cilantro is finely incorporated and the dressing is extremely smooth with no more chunks of peanuts.

Step Three: With the machine running, slowly pour in the vegetable oil to create a strong emulsion. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. The peanut lime vinaigrette can be stored for 5 days.

Step Four: Combine all of the Cajun Blackening Spice Ingredients and mix well. Store in a dry, sealed container until ready to use.

Step Five: Remove chicken breasts from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Step Six: Pat dry the chicken breasts with a paper towel, then dredge them in the Cajun blackening spice until coated on all surfaces.

Step Seven: Add vegetable oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Once hot, swirl the oil to coat the skillet.

Step Eight: Cook the chicken breasts for about 7 minutes on each side until well browned and cooked through (internal temperature of 160-165ºF). Watch carefully to prevent overcooking.

Step Nine: Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and allow it to rest for five minutes before slicing.

Step Ten: While the chicken is cooking, combine romaine, black beans, corn, dates, feta, and peanut lime vinaigrette in a large salad bowl. Toss together until all ingredients are lightly coated with the vinaigrette.

Step Eleven: Divide the salad evenly into bowls and top with avocado slices.

Step Twelve: Garnish each bowl of salad with lime wedges and top with sliced blackened chicken.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use store-bought Cajun seasoning instead of making my own?

Yes, you can substitute store-bought Cajun seasoning for the homemade blend. However, making your own takes literally 5 minutes and tastes SO much better.

Can I make the peanut lime vinaigrette ahead of time?

Absolutely! The vinaigrette can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Just give it a good shake before using.

Expert Tips

  1. For extra flavor, coat the chicken breasts in the Cajun blackening spice and let marinate on a plate covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for a few hours before cooking.
  2. Don’t overcrowd the skillet when cooking the chicken to ensure even browning.
  3. Adjust the level of spiciness by increasing or decreasing the amount of cayenne pepper in the Cajun blackening spice. I don’t like too much spice as I find it overpowers the spice mix but season to your preference.

Recipe Variations

If you want to adapt this Earls Santa Fe Chicken Salad recipe and switch it up a little, here are some recommendations you can try:

  • Grilled Chicken: Instead of pan-frying, grill the chicken breasts for a smoky flavor.
  • Vegetarian Option: Omit the chicken and add grilled tofu or chickpeas for a protein-rich vegetarian version.
  • Add Some Heat: Drizzle the finished salad with hot sauce or sprinkle with chopped jalapeños for an extra kick.

Making Ahead, Reheating & Storage Instructions

To make ahead, prepare the components of the salad separately and assemble just before serving to maintain freshness. Leftover salad can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. To reheat the chicken, gently warm it in a skillet over low heat or in the microwave until heated through.

Now you’re ready to enjoy your homemade Earls Copycat Santa Fe Chicken Salad! If you are loving these restaurant copycat recipes make sure to also try Earls Copycat Warm Potato Salad, PF Changs Chicken Lettuce Wraps and for dessert Dairy Queens Copycat Ice Cream Cake!

 Don’t forget to share your experience in the comments below. Cheers!

salad with chicken in a salad bowl

Earls Copycat Santa Fe Chicken Salad

This recipe is a spot-on replica of Earls' famous Santa Fe Chicken Salad. Packed with avocados, dates, corn, black beans, and feta, it's topped with a homemade dressing that may just surpass the original. Trust me, this is a MUST try!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

Peanut Lime Vinaigrette

  • 6 tablespoons roasted peanuts
  • 8 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 9 tablespoons (approx 5 large limes) freshly squeezed lime juice divided
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons cilantro leaves no stems, tightly packed
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Cajun Blackening Spice

  • 2 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Santa Fe Chicken Salad

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for pan-frying chicken
  • 6 chicken breasts
  • 6 cups romaine lettuce chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1 15 oz can (approx 2 cups black beans), rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups frozen corn thawed
  • 1 cup dried dates chopped
  • 2 cups feta cheese crumbled
  • 1 cup peanut lime vinaigrette more or less to your liking
  • 2 avocados sliced or diced

Topping

  • 1 lime cut in wedges for serving

Instructions

Make The Peanut Lime Vinaigrette

  • In a food processor, blend the peanuts, minced garlic, cumin, 4 tablespoons of lime juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and sherry vinegar until very smooth. You may still have fine pieces of peanuts, but aim for a smooth consistency. Let it run for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed.
  • Now, add the cilantro, remaining lime juice, salt, and pepper. Keep pureeing until the cilantro is finely blended and the dressing is incredibly smooth, without any remaining peanut chunks.
  • While the machine is running, gradually pour in the vegetable oil in a slow, steady stream to create a stable emulsion, this will prevent the oil from separating. Keep pureeing the vinaigrette until well combined.
  • Transfer the vinaigrette to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. This peanut lime vinaigrette can be stored for up to 5 days.

Make the Cajun Spice

  • Combine all the Cajun Blackening Spice Ingredients thoroughly until well mixed. Store the spice mix in a dry, sealed container until you're ready to use it.

Make The Salad

  • Take the chicken breasts out of the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  • Using a paper towel, pat dry the chicken breasts. Then coat them on all sides with the Cajun spice mixture.
  • Add vegetable oil to a large skillet and heat it over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, swirl it around to coat the skillet evenly.
  • Add the chicken breasts to the skillet and cook for about 7 minutes without flipping (5 minutes for thin-cut breasts). Flip the chicken and cook on the second side until well browned and cooked through, approximately another 7 minutes. Keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn't get too dark; continue flipping back and forth until it reaches an internal temperature of 160-165ºF.
  • Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and let it rest for five minutes before slicing into thin slices and serving it on top of the salad.
  • While the chicken is cooking, assemble the salad by combining romaine, black beans, corn, dates, feta and peanut lime vinaigrette in a large salad bowl. Toss everything together using tongs or a salad serving spoon and fork until all the ingredients are lightly coated with the vinaigrette.
  • Divide the salad evenly into bowls. Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, and slice lengthwise into ¼ inch slices. Scoop out the slices with a spoon. Garnish each bowl of salad with the avocado slices and top with the sliced blackened chicken.
  • For a finishing touch, add a lime wedge to each bowl and serve immediately.

Hi, I’m Cassandra!

I’m a proud wife, dog mom, food lovin’ Canadian girl, former TV reality show personality, wine lover and on a mission to make living a healthy + balanced lifestyle easy for everyone.

More about me

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Hi, I'm Cassandra!

I'm a proud wife, dog mom, food lovin' Canadian girl, former TV reality show personality, wine lover and on a mission to make living a healthy + balanced lifestyle easy for everyone.

More about me

Never miss a recipe!

Sign up for free recipes straight to your inbox:

Free E-Cookbook!

Cooking dinner doesn’t have to take all night. Subscribe & receive my favourite 10 Quick & Easy Dinner Recipes in an easy e-cookbook format!

Jujeh kabab - Eating | cookingwithcassandra.com

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