Recipe: Healthy Pasta Salad: My Nutritious Twist on a Classic Dish

Salad Recipes, Side Dish Recipes, Vegetable Recipes

By: Deborah Murphy, MS, RD, LDN


This healthy pasta salad recipe is a summer cookout essential and anything but boring! Chock full of fresh ingredients like colorful veggies, fresh basil, and a zippy homemade dressing that will have you coming back for seconds.

Pasta salad is the perfect make-ahead dish for cookouts, picnics, and summer gatherings since it can be made in advance and actually tastes better over time. Plus, this healthy pasta salad comes together quickly so you don’t have to spend all your time in the kitchen instead of by the pool. 

While you wait for the pasta to cook, you can get all the veggies chopped and mix up the pasta salad dressing that is the perfect accompaniment. Feel free to make this vegetarian pasta salad recipe your own by using different veggies or swapping the chickpeas for another protein.

Looking for even more refreshing salad recipes? Check out healthy salad recipes you can use for any meal!

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    Pasta Salad Ingredients

    This healthy pasta salad is filled with fresh ingredients packed with flavor.

    raw ingredients for healthy pasta salad on counter
    • Pasta: for extra color, we used a tri-color rotini pasta for this easy pasta salad recipe – but any short pasta shape (fusilli, rotini, penne, farfalle) you want to use will work! Score extra protein and fiber by using a chickpea pasta or whole-wheat pasta in place of regular pasta. 
    • Chickpeas: for some protein and extra fiber, we added a can of chickpeas here. However, you can swap it out for white beans if you prefer. Cooked chicken chopped into bite-sized pieces also makes a great protein option.
    • Tomatoes: chopped tomatoes add color, flavor, and moisture to this pasta salad. 
    • Bell Pepper & Cucumber: both of these veggies are a great way to add some crunch. We used a yellow bell pepper for color, but green or red bell pepper would also work well. English or Persian cucumbers are preferred since their skin is thinner and they don’t need to be peeled. If using an American cucumber, just peel before adding to the salad. 
    • Red Onion: adds lots of flavor. If you don’t like raw red onion in salads, you can omit or substitute with some chopped green onion.
    • Olives: these add some salty flavor – we like kalamata olives, but you could use sliced green olives instead. 
    • Basil: fresh herbs add a delicious pop of flavor to any salad. We like basil but you could also use fresh dill or parsley.
    • Feta Cheese: adds creaminess – you could use crumbled goat cheese or shredded parmesan cheese.

    Pasta Salad Dressing

    The dressing is the key for making a pasta salad that isn’t boring.

    For our dressing recipe, we make a quick and easy vinaigrette from olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, maple syrup, oregano, sea salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Red wine vinegar is a classic – but this salad is also delicious with balsamic vinegar.

    healthy pasta salad prepared in bowl on white counter

    Variations

    There are several variations you can use to make this salad your own:

    Swap the Protein: you can use a different bean in place of chickpeas like white beans, gigante beans, or kidney beans. If you want to add meat, some chopped cooked chicken breast or rotisserie chicken is a great option. Hard-boiled eggs are also a protein option.

    Make it Gluten Free: swap traditional pasta for a gluten-free pasta to make a gluten free pasta salad. 

    Make it Vegan: omit the feta or use dairy free cheese instead. 

    Add Other Veggies: try this veggie-packed pasta salad with other veggies you might have on hand like jarred red peppers, artichoke hearts, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh corn from the grill, chopped zucchini, baby spinach, or arugula.

    How to Make Healthy Pasta Salad

    Follow these simple ingredients to make my healthy pasta salad recipe for your next cookout or party!

    3 steps of making healthy pasta salad recipe

    Cook the Pasta: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain and rinse the cooked pasta with cold water until completely cool. Set aside.

    Prep the Salad Veggies: While the pasta cooks, chop the other salad components and add to a large bowl. 

    Make the Healthy Pasta Salad Dressing: Add all the salad dressing ingredients to a mason jar, cover with a lid and shake well to combine. 

    Combine & Serve: Add the pasta to the bowl with the salad ingredients, pour the dressing over top, and toss the pasta salad until everything is evenly coated with the dressing. Serve immediately or allow to chill in the fridge until ready to eat the cold pasta salad.

    Recommended Tools for this Recipe

    Tips for Making the Best Pasta Salad

    • Rinse the Pasta: once your pasta is cooked, it’s important to rinse it well in cold running water. This helps stop the pasta from cooking any more (no one wants soggy pasta!). You also want to cool the pasta so it doesn’t cook the fresh veggies in the salad. 
    • Time: pasta salad actually tastes better the next day after the ingredients have had time to marinate together – the perfect make-ahead salad option!
    • Salt: make sure to salt your pasta water and add salt to taste after you’ve assembled the salad. Salt is an important part of the equation that creates a pasta salad that isn’t bland or boring.

    Storage

    Store leftover pasta salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Pasta salad is best served within a few days of preparation, it does not freeze well. 

    Is Pasta Salad Healthy?

    Yes, this delicious pasta salad recipe is chock full of fiber, protein, and antioxidants and makes a great healthy side dish for cookouts. Dressing the salad in a vinaigrette instead of a mayonnaise based dressing makes for a lighter dish that still has lots of flavor.

    Total Time: 30 minutes

    Yield: 5 serving(s)

    Ingredients

    • For the Salad
    • 8 oz pasta
    • 1 (14.5 oz) can chickpeas
    • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
    • 1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
    • 1 cup quartered English cucumber
    • ¾ cup sliced kalamata olives
    • ⅓ cup chopped red onion
    • ½ cup chopped basil
    • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese (or goat cheese)
    • For the Dressing
    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    • 2 teaspoons Dijon
    • 2 teaspoons maple syrup (or honey)
    • ½ teaspoon oregano
    • ½ teaspoon sea salt
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    • Pinch red pepper flakes

    Directions

    1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool. Set aside.
    2. While the pasta cooks, chop the other salad components and add to a large mixing bowl.
    3. Add all the salad dressing ingredients to a mason jar, cover with a lid and shake well to combine.
    4. Add the pasta to the bowl with the salad ingredients, pour the dressing over top, and toss the pasta salad until everything is evenly coated with the dressing. Serve immediately or allow to chill in the fridge until ready to eat.

    Nutrition Information Per Serving

    Serving Size: 1 cup

    Calories: 310

    Protein: 10 gram(s)

    Fat: 13 gram(s)

    Carbohydrates: 40 gram(s)

    Fiber: 6 gram(s)

    Sugar: 6 gram(s)

    From the kitchen of:

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