Have a story about your favorite pasta salad? Talk to me in the comment section below. In my experience, pasta salads truly are the side dish to a barbecue or special event. Sans meat, it’s a classic vegetarian dish. Meanwhile, we attempt to serve vegans — who don’t eat dairy — a mayonnaise-based pasta version. It’s often an “oops… we spent hours rubbing down ribs with spices and marinating chicken — let’s quickly make a vegetable” dish. As an afterthought dish, pasta salads often taste like no love.
If salads or other vegetable dishes were given the same love treatment as meat, the menu would be positively unforgettable. Here’s a pasta dish that’s treated right: It’s super green. Make it with your favorite triple-wash box mix of tender baby swiss chard, spinach, bok choy and/or other leaves. Swap macaroni pasta for spiral, vegetable-colored pasta. Toss in summery grape size tomatoes and refreshing cucumbers. Because having a fair amount of protein makes a salad better for vegan guests, mix in chickpeas (if vegetarianism isn’t an issue, toss in the shredded chicken).
But, it’s the Lemon Herb Vinaigrette that brings all the flavors of this pasta salad together. The combination of lemon with fresh herbs, such as basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme and a hint of mint wake up the dish. My other favorite ingredient in this dish is full-fat feta cheese. Don’t save money on it — go for the pricey cheese shop, authentic Greek, aged style brand. It’s salty and creamy bite is what makes this pasta salad taste like it was made with love.
Pasta salads don’t have to be bland. There are variations of extremely delicious pasta recipes than the “after-thought” versions that I thought were normal. Often times older pasta recipes can be improved by simply swapping in better ingredients, such as using mayonnaise made from scratch (it makes a big difference in taste!). Similar to how this pasta salad version uses a fresh lemon herbal vinaigrette than a store-bought vinaigrette.
It’s a lovely salad. The variety of greens, such as spinach, mint and basil makes this salad visually beautiful, and feta cheese adds a beautiful creamy taste. The lemon herb vinaigrette has a slightly sweet, tangy and herbal bite. The sign of an outstanding barbecue, is when its pasta salads have equal love as the meat on the grill (or in the oven), starting with this Super Green Lemon Pasta and Chicken Salad.
- 1 lb. curly type of colorful pasta
- 2 cups cooked shredded chicken breast (optional)
- 10 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 10 to 15 oz. whole-milk feta cheese, cut into 1/2” cubes
- 1-15 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 small red onion; finely diced
- 1 cucumber; peeled; vertically sliced in half; discard seeds; cut into 1/2” cubes
- 5 oz. of mixed baby tough greens (a mix of kale, swiss chard, boy choy, spinach and so on)
- 1 tsp. of sea salt; more or less to taste
- 1 tsp. of fresh black pepper; more less to taste
- The juice of one lemon
- Garnish: 1/2 cup chiffon basil leaves
- 1/3 cup mix of minced fresh herbs, discard tough stems (a mix of thyme, basil, marjoram, oregano, a few mint leaves and/or rosemary)
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves; minced
- The juice and zest of one lemon
- 2 tsp. honey
- 1 tsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt; more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper; more or less to taste
- 3 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp. dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Cook pasta al dente according to the manufacturer’s directions in heavily salted water. When cooked, drain over a colander and rinse with cold water. Toss with 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Set pasta aside.
- In a very large bowl, toss the rest of the ingredients together except for the lemon juice, chiffon basil leaves and the ingredients for the lemon-herb vinaigrette.
- To make the Lemon Herb Vinaigrette: Add the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Process until smooth (it’s okay to see tiny flecks of herbs).
- Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta salad and gently toss all ingredients together.
- Toss in the lemon juice. If necessary, adjust seasoning with more sea salt and fresh black pepper.
- Garnish with chiffon basil leaves.
This is the perfect salad to use lemon flavored herbs, such as lemon thyme and lemon basil. If necessary, increase flavor buy doubling the lemon herb vinaigrette.