Pesto Chicken with Corn & Bean Salsa

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Delicious Pesto Chicken bowls with lemon chicken, and an amazing avocado and corn salsa. This easy dinner recipe is made with nutritious ingredients and whips together quickly!

Pesto Chicken is an all-in-one meal with a base, protein, and salad (in the form of the avocado-corn salsa). So while sides aren’t necessary, this Bruschetta or Italian Salad would be great accompaniments to this meal. 

Overhead photo of Pesto Chicken with chicken, corn and white bean salsa, and pesto on top.

The other day I saw fresh corn on the cob in the produce section and got embarrassingly excited. There are few things I love as much as fresh grilled corn. I’ll find just about any excuse to add fresh corn to any dish I’m making. So naturally, corn made it into these Pesto Chicken bowls!

If I can pick a favorite recipe of 2019, Pesto Chicken is IT. Not only is this meal incredibly flavorful, but it also ticks all the boxes: healthy, filling, and simple to make.

Process shots: Use a meat tenderizer mallet to pound chicken to even thickness.

How to make Pesto Chicken 

  • Pesto couscous: Couscous is fast and easy to make. In fact, it can be ready in about 10 minutes, which is a nice break from other grains that take 20+ minutes. To infuse the couscous with plenty of flavor, we stir in some pesto and a little bit of lemon juice.
  • Chicken: The chicken is made with a 1-ingredient marinade (yes, really!) and then sprinkled with lemon pepper seasoning before cooking. (More on the chicken prep below.)
  • Avocado-Corn Salsa: This salsa simple and is the highlight of this dinner. It doesn’t require a lot of chopping which is a nice departure from most salsa recipes.
  • Assemble: Pesto couscous goes first, chicken next, plenty of the avocado corn salsa, and finish it all off with a nice big scoop of pesto!

QUICK TIP

Canned beans are nearly always drained and rinsed. That helps reduce the sodium content (salt) in your finished recipe. The only exception to the drain-and-rinse technique is chili or ranch beans, since they contain a sauce, and also refried beans, because…well, you just can’t.

Sun-dried tomatoes used for the salsa topping Pesto Chicken.

A few quick tips

  • Fresh pesto: The pesto you use can make or break this dish. Avoid jarred pesto and go for freshly made basil pesto at your store. (I love Buitoni® basil pesto — not sponsored). While this dish calls for store-bought pesto to make it a quick and easy meal, you can certainly make your own pesto for this meal. 
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: The other crucial ingredient to this dish is the sundried tomatoes. Make sure to select sundried tomatoes that have been packed in oil and julienne cut to make the salsa prep quick (picture above). The oil from the tomatoes will also be used in the salsa.
  • Grill the corn: While you don’t have to grill the corn on the cob, it is incredible when cooked this way!
    • To grill corn on the cob: Peel back husks and remove silk. Rub vegetable oil on all sides of the corn and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place on heated grill (400 degrees F) and rotate every 3-4 minutes or until charred. Remove, let cool, and then slice off the cob. You can also use this same method for a grill pan.
    • (Alternatively, you can sauté corn in a skillet: sauté (drained or completely thawed) corn kernels in a preheated large cast-iron skillet for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until kernels are lightly charred over high heat. Remove and let cool completely before adding.)

Process shot of dinner creation -- draining white beans and stirring the pesto.

Dietary Modifications

  • Vegetarian: We’ve made this meal without meat countless times. Simply leave out the chicken and serve the pesto couscous with salsa on top plus more pesto! It’s surprisingly filling just like that and the beans provide the protein. Plus, it’s even quicker to make vegetarian (20-minute prep time or less!).
  • Dairy free: This meal is naturally dairy-free (as long as the buttermilk marinade is not used) and the pesto is cheese free.
  • Change up the protein: Grilled steak would also be delicious in this meal. You can also use thighs in place of breasts for this Pesto Chicken meal.

Variations on Pesto Chicken 

Process shot: white bean and corn salsa.

More on the chicken

  • Marinate: Use the marinade recipe below or my famous grilled chicken marinade.
    • For the QUICKEST marinade ever: submerge (halved and pounded to even thickness) chicken breasts into buttermilk for 30 minutes or up to 8 hours. Remove, pat dry, and proceed with the recipe!
    • If you don’t have buttermilk, but do have regular milk, you can even make your own DIY buttermilk.
  • For the lemon pepper seasoning, use your favorite blend (I like McCormick’s® lemon & pepper seasoning best or Mrs. Dash’s®.) You can even make your own if you like.

Up-close photo of Pesto Chicken bowls.

Similar chicken dinners

A lot of ingredients overlap (particularly fresh lemon), but have been written out twice for easier reading.

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Pesto Chicken with Corn and Bean Salsa

5 from 6 votes
Delicious Pesto Chicken with lemon chicken, avocado & corn salsa, and plenty of pesto! This easy dinner recipe is made with nutritious ingredients and whips together quickly!
Print Recipe

Pesto Chicken with Corn and Bean Salsa

5 from 6 votes
Delicious Pesto Chicken with lemon chicken, avocado & corn salsa, and plenty of pesto! This easy dinner recipe is made with nutritious ingredients and whips together quickly!
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Healthy
Keyword pesto chicken
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 large servings
Calories 786kcal
Author Chelsea

Ingredients

Chicken (Note 1)

  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 and 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
  • 1 cup buttermilk optional
  • 1/4 cup white flour optional
  • 1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter optional
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil optional

Bean and Corn Salsa

  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans drained, rinsed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) fire-roasted corn or 2 ears fresh corn (Note 2)
  • 1 large avocado pitted, peeled and chopped
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil + 2 teaspoons oil from the jar julienne cut (Note 3)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
  • 1 large lemon (3 tablespoons juice)

Bowls

  • 2 cups couscous
  • 2 cups chicken stock or veggie stock (water also works)
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 container (7 ounces) basil pesto sauce store-bought or homemade
  • 2 large lemons (2 tablespoons juice + additional wedges for serving)
  • Optional: fresh basil for topping

Instructions

  • CHICKEN PREP: Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally to form 4 chicken cutlets. Cover with plastic wrap and pound (use the bottom of a frying pan or meat mallet) to get the halves into even pieces (they don't need to be super thin, just equal thickness throughout). If marinating, place the chicken in a large plastic bag or similar container and cover with buttermilk. Refrigerate for 30 minutes up to 8 hours. When done marinating, remove from buttermilk, drain, and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt.
  • COOK CHICKEN: Grill/Grill Pan: Preheat the grill to about 400 degrees F (grill pan to medium-high heat). Make sure your grill grates or ridges of grill pan) are clean and greased. To grease, dredge a paper towel in vegetable oil and, holding it with tongs, rub it all over the grate. Evenly sprinkle both sides of the chicken generously with lemon pepper seasoning. Grill the chicken until completely cooked through (about 4-6 minutes per side, depending on the heat of the grill and thickness of chicken) Chicken should be at 165 degrees F at its thickest part. Tent with foil and rest for 5-10 minutes. Slice thinly or cut into small pieces. Skillet: In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flour and lemon pepper seasoning. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture, turning to coat evenly. Place the chicken in the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until done (add more olive oil if needed). Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a plate, tent with foil, and rest for 5-10 minutes. Slice thinly or chop into small pieces.
  • SALSA: Combine the drained and rinsed white beans, drained corn (or corn cut from the cob) chopped avocado, julienned sun-dried tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of the oil from the tomatoes, chopped basil, lemon juice, and salt + pepper to taste in a medium-sized bowl. (I add about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.)
  • COUSCOUS: Meanwhile, pour the chicken stock, veggie stock, or water to a small pot. Add in the butter and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat. Stir in the couscous and cover the pot with a lid. After about 2-3 minutes the liquid should be absorbed; fluff with a fork. Stir in 1/3 cup pesto, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and about 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (again to personal preference on salt and pepper).
  • ASSEMBLE:: Fill 4 bowls with even amounts of the pesto couscous. Arrange the cooked chicken on top and add generous amounts of the salsa to the side. If desired, add a wedge of lemon to each bowl. Spoon the remaining pesto evenly over the bowls. Enjoy immediately.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: You can marinate the chicken in buttermilk or forgo a marinade entirely. Also, the flour and butter will only be used if you're cooking the chicken in a skillet. If grilling/using a grill pan, the flour and butter are not necessary.
Note 2: To grill corn on the cob, peel back husks and remove silk. Rub vegetable oil on all sides of the corn and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place on heated grill (400 degrees F) and rotate every 3-4 minutes or until charred. Remove, let cool, and then slice off the cob. You can also use this same method for a grill pan.
Note 3: I buy the julienne-cut sun-dried tomatoes to save some chopping time and they're perfect for the salsa.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 786kcal | Carbohydrates: 92g | Protein: 49g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 109mg | Sodium: 467mg | Potassium: 1463mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 591IU | Vitamin C: 40mg | Calcium: 132mg | Iron: 3mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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17 Comments

  1. Chelsea, this dish looks so beautiful and delicious, and I’m planning on making it for dinner next week, but I have a question. Have you ever tried whole wheat couscous, and what do you think of it? When I was looking at the variety of couscous options at the store, I saw the whole wheat bag, and it has a lot more fiber than the regular, but if it would add an unpleasant texture or flavor, I’d rather not use it. Have you tried whole wheat couscous? If you have time, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    1. 5 stars
      Just wanted to report back that I made this for dinner today, and my husband and I thought it was delicious. I loved the flavor of the chicken, and just all of it together. It looks like the couscous you used was the smaller stuff. I guess I did not buy the same thing, but I did not mind the larger balls. I also had some extra black beans leftover, and tossed those into the salsa as well. I wish I could’ve found the basil pesto that you recommended in the grocery stores in my town, but all I could find was the jarred stuff, so that’s what I used. I just didn’t want this meal more expensive by buying 2 basil plants to make my own, but I’d love to try it with homemade pesto sometime. It’s definitely worth making again. Thanks!

      1. Hey Kristin!! I’m SO sorry I missed your earlier comment! I actually haven’t ever tried whole wheat couscous; if you do give it a try I’d love to hear what you think 🙂 Thank you so much for trying this recipe (and so many others!) I always look forward to your reviews! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this dish and yes, sometime in the summer if you have basil I do think it would be so good with homemade pesto 🙂 Here’s a picture of the exact couscous I used: https://www.amazon.com/RiceSelect-Couscous-Original-26-5-oz/dp/B017UMMLWU/ref=sr_1_11?keywords=rice+select+couscous&qid=1556677599&s=gateway&sr=8-11

  2. 5 stars
    Pesto chicken is one of my favorites to cook and to eat. This recipe makes me crave and I want to cook it now but no time. I will cook this on weekend. Thanks for this delicious recipe.

    1. Pesto and chicken is the best combo! I’m excited for you to try it! Enjoy! 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    This was AMAZING!! I don’t usually comment on recipes, but this one was an all around hit for me and my husband. It was so good!!! I kinda messed up the chicken breading, I forgot to dab off the buttermilk so the flour/lemon pepper fell off a bit. But it was still tasty, and I know for next time.

    1. Ahh I’m sooo glad you enjoyed this! It’s one of my all-time favorite dishes! Thanks so much for your comment Alana! 🙂

  4. This looks delicious and I’ll be adding this to my Pinterest board! Although it’s noted above that the recipe is “naturally dairy free”, it’s truly only DF if you skip the buttermilk (listed as optional to be fair) and if you make the pesto yourself. All store bought pestos I’ve found have grated Parmesan in them. Just a heads up if you have a child with anaphylaxis to milk as I do. Should work great for us with some simple modifications 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    Such a great recipe. Really only takes about 20 mins to throw together but tastes like you have spent ages making it. Probably more of a summer dish, but will still continue making it through the autumn! Thanks so much for creating this.

    1. Yay!! So happy you enjoyed this meal and will continue to throughout the autumn! 🙂 I will be too haha! Thanks Anna!

  6. 5 stars
    This was so delicious! I will be adding it to my summer dish go-to list. I also like the vegetarian option since my parents are vegetarians. It’s a great option for a mixed group. Thank you!

  7. Simply needed to report back that I made this for supper today, and my better half and I thought it was tasty. I adored the kind of the chicken, and only every last bit of it together. It would seem that the couscous you utilized was the more modest stuff. I surmise I didn’t accepting exactly the same thing, yet I wouldn’t fret the bigger balls.

  8. This dish was absolutely delicious! It had a TON of FLAVOR. Would make again! I used rice instead of couscous and it turned out really good.

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