Pesto Chicken with Corn & Bean Salsa

Delicious pesto chicken bowls with lemon chicken, an avocado & corn salsa, and plenty of pesto! This easy dinner recipe is made with nutritious ingredients and whips together quickly!

These pesto chicken bowls are 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 bowls with chicken, corn & white bean salsa, and pesto

Overhead photo of pesto chicken bowls with chicken, corn & white bean salsa, and pesto

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 on the cob. 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, this pesto chicken with an avocado & corn salsa is IT. Not only is this meal incredibly flavorful, it also ticks all the boxes: healthy, filling, and simple to make.

Process shots: chicken being pounded to even thickness with a meat tenderizer

Process shots: chicken being pounded to even thickness with a meat tenderizer

How to make pesto chicken bowls

  • Pesto couscous: couscous is fast and easy to make. In fact, it can be ready in about 10 minutes or less 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 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’s an easy salsa as there’s not a lot of chopping which most salsas require.
  • 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!

Sun Dried tomatoes used for the salsa topping the pesto chicken

Sun Dried tomatoes used for the salsa topping the pesto chicken

A few quick tips:

  • Fresh pesto: The pesto you use can make or break this dish! Avoid the jarred pestos and go for fresh 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 & easy meal, you can certainly make your own pesto for this meal. 
  • Sun dried tomatoes: The other crucial ingredient to this dish are the sundried tomatoes. Make sure to grab 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 grilled!

    • To grill corns 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 out) corn kernels in a preheated large cast-iron skillet 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until kernels are lightly charred over high heat. Remove to let cool completely before adding.)

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

Process shot of dinner creation -- draining white beans and stirring up 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 and more pesto! It’s surprisingly filling just like that and the beans provide plenty of protein. (Plus, it’s even quicker to make vegetarian (20 minute prep time or less!))
  • Vegan: if you make it as stated above, it’s vegan too!
  • Dairy free: this meal is naturally dairy free (as long as the buttermilk marinade is not used) AND with a homemade (cheese-free) pesto.
  • Change up the protein: grilled steak would also be delicious in this meal. You can also always use thighs in place of breasts for this pesto chicken meal.

Variations on these pesto chicken bowls

Process shot white bean and corn salsa

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 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, grab your favorite blend (I like McCormick’s lemon & pepper seasoning best OR Mrs Dash’s.) You can even make your own if desired.

Up close photo of pesto chicken bowls

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.

Pesto Chicken with Corn & Bean Salsa

Delicious pesto chicken bowls with lemon chicken, an avocado & corn salsa, and plenty of pesto! This easy dinner recipe is made with nutritious ingredients and whips together quickly!

Course: Dinner

Cuisine: American

Keyword: pesto chicken

Servings: 4 large servings

Calories: 625 kcal

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 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

  1. CHICKEN PREP: slice the 2 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 pound 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. Place in fridge for 30 minutes up to 8 hours. When done marinating, remove from buttermilk and drain then pat dry with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt.

  2. COOK CHICKEN: Grill/Grill PanPreheat the grill to about 400 degrees F (grill pan to medium high heat). Make sure your grill grates (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 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 chop 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 and place on a plate.Tent with foil and rest for 5-10 minutes. Slice thinly or chop into small pieces.

  3. SALSA: In a medium sized bowl, 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. (I add about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper).

  4. COUSCOUS: Meanwhile, add 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).

  5. ASSEMBLE: fill up 4 bowls with even amounts of the pesto couscous. On top add the cooked chicken. 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 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 corns 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 for pesto chicken

Nutrition facts for pesto chicken

Note on calories: this is assuming every bit of pesto AND the salsa is eaten in a serving.