A vegan pesto pasta salad recipe that checks all the boxes. It's easy, customizable, and requires minimal cooking on hot summer days. Plus, it won't go bad on you at the family barbecue.
Summer is here, and gatherings are back on. That means you're going to need to bring something to share with those family and friends you haven't seen so much of lately. And since it’s been a while, it better be good.
Pasta salad is a classic American side dish, and I have to say, I've never really cared for it. Many pasta salads are full of mayonnaise and other things I find weird, like black olives. Even worse is when someone dumps in a can of tuna. Then it all sits out in the sun at barbecue like a stinking fly beacon.
I'm finally ready to give pasta salad another chance. Of course, in a completely different way. For me, the key to a decent pasta salad (or most cooking, really) is incorporating freshness, texture, and flavor. Because pasta is bland on its own, you need to build in components with character and interest.
I start by incorporating some fresh vegetables, including red onion and bell pepper. I toss in some sundried tomatoes that add complexity to a dish that is typically anything but complex. Chickpeas are included for a little protein and substance. And because everything is better with cheese, there's also feta. But more on that in just a second.
All this is tossed together in a fresh pesto made with arugula, cashews, and garlic: no gloopy mayo here, folks. Instead, the pesto is light and refreshing. It makes this dish feel like it came right out of the garden, whether or not you even have a garden.
Alright, so the thing about the feta, and it's totally optional, is that it's made of tofu. I made fake-out feta using tofu. I like this idea because it makes this dish dairy-free, and when you're bringing something to a party, you never know everyone's diet preferences. For me, it's just easier to assume someone can't have dairy or can't have gluten. If gluten is a concern, it easy to use gluten-free pasta here, too.
The feta is made by cutting tofu into small pieces or crumbles and tossing it in a mixture of cider vinegar, salt, nutritional yeast, onion powder, oil, and oregano. You let it sit in the fridge to marinate for a while to acquire that salty, briny flavor.
I actually brought this vegan pesto pasta salad to a family get-together a few weeks ago, where no one is vegan, and surprisingly, there were no comments about the tofu feta. Either they knew and didn't care (doubt it), or they couldn't tell the difference.
And you know what? It's actually delicious. I can certainly tell it's not feta, but it's something I would eat regardless. You only need about half of the feta that the recipe makes, so you can either add more or save the rest for another use. It’s excellent on a garden salad or added to tacos.
Feta: If you're not worried about keeping it vegan pasta salad, skip the part about using the tofu and use fresh feta instead. My favorite is whole milk feta from Maplebrook Farm. I love the tang of the salty brine and how it perfectly crumbles.
Cheese: You’ll notice I also cut the cheese from the pesto, though you can easily replace the nutritional yeast with Parmesan.
Nuts: If you have nuts aside from cashews that you’d like to use, such as walnuts, pecans, or even sunflower seeds, go for it.
Pesto Greens: You can replace the arugula with basil, parsley, mint, spinach, kale, or a mix of any greens.
🥗 Serving Options
This pasta salad could easily make a main dish for four, but as a side dish, it would go well with these recipes:
You can put this pesto pasta salad in the fridge, where it will keep for up to four days. If making in advance, you can wait to add the feta until right before serving to keep it from getting too crumbled.Print