Pasta salad is an occasional but necessary staple for me. My biggest fondness for food comes in the form of noodles. Several years ago, when I organized monthly Vegan Supper Clubs, I made a killer Mediterranean Pasta Salad.
When I was in Chicago recently, I ordered a green salad that came with macaroni noodles—tossed into the salad.
Hallelujah. That was in the top three of my favorite moments of my trip (my other two favorites moments: avoiding the falling ice from the top of the John Hancock building and the ridiculous Whole Foods shopping and drinking experience). Noodles in salad? Pure genius. Give me noodles and I’m a happy girl. I’m not picky—whole wheat noodles, white noodles, corn noodles, rice noodles, tapioca noodles; if it’s noodles, I will eat it.
When I make pasta salad, however, I’ve realized through trial and tribulation that whole wheat and/or white are the only way to go. I have not found a good gluten-free noodle to use; all brands I’ve tried are great when freshly cooked and hot, but as they cool down the noodles get hard and gummy. Not particularly enticing. (If you are gluten-free and have found a good noodle to use in cold pasta salads, please share in the comments. I would love to try it.)
There are two things always in common with my pasta salads: As a kid, I never liked creamy dressings and sauces, like ranch or mayo. As a vegan adult, I can’t get enough of them. My pasta salads almost always use a creamy base rather than an Italian herby base (though if you put one in front of me, I will most certainly eat it). I also LOVE dill and use so much in my pasta salads it borders on ridiculous.
One of the the more beautiful qualities of pasta salad is that it is so easily customizable. Here, I’m giving you the exact recipe I used the other day, but you can add or substitute anything you want. Don’t like red peppers? Use artichokes instead. Hate parsley? Try cilantro. Don’t have horseradish sauce? Leave it out. Want to use rotini noodles instead of penne? Go for it. If you don’t have a roommate who hates black olives (she calls them “the devil’s eyeballs’-ha!), throw some in. Use whatever you have laying around and don’t stress if you don’t have red onion. I would recommend against using leafy greens like spinach, however—it just wilts so quickly. However, if you want to serve this atop a bed of fresh spinach, that would be phenomenal. This is more of a guide than a recipe. But you guys, if you make this exact recipe, you will LOVE it. I promise. It’s creamy, tangy, smoky and has that nice crunch of vegetables that makes you feel healthy while you’re indulging in a mayo pasta lunch.
Dijon Dill Pasta Salad
1 1/2 boxes whole wheat and white penne noodles (19 ounces total)
1/4 red onion, chopped small
4 stalks celery, chopped small
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup fresh broccoli, chopped small
1 carrot, grated
3/4 red pepper, chopped small
1/2 jalapeño, chopped very small
3 sprigs fresh parsley
3 tablespoons Vegenaise Horseradish sauce*
1/2 cup Wayfare whole grain bacony bits*
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon ‘honey’ mustard (I used Fatdog Mustard—a local Portland brand that is testing a new vegan recipe)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons dried dill
1 teaspoon dried basil
Black Pepper, to taste
Smoked Sea Salt, to taste**
Ghost Pepper Salt, to taste**
* These products are both new on the market. The horseradish sauce and the bacony bits definitely complimented the salad, but if you don’t have them, it will be fine to leave out.
** The salts: I used ghost pepper salt because my roommate and I happened to have a little jar from The Meadow (With locations in Portland, New York and online, The Meadow is an awesome boutique that specializes in salts, bitters, chocolates and flowers. I lurve it.) I couldn’t tell the difference with the tiny amount I added, but thought you should know I did put some in. Smoked Sea Salt can be found at Trader Joe’s. I love how it compliments the sweet smoky Wayfare bacony flavor, but if you don’t have some or aren’t lucky enough to live close to a Trader Joe’s, it too can easily be left out.
Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the penne and turn down to medium high heat. Once the pasta is cooked al dente (chewy to the bite), about 8 minutes, add the frozen peas and corn and the fresh broccoli. Continue cooking until peas and corn have thawed and broccoli is tender, about 2 minutes. Drain pasta water into a colander set in the sink and rinse with cold water until chilled.
Add penne, corn, peas and broccoli to bowl with chopped red onion, red pepper, celery, carrot ribbons, parsley and jalapeño. Stir. Place in fridge 20 – 30 minutes, or until everything is well chilled.
Add vegenaise and horseradish sauce, bacony bits, mustards, dill, basil, yeast and salt and pepper to pasta and veggies. Stir until evenly coated.
Let sit in refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving to let the flavors meld together.