Creamy chickpea salad with fresh herbs, luscious cashew dressing, scallions, and celery is a minimal effort vegan picnic salad that won't wait for warm weather. This refreshing take on vegan potato salad is perfect for plate-piling lunches or dolloping between two slices of toasted bread or piled in homemade pita bread.
Because we can
I’ll admit it. We plant-based/vegan folks seem to swarm all over chickpea salads. But it isn’t just us. I’ve served my favorite chickpea salad sandwiches or curried chickpea salad to many a visitor – all to rave reviews.
So why another one?
There's always room for another. And I wanted a big bowl, potluck, 'not another potato salad' dish.
Something creamy, sort of like my dill pickle pasta salad, sans the plant-based bacon and pasta. Rich in flavor, but with fewer ingredients and time for prep.
So here we are, an uncomplicated, creamy salad that my husband recently called 'that cheesy stuff.'
Creamy cashew dressing (think vegan ranch) is the star of this salad. It's an easy one. Here’s all you need:
Cashews – Be sure you use raw cashews. I can’t stress enough that you need to avoid anything with ‘roasted’ or ‘salted’ on the label.
Roasted cashews not only contain extra oil, but they will taint the dressing. Not only will it look unappetizing it will taste that way too. Roasted cashews might be for snacking but, they are not for cooking.
If you end up with a bag in your hand, and can’t decide if they're roasted or not, check the color first. Unroasted will be a creamy white. Still not sure? Check the label. The only ingredient should be cashews. If there is added oil or salt, place that package back on the shelf.
How to prepare cashews
If you do not have a high-speed blender, you need to consider how you want to prepare the cashews and the timing around the salad.
- 1. Dry grinding – Add the cashews to a clean coffee or spice grinder. Grind them into a fine powder.
- 2. Steaming – Place the cashews in a steam basket over low-boiling water for 5-10 minutes.
- 3. Quick soak – Place the cashews in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water. Allow them to soak for 4 hours.
- 4. Overnight soak – Cover the cashews with water and soak them overnight.
The power of your blend has a direct impact on how creamy and smooth the cashews blend; however, there are a few tips I can pass on that might help.
Use cold water – It’s the same principle as making hummus. Adding cold water helps to lighten the texture.
Use friction – A smaller blending container compresses the cashews, creating more friction between each nut. Think of the spice grinder example. You wouldn’t be able to grind dry cashews into a powder in a food processor. They’d just bounce against the side of the container. At best, you'd end up with pieces.
So, the smaller the container you have for making the dressing, the better. Probably not your spice grinder because all the ingredients won’t fit. And we aren’t wasting all creamy, luscious salad dressing by allowing it to spill over the sides.
This is one case where blenders have an advantage. They are designed to blend upwards, so the bottom is narrower than the top. In certain circumstances, I've used an immersion blender. It’s not ideal, but mine has a small container. It was more effective than my larger and not-so-powerful food processor.
Apple cider vinegar – The first acid to use is apple cider vinegar which is intensely sour with hints of sweetness.
Lemon juice – The second added acid, lemon juice, adds a kick of freshness and a distinctively different tartness than apple cider vinegar. I consider these complementary ingredients because their flavor profiles play well together in dressings and marinades.
Dijon mustard – The salty and sharp flavor of Dijon brings this dressing to life. If you like a more mustardy taste without the kick of Dijon, you can add a teaspoon or 2 of regular mustard.
Water – I’m including water because you will definitely need it. A note of caution: it’s easy to add too much water. Add a little at a time. Blend and scrape the sides of the blender before adding more.
Salt – It’s a good practice anytime you add a salty ingredient such as mustard or soy sauce, that you add salt at the end. Wait until you’ve blended the dressing and allowed it to sit for a few minutes. Then, give it a taste and see if you want additional salt. That way, if you opt for more mustard, you won’t be over-salting.
Remember, there’s no coming back from oversalting.
Ground pepper – After making the salad, you may decide you want added pepper (I did). Begin with ½ a teaspoon. Add pepper after you are done blending the first 5 ingredients (water included).
Fresh dill – Wispy, citrusy fresh dill (dill weed) has a flavor best described as someplace between grassy and anise-like licorice. You’ll know dill from pickles, of course, but fresh dill is a righteous herb on its own. It adds a unique flavor to dressings, soups, and stews.
I highly recommend using fresh dill. There really isn't a great substitute. However, if you end up substituting dried dill, you will want to add more. Dried dill does not have the same flavor as fresh.
Fresh flat-leaf parsley – Flat-leaf parsley, most popular amongst the parsley crowd, has a refreshing, slightly peppery (bitter) flavor. Curley parsley, the kind we used to call 'green garnish,' has a more intense and more bitter taste.
If you use curly parsley, you may want to reduce the amount. Test it out by adding a little, tasting (any excuse to taste), then make adjustments.
Remember, we can always flavor up.
Be sure the chickpeas are rinsed, drained, and dry. If they aren't properly drained, you can end up with extra water in the salad bowl. This can make the dressing thin and watery.
Don’t make the dressing too thick. You want it to cling to the salad ingredients with enough fluidity that they don't lump together.
For the best flavor, add the dressing to the chickpeas before adding the rest of the ingredients. Mash some of the chickpeas so that the texture is creamier, and they can absorb more of the dressing.
Dice the celery small to keep it from overwhelming the chickpeas. Slice the scallions thinly for the same reason. This also makes eating the salad easier. Trust me, you’ll want to make getting this one to your mouth as easy as possible.
After the dressing is made, there are 3 ingredients left. In my opinion, that’s all you need. If you want to add more color, you might add ½ a red bell pepper, diced small, or shredded carrot. Personally, we love this as it is, but you can start with this recipe as a base and work from there.
In terms of flavor, the best substitutes for fresh dill are tarragon and fennel. Neither will be perfect. Both have a stronger anise-flavor, so use less than the recipe calls for and add more if needed.
Fresh chopped chives will have a similar flavor to scallions, although they are a bit milder, so you may need to add more. Spring onions (not the same as scallions) are also an option. They have a more intense flavor than scallions. Leeks and shallots can also be used as substitutes.
Blanched almonds (almonds with the skins removed) could be substituted for the cashews. You could also try soaked sunflower seeds or possibly pepitas. If you want to cut the calories of the nuts, you can replace ½ of the nuts with cooked white beans such as cannelloni. The flavor will not be quite the same, but these substitutions are possible.
Once you’ve finished all the taste testing, add a final sprinkle of chopped dill and parsley to make it pretty. If you can, allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes. This allows the flavors to merge. I make no promises, but it’s a good idea if you can resist.
You can also make it ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Remove it 30 minutes before you intend to serve it so it can warm up a bit. Be sure to mix it well and add a dash of lemon juice to spruce it up.
If you like this salad, here are a few of our other favorites:
creamy chickpea salad with fresh herbs
Creamy chickpea salad with herbs, dill, and parsley, rich cashew dressing, scallions, and celery is a minimal effort vegan picnic salad.
- Prep Time: 25 min
- Cook Time: 15 min
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 8 1x
- Category: side salads
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegan
- 1 cup of raw cashews
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ - ½ cup water
- ½ tsp. ground pepper
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ½ tsp. salt (optional)
- 3 cans chickpeas, drained
- 1 cup celery, diced small
- ½ cup thinly sliced scallions
- If you do not have a high-speed blender, prep the cashews by placing them in a bowl and covering them with boiling water. Set aside and allow the cashews to soak for 20 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients. (see notes for alternative methods).
- To make the dressing, add the drained cashews, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and ¼ of a cup of water to the blender. Blend until smooth. Check the consistency and then add water 1 tablespoon at-a-time, blending after you add water until you have a smooth dressing.
- Mix in the ground black pepper, dill, and parsley. Taste the dressing and adjust the flavors if needed. Add salt if needed.
- Add the chickpeas to a medium salad bowl and pour over the dressing. Mash about ⅓ of the chickpeas for a creamier consistency. Mix in the celery and scallions.
- Garnish with more chopped dill and/or parsley.
- The salad is best if allowed to sit for 30 minutes; however, you can serve it immediately. Alternatively, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Mix the salad before serving and add a squeeze of lemon if desired.
- To soften the cashews, soak them in water overnight, soak them in boiling water for at least 20 minutes, or steam them. You can also grind dry cashews in a coffee or spice grinder and then make the dressing as directed.
- The prep time for this recipe reflects soaking the cashews for 20 minutes in boiling water.
- Be sure to use raw cashews. Roasted cashews will have added oil, will not blend smoothly, and will have a different flavor to raw cashews. If you want to swap, use blanched almonds.
Keywords: creamy chickpea salad