This healthy Pasta Salad is refreshing, tart, and super tasty. It's bright and colorful and deliciously creamy, making it a perfect summer side. Guaranteed to be a hit at your next picnic, BBQ, or cookout!
A Summer Staple
Pasta salads are always popular in the summer - they come together quickly, are fuss-free, and can be served cold or at room temperature. Creamy pasta salads are my favorite. But they can be heavy from all the fat, which is the opposite of what you want when it's hot out. But that's not a problem with this salad - it's a healthier version that's loaded with fresh, crunchy vegetables and good-for-you protein. Plus, it's gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian!
Is This Healthy?
I know it's hard to call a mayo-based pasta salad "healthy", but this one sure is! Mayonnaise gets a bad rap, but it's basically just oil, egg yolks, and vinegar. I recommend using a mayonnaise that doesn't contain vegetable oil (like canola, soybean, or sunflower oil) or any sugar, because it doesn't need it. My favorite brand uses avocado oil, is sugar-free, and has a clean ingredient list. For more information on oils, I recommend checking out Rachel Devaux's post on vegetable oils.
This Pasta Salad is also full of healthy vegetables! Red onion, tomatoes, bell pepper, peas, and corn.. the full spectrum of the rainbow is covered here. They provide great crunch, nutrition, color, and flavor. For protein, we use hard-boiled eggs to keep it vegetarian, but feel free to add in grilled chicken or steak for more heartiness.
This vegetarian Pasta Salad is creamy and healthy! Luckily, you don't need a lot of ingredients for it either.
- Shells pasta: Shells are great for pasta salad because they "catch" the dressing. Rigatoni, penne, cavatappi, or fusili are also great. I like using chickpea pasta to keep it gluten-free.
- Hard boiled eggs: I like mine between medium and hard-boiled.
- Red onion: Adds a little spiciness. They can be overwhelming when raw so feel free to substitute with shallots.
- Grape or cherry tomatoes: Sweet and juicy! Tip: do not store tomatoes in the fridge or else they'll lose flavor.
- Red bellpepper: You can use any color bellpepper but I like red because they're brighter, sweeter, and more mild in flavor.
- Frozen peas and corn: I always have frozen peas and corn on hand but feel free to use fresh instead.
- Green onion: Perfect bit of freshness.
For The Dressing
- Mayonnaise: For a healthier store-bought version, use one that has avocado or olive oil and no sugar.
- Red wine vinegar: My favorite for a creamy pasta salad because all that tang helps cut the richness of the dressing. But feel free to sub with apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or lemon juice. But these are more mild so you might want to use more of it.
- Coconut sugar: Paleo mayonnaise tends to be more tart so to balance that and the vinegar, a little sugar goes a long way. If you don't have coconut sugar, substitute 1:1 with white cane sugar.
- Dijon mustard: For more flavor, twang, and creaminess.
- Paprika, garlic powder, and dried dill: Feel free to substitute with your favorite herbs and spices.
How To Make Healthy Pasta Salad
This creamy Pasta Salad could not be easier! Four easy steps and you've got yourself a killer bowl.
- Cook the pasta. I always recommend cooking the pasta first so it has plenty of time to cool. Boil water, season generously with salt, and cook until al dente. Drain and let it cool completely. You can also rinse it with cold water to cool it faster (but don't do this with hot pasta dishes!).
- Whisk together the dressing. Stir everything together and most importantly, taste and adjust until it's perfect.
- Assemble. Combine all the ingredients together. For even mixing, I like to add half the dressing to the bowl first, add the pasta and vegetables, and then another drizzle of dressing on top.
- Marinade. Once everything is well-combined, cover the pasta salad and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. The longer the better - the flavors meld together and become even more delicious as time passes.
- Generously salt the pasta water. This is important for any pasta recipe! Bring a large pot of water to a boil first, and then season. It's better to not season first because as water boils, it reduces, resulting in saltier water than you may have intended. It'll also take longer for the water to come to a boil.
- Soak the red onion. Raw red onion can be very spicy and overwhelming. Whenever I'm using it in a recipe, I chop it and let it soak in water for 5-10 minutes. This removes some of the "bite" to make it more palatable. Make sure to drain and dry it well before tossing it into the pasta salad.
- Hard boil eggs in the Instant Pot. This is my favorite way to hard-boil eggs because it's perfect every time and the shells slip off. Add 1 cup water to an Instant Pot and place the eggs in a steamer basket inside. Cook on Manual - High Pressure for 10 minutes, quick release, and place immediately into an ice bath.
If you have leftover Pasta Salad, store it in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. The flavors actually get better the longer they sit. You can serve this pasta salad cold or at room temperature.
I would not recommend freezing this Pasta Salad due to the mayonnaise.
Make It In Advance
This Pasta Salad is great for making in advance! It stores well and actually tastes better the longer it sits in the fridge. Simply make the recipe from start to finish and store in an air-tight container in the fridge. If you're making this for a party or crowd, I would make it maximum 2 days in advance to maintain the veggies' freshness
Make It Yours
- Want this to be a complete meal? Add in some more protein like grilled chicken, baked tofu, steak strips, or canned tuna.
- If you've got leftover herbs, throw it in! Soft herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, or mint would work best here.
- This Pasta Salad is so versatile! You could add whatever vegetables you have on hand like celery, cucumbers, olives, broccoli.. there really is no wrong here.
Looking For More?
This healthy Pasta Salad is one of my favorites to make in the summer. If you're looking for more refreshing summer dishes, check these out:
- Seafood Salad
- Shrimp and Grits with Andouille Sausage
- One-Pot Chicken, Spinach, and Artichoke Pasta
- Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa
- Tortellini Caprese
- Cook pasta in heavily salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside. Let cool completely.
- Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and season with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper each. Let sit in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Soak diced red onion in water for 5-10 minutes to remove some of the spicy bite. Drain.
- Pour half of the dressing into a large mixing bowl. Add in the pasta, hard boiled eggs, half the green onion, and remaining prepped vegetables. Season each ingredient with a pinch of salt and pepper, then add in as much dressing as you'd like. Mix well.
- Cover with plastic wrap or store in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, best if overnight. When ready to serve, season to taste and garnish with remaining green onion.
- Storing Leftovers: Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. The flavors actually get better the longer they sit. You can serve this pasta salad cold or at room temperature.
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