As I never tire of repeating, protein should form the backbone of every meal. The word “protein” is derived from the ancient Greek word proteios, meaning “of prime importance,” “in the lead”, or “standing in front;” that should tell you something about its importance, right?

And yet, for many folks, dietary protein is an afterthought — when it’s not completely absent from their plates. This probably has several reasons:

  • The low Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For decades this number has been cited as the optimal intake, when in fact it’s the minimum protein requirement needed to avoid deficiency. Optimal intakes may be twice as high (more on this here).
  • Ethical concerns about killing animals for food. Most old-timey vegetarians cite this as their reason for eschewing animal flesh. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are happy to eat dairy and eggs, however, — which is great, as these offer plenty of essential nutrients, including top-quality protein.
  • Disgust over cruel factory farming practices. Absolutely! That’s why I try to buy animal-sourced foods that have been ethically produced. Thoughtful articles on the ethics of animal farming here.
  • Climate concerns. A problem for sure, but much more complex than the way it is represented in mainstream and social media. Find out more here — prepare to be surprised.
  • Health concerns. Humans and their prehistoric ancestors have eaten animals since the dawn of time. These foods provide essential nutrients that aren’t available from plants. There is no reason to eliminate animal foods for health reasons — quite the contrary. Excellent science-based overview of the “meat & health” debate here.
  • Cost. Protein-rich foods tend to be more expensive than foods rich in carbs or fats (which is why restaurants love to serve you piles of pasta, rice, and mayonnaise but tend to skimp on the meat or fish). As food prices continue to climb, animal protein may appear prohibitively expensive — but there are ways to eat it without breaking the bank: for instance, consuming eating smaller portions (because it’s so nutrient-dense, most people don’t need more than 4-6 oz cooked meat or fish to obtain a wide range of essential nutrients), buying cheaper cuts of meat (like stewing or organ meat), eating inexpensive fish, such as sardines, mussels or squid (Mediterranean mainstays!), cooking at home (a home-cooked steak costs half or less than a restaurant steak).

You’ll have to attend one of my webinars to find out more about protein, but for now, rest assured that this macronutrient is absolutely non-negotiable. If you’d like to obtain the amounts cited above (1.2-1.6 g/kg of body weight, equivalent to around 30-40 g per meal) and the complete range of essential amino acids (protein building blocks) you may need to eat some kind of animal protein. (This doesn’t have to mean meat; egg-white or whey protein powder, eggs, and a wide range of dairy foods provide top-notch protein.)

Most of the main dishes on my website comprise about 30 g of protein per serving (and you can always increase that amount by adding more, say, chicken, fish, or protein powder). This recipe, inspired by a lower-protein, higher-carb version on Serious Eats, is no exception, yielding 30 g of top-quality protein per serving.

Crunchy Chicken, Peanut & Noodle Salad

Keyword: 30 Minutes Max., Dairy-Free (or can be), Low-Carb, Meat & Chicken, Salads
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 432kcal
This refreshing, protein-rich salad is perfect for hot summer days
Print Recipe


For the dressing

  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tbsp sriracha sauce or some other fresh chili sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice freshly pressed
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced (I grate them on my Microplane grater)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup or sugar
  • 3 tbsp warm water

For the salad

  • 4 oz dry spaghetti or linguini I used Barilla's Protein+ spaghetti
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 14 oz cooked chicken shredded (I use rotisserie chicken)
  • 2 medium bell peppers I use red & orange peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup red cabbage finely shredded
  • 1 medium cucumber halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out with a teaspoon and sliced into thin, half-moon shapes
  • 1 cup fresh herbs (mint, (Thai) basil, nd/or cilantro) loosely packed cup
  • 4 large scallions finely sliced at a bias
  • 2 medium jalapeno peppers seeded and finely diced
  • ½ cup peanuts coarsely crushed with the side of a chef's knife blade


  • Cook the noodles according to package instructions. drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Swirl the noodles in the water to chill, then drain through a sieve. Return to the bowl and toss in 1 tsp sesame oil. Set aside.
  • While the noodles are cooking & chilling, make the sauce: in a large salad bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, maple syrup, and water. Whisk until creamy and smooth; if desired, add a little more lime juice to achieve desired consistency.
  • Add shredded chicken, bell peppers, red cabbage, cucumber, fresh herbs, scallions, and jalapeños, and toss to combine. Serve immediately, topped with roasted peanuts.
  • Once dressed, this salad should be eaten immediately. If you want to make it ahead -- or think there will be leftovers -- set aside the combined salad ingredients (chicken & veggies) and the sauce, refrigerate, and dress as needed.


Gluten-free: replace Barilla spaghetti with your favorite GF pasta.
Keto: Replace the spaghetti with shirataki noodles (--> net carbs 12 g per serving). Replacing peanut butter with tahini reduces the net carb count to 10 g per serving. 
Veg(etari)an: Replace chicken with tofu, edamame beans, tempeh or another favorite vegetarian meat substitute.
Pescetarian: Replace chicken with cooked shrimp, squid or mixed seafood.


Calories: 432kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 50mg | Sodium: 687mg | Potassium: 698mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1909IU | Vitamin C: 76mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 4mg