Easy homemade arugula pesto adds big flavor to this family favorite Pesto Chicken Salad! This recipe can be made with leftover grilled chicken, baked chicken or rotisserie chicken and is the perfect hearty lunch or light dinner. Serve this layered on sandwich rolls or stuffed in pita pockets with fresh arugula leaves and sliced cherry tomatoes for major deliciousness!

pesto chicken salad served in a pita with potato chips

This pesto chicken salad recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis and it is sure to please! My mom was the first to find and make the recipe, probably close to 10 years ago, and our whole family has been enjoying it ever since. Anytime a picnic-type lunch recipe is needed, this one is always requested and has become my go-to for a quick and tasty meal.

I know there are tons of chicken salad recipes out there, but this one is by far the best I’ve ever tasted! The simple arugula pesto adds such dimension to your humble everyday classic chicken salad recipe. Believe me, this is anything but your everyday chicken salad!

Not only is this perfect for special occasions, but it’s so easy, I often whip it up for quick lunches. It’s even great to meal prep for lunches throughout the week. It’s delicious stuffed in pitas, served on buttery croissants, spooned on sandwich bread or piled in a tortilla wrap. We even love to enjoy it with crackers!

Such an amazing twist on traditional chicken salad!! Love it!!

— Elaine

Ingredients needed

  • Arugula. Most traditional pesto recipes use fresh basil in the ingredients, but we’re mixing it up with fresh arugula. And even if you don’t love arugula in salad (I don’t), you’ll love it in this pesto.
  • Garlic. A must in any pesto recipe.
  • Olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the base of pesto and helps all of the ingredients blend up nicely.
  • Parmesan cheese. Can’t have pesto without parmesan! I recommend using a high-quality parmesan cheese and freshly grating it, as opposed to using a container of parmesan.
  • Salt & pepper. To bring out all of the flavors.
  • Mayonnaise. We’re adding 1/4 cup mayo to give the chicken salad that classic creaminess.
  • Lemon zest. Just 1 teaspoon adds brightness to the recipe.
  • Chicken. Use any cooked, shredded chicken. Rotisserie chicken is my go-to because it’s easy and adds so much extra flavor.
  • For serving. We typically stuff this into pitas with extra arugula leaves and sliced cherry tomatoes. Yum! For a low carb, gluten-free option, try lettuce wraps.
arugula and garlic in a food processor


Like most chicken salad recipes, pesto chicken salad is very easy to whip up! You’ll just need to take the extra step of making the arugula pesto. It’s so easy and SO good! It would honestly even be good over pasta or served on warm, toasty bread.

For full, printable instructions, reference the recipe card at the bottom of the post.

  1. Make the pesto sauce. Use a food processor to combine fresh arugula leaves and garlic. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil until fully combined. Once combined, transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Next, add mayo and lemon zest, and stir to combine.
  2. Add chicken. Now, add the chopped or shredded chicken to the pesto mixture and stir well to fully combine and coat chicken.
  3. Serve and enjoy! Now, you’ve got yourself a nutritious, delicious lunch! I told you this recipe was easy! And it’s full of flavor, quick to make and super filling with all that protein!
making pesto in a food processor


Add extra ingredients for even more flavor and texture. Many of these options also add nutrients. Here are some sandwich add-ons to try:

  • Add sliced picklescucumbers or red onion for crunch.
  • I’m always a fan of avocado slices on my sandwich.
  • Top the salad with lettuce leaf or arugula for a fresh taste. You could even add a drizzle of lemon juice for extra brightness.
  • Adding sprouts, herbs or pea shoots is a great way to add color, texture and nutrients.
  • Bacon slices make any sandwich more delicious! Wouldn’t you agree?!
  • Add a slice of fresh juicy tomato or cherry tomatoes. This is a must for me when we have garden tomatoes!
mixing pesto with parmesan cheese and lemon zest


There are so many options for ways to serve pesto chicken salad! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Sandwich. This is traditionally served on sandwich bread and even though it’s super simple, it’s pretty darn delicious. You can even jazz it up by serving it on croissants or a toasted bagel.
  • In lettuce cups. If you’re looking to keep things really light and low-carb, filling lettuce cups or lettuce wraps with chicken salad is a great choice. So fresh and crisp!
  • With crackers or chips. My kids love to spoon chicken salad onto buttery crackers and I have to admit, it’s incredible. You can also use it as a dip with tortilla chips or crackers.
  • Wrapped in a tortilla. Spoon a serving in a wrap or tortilla for a chicken salad wrap.
  • Stuffed in a pita. You can serve it similar to what is seen in the pictures, here, or stuff it inside a pita pocket with fresh arugula leaves and sliced cherry tomatoes and you’re set with an irresistible, satisfying lunch or dinner meal.
stirring together pesto chicken salad in a white bowl

Tips for making pesto chicken salad

This salad recipe is super easy, but here are a few tips so that it turns out perfect every time!

  • This recipe takes a total time of 10 minutes to whip up, but I like to refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving to give the flavors a chance to come together. It’s great served at room temperature or chilled.
  • I don’t recommend freezing chicken salad because the mayo will separate when defrosting. You can freeze the cooked chicken, then just defrost it in the refrigerator the day before you want to make the salad, and add the other fresh ingredients the day of.
  • This is a great recipe to make-ahead at the beginning of the week for grab-and-go lunches, and my go-to when I have a busy schedule ahead. You’ll never want to go back to store-bought chicken salad again!


This is so tasty, there probably won’t be leftovers! But if there is, they will keep fresh in the fridge for up to about 4 days. That means, this recipe totally works for meal prep! Store in an airtight container for best results. Give it a good stir when you’re ready to serve it.

Don’t leave it out at room temperature for more than two hours for food safety.

pesto chicken salad served with cherry tomatoes in a pita


Looking for more easy salad recipes to whip up? Try these other favorites!

If you try this, let me know! Leave a comment and if your family loves it as much as mine does, be sure to give it a five star ⭐️ rating! Also, tag @kimscravings on Instagram with a picture of your creation. Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list to receive more healthy delicious recipes straight to your inbox.

pesto chicken salad served in a pita with potato chips
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Arugula Pesto Chicken Salad

Easy homemade arugula pesto adds big flavor to this family favorite pesto chicken salad! Layer Arugula Pesto Chicken Salad on sandwich rolls or stuff it in a pita with greens and sliced tomatoes for a delicious lunch.
Author: Kim


For Arugula Pesto:

  • 2 cups packed fresh arugula leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled & halved
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Chicken Salad w/ Arugula Pesto:

  • 3 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded**
  • Full recipe Arugula Pesto (above)
  • For serving: cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced, halved or quartered, fresh arugula leaves, wraps, pitas, or bread


  • Use a food processor to blend arugula and garlic until finely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add the oil until well blended. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in Parmesan, salt and pepper.
    using a food processor to mix arugula pesto
  • Add mayo and lemon zest to the Arugula Pesto and stir to combine. Stir in diced chicken.
    stirring chicken into pesto
  • To serve evenly spoon over wrap or bread or stuff in a pita and add halved tomatoes and arugula leaves of desired amount. Enjoy!
    pesto chicken salad pita


*One large rotisserie chicken works well.
**Nutritional info only includes the Arugula Pesto Chicken Salad.
Serving: 0.5cup, Calories: 364kcal, Carbohydrates: 1g, Protein: 16.6g, Fat: 32.4g, Saturated Fat: 6.2g, Cholesterol: 62.7mg, Sodium: 333.3mg, Fiber: 0.2g, Sugar: 0.2g

Did you make this recipe?

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