Table of Contents
Pasta salad stands as one of those dishes that’s as adaptable as it is delightful. Depending on your cravings or what’s stocked in the pantry, there’s a pasta salad variation ready to hit the spot. Our recipe today showcases the added health boost of whole-grain pasta.
Unlike its refined counterparts, whole grain pasta retains all parts of the grain, providing you with more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Not only does it promise a nutritious bite but it also introduces a nutty flavor and a delightful, slightly chewy texture.
Paired with the refreshing crunch of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, the brininess of olives, the creamy tang of feta cheese, and the hearty addition of shredded chicken or chickpeas, this pasta salad is a symphony of flavors in every bite. Each ingredient not only brings its unique taste but also enriches the dish with its health benefits.
Let’s embark on this culinary journey and create a plateful of wholesomeness!
Suggestions to Present the Salad:
- Use a wide, shallow bowl to spread out the ingredients, highlighting the colorful components.
- Place a bed of fresh arugula or spinach at the bottom of the plate or bowl before piling on the pasta salad. This not only provides a vibrant green contrast but also adds an extra layer of freshness.
- Garnish the top with a sprinkle of additional crumbled feta and a few strategically placed cherry tomatoes and olive slices.
- Add a sprig of fresh basil or parsley at the center or side of the plate for an elegant touch.
- If you’ve used chickpeas, you can lightly roast a handful and sprinkle on top for added crunch.
Recommendations for Dressings or Condiments:
- Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette: Mix olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, finely chopped basil, oregano, salt, and cracked black pepper.
- Balsamic Glaze Drizzle: A thicker and sweeter version of balsamic vinegar; just a light drizzle can elevate the flavor profile.
- Tzatziki Sauce: Given the Mediterranean flair of the dish, a side of tzatziki can complement the salad nicely. It pairs especially well if you’ve chosen the chicken option.
- Always serve dressings on the side or drizzle right before eating to keep the salad fresh and prevent it from becoming soggy.
Ideal Drink Pairings:
- White Wine: A crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio pairs wonderfully, accentuating the fresh ingredients.
- Iced Tea with Lemon: The citrusy note can complement the salad’s flavors.
- Sparkling Water with a Squeeze of Lime: This offers a refreshing palate cleanser between bites.
- For a non-alcoholic option, consider a cucumber mint cooler or a rosemary lemonade to match the Mediterranean vibes of the meal.
Chef’s Tips & Tricks
Achieving the Best Pasta Texture:
- Salt the Water: Use about 1 tablespoon of salt for every 4 liters of water. This seasons the pasta from the inside out, leading to a better flavor.
- Stir Immediately After Adding Pasta: This prevents sticking.
- Mind the Cooking Time: Whole grain pasta has a slightly different texture than regular pasta. It’s essential to taste test a piece a minute or two before the package’s recommended cooking time. You want it to be al dente – firm to the bite but not hard.
- Rinse for Salads: Typically, you shouldn’t rinse pasta after cooking, but for salads, a quick rinse under cold water can help stop the cooking process and cool it down.
Enhancing the Salad with Optional Ingredients:
- Herbs: Fresh basil, parsley, or mint can add another layer of freshness and aroma to the salad.
- Nuts and Seeds: Toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds offer a delightful crunch and richness.
- Veggies: Consider adding thinly sliced red onions, bell peppers, or even some zucchini ribbons.
- Dressings: While a simple olive oil and lemon vinaigrette works wonders, sometimes a dash of Dijon mustard or a hint of garlic can elevate the taste.
- Spices: A sprinkle of sumac or za’atar can offer a Middle Eastern twist to the dish.
Storing Tips for Enjoying Later:
- Separate Dressing: If you plan to store the salad for later, keep the dressing separate and mix it in just before serving.
- Airtight Containers: Use these to maintain freshness. If you’ve opted for the chicken version, consuming within 2-3 days is ideal. For chickpeas, it can last up to 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
- Revive Before Serving: If the salad seems a bit dry after being in the fridge, drizzle a touch of olive oil and give it a good mix.
- Freezing Not Recommended: This salad tastes best fresh. The texture of ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers can become mushy once frozen and thawed.
- Whole Grain Pasta: 2 cups (uncooked)
- Cherry Tomatoes: 1 cup, halved
- Cucumbers: 1 medium-sized, diced
- Black Olives: ½ cup, sliced
- Feta Cheese: ¾ cup, crumbled
- Olive Oil: 3 tablespoons (for dressing)
- Lemon Juice: 2 tablespoons (for dressing)
- Salt: to taste
- Black Pepper: to taste
- Fresh Basil or Parsley: 2 tablespoons, finely chopped (optional for garnishing)
For protein, choose between:
- Shredded Chicken: 1 cup, cooked
- Chickpeas: 1 cup, boiled or canned (drained and rinsed)
Cooking the Whole Grain Pasta:
- In a large pot, bring 4-5 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add a pinch of salt for flavor.
- Add the whole grain pasta to the boiling water and stir gently.
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente, typically around 8-10 minutes.
- Once done, drain the pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to let it cool.
Preparing the Shredded Chicken/Chickpeas:
For Shredded Chicken:
- In a pot, bring water to a boil and add the chicken breast.
- Boil for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.
- Remove from heat and let it cool. Once cooled, shred the chicken using two forks.
- If using canned chickpeas, ensure they are thoroughly rinsed and drained.
- If using dried chickpeas, soak them overnight and then boil until tender.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled pasta, cherry tomatoes, diced cucumbers, and sliced olives.
- Add in either the shredded chicken or chickpeas, based on your choice.
- In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to make a simple dressing.
- Pour the dressing over the pasta mix, ensuring everything is well coated.
- Gently fold in the crumbled feta cheese.
- Garnish with chopped fresh basil or parsley.
- Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving. This allows the flavors to meld. Serve cold.
Questions & Answers
- Q: Can I use regular pasta instead of whole grain? A: Absolutely. Whole grain pasta is suggested for its additional fiber and nutrients, but if you prefer regular pasta or that’s what you have on hand, it will work just as well. Just ensure you cook it al dente.
- Q: I’m vegan. What can I substitute for feta cheese and chicken? A: For a vegan version, you can skip the feta or use a vegan cheese alternative. As for the chicken, the recipe already provides an option for chickpeas, which are a great protein source for vegans.
- Q: Is this salad gluten-free? A: Whole grain pasta typically contains gluten. If you need a gluten-free option, many stores offer gluten-free pasta varieties made from ingredients like chickpea flour, quinoa, or rice. Just be sure to check the packaging.
- Q: How can I make the salad creamier? A: For a creamier texture, consider adding a dollop of Greek yogurt or tahini to your dressing. Another option is to blend some avocado with lemon juice and mix it into the salad.
- Q: Is there a way to make the salad spicier? A: Absolutely! You can add some sliced jalapeños, a dash of cayenne pepper, or even some chili flakes for that extra kick.
- Q: Can I prepare this salad ahead of time for an event? A: Yes, this salad can be made a day in advance. However, if you’re doing this, store the dressing separately and mix it in just before serving to keep the ingredients fresh and crunchy.
- Q: What’s the best way to shred the chicken? A: After cooking the chicken, let it cool slightly. Then, using two forks, pull the meat apart in opposite directions. You can also use your hands if the chicken has cooled down sufficiently. If you have a stand mixer, putting the cooked chicken in the mixing bowl with the paddle attachment on low speed is another efficient method.
- Q: I’m not a fan of olives. Can I omit them? A: Of course! The beauty of this dish is its versatility. If you’re not an olive fan, just skip them or replace them with another ingredient you like, such as capers or even roasted bell peppers.