With the coldest days of winter almost behind us *knocks on wood,* we’re starting to get pumped for all things spring and summer. Shorts weather, picnics, lazy days by the pool… what could be better? And while we’re not breaking out the checkered tablecloth quite yet, there’s no harm in getting prepared for the cookout invitations to come. These pasta salads make a great side dish to your favorite protein and are filled with colorful veggies and stellar sauces that are a major step up from the standard mayo-drenched situation.
1. Pesto Pasta Salad
It doesn’t get much simpler than this four-ingredient pasta salad. Make pesto at home with a few extra ingredients or pick up a premade version from the grocery store. Beyond that, you just need whole-grain fusilli pasta (the twirly kind!), grape tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves.
2. Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Combine a fresh Greek salad with bow-tie pasta and a lemon-herb vinaigrette, and you’ve got this new cookout favorite. It’s filled with cucumbers, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, creamy feta, and crisp onion. And since there’s no meat or mayo, you don’t have to worry about keeping it out of the fridge or it getting soggy before dinner.
3. Balsamic Strawberry Pasta Salad
Spinach, strawberries, and balsamic are a classic salad combo, but we hadn’t thought of adding pasta to the mix before. With walnuts, chicken, and crumbled feta also invited to the party, this pasta salad could easily be a full meal. And that pretty pink strawberry vinaigrette? Yes. Please.
4. Orzo Chickpea Pasta Salad
Looks like rice, tastes like pasta… orzo is basically two of our favorite foods in one. Buy a whole-grain version to up the health factor a bit, and mix it with crunchy bell pepper, onion, broccoli, parsley, and chickpeas for a filling and colorful dish. An olive oil, lemon, Dijon, and balsamic dressing keeps things light and brings out big flavor.
5. Creamy Tahini Pasta Salad
The secret to creamy pasta salad, minus the mayo? Tahini! The Mediterranean sauce gives the salad a nutty flavor and creamy texture you’ll love. Chopped dill and red pepper flakes also spice up this salad, which can be made gluten-free by using a brown rice pasta.
6. Broccoli Grape Harvest Salad
This recipe will remind you of grandma’s cooking, with a few healthier substitutes: It mixes half a cup of light mayonnaise with half a cup of plain yogurt, and uses turkey bacon instead of pork. Broccoli, red grapes, pecans, and bow-tie pasta bring in all kinds of textures… this is one you’ll want to make again.
7. Vegan Rainbow Pasta Salad
Pasta salad meets potato salad. Except in this case, white potatoes are replaced with sweet potatoes and mixed in with broccoli, zucchini, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and a garlicky vinegar dressing. We’re into it.