No barbecue, backyard get together, or summer outing is complete without pasta salad.

I love the contrasting fresh flavors of pasta salad when digging into grilled food. It’s a match made in heaven. Squishy noodles, a tangy-savory dressing, crunchy vegetables, and a sprinkling of flavor means pasta salad is here to stay.

pasta salad |

The best pasta salad dressing

There are two camps of pasta salad lovers: mayo lovers and mayo haters. I love mayo, especially kewpie mayo, but I am a fan of oil based dressings for pasta salad. Somehow they just feel fresher and more light. Plus oil based pasta salads hold up better when served both cold and at room temp, so it’s a win-win.

This particular dressing is Japanese inspired with tangy rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce. It’s light yet umami forward and tastes absolutely amazing. The toasted sesame oil is a little bit nutty, the rice vinegar is just the right amount of acid, and the soy sauce adds umami and salt. It’s really, really good.

pasta salad |

How to make pasta salad

  1. Make the dressing. Whisk together neutral oil, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, salt and pepper, and toasted sesame seeds. Taste and set aside.
  2. Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. When it’s done, rinse it under cool water, loosening all of the noodles.
  3. Prep the vegetables. While the pasta is cooking, shred the cabbage, julienne the peppers and cucumber, slice the onions, halve the cherry tomatoes, roughly chop the cilantro, and thinly slice the green onions.
  4. Toss. Toss the rinsed and well drained pasta with 1/2 of the dressing, making sure each noodle is coated in sauce. Add the vegetables and toss with the remaining dressing.
  5. Garnish and serve. Finish off with extra cilantro, green onions, and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

making pasta salad |

Should you rinse your pasta for pasta salad?

Yes. This is the only case EVER in which you should rinse your pasta. Usually we want the starchy coating that is on pasta after it cooks, but in the case of cold pasta salad, the starch causes gumminess and clumping. Lightly rinse the pasta under cool water to keep the pasta loose and separate, then drain well before dressing.

Alternately, you can drain well and toss the pasta with a touch of oil, coating and loosening each piece. Personally, I like rinsing because it cools the pasta a bit and I don’t want the vegetables to wilt when I add them to the pasta.

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What is the best kind of pasta for pasta salad?

Dried pasta all the way! Save your fresh pasta for silky sauces or fresh seafood. Short pastas with lots of nooks and crannies are ideal for trapping dressing and herbs.

Plus, they scoop up easily and are easy to eat. Try: fusilli, rotini, penne, orecchiette, bucati corti, farfalle, lumache, radiatori, cavatapi, gemelli, campanelle, or riccioli. There are so many fun short pasta shapes out there and all of them will work well in pasta salad.

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What kind of vegetables to add to pasta salad

The rule is, if the vegetable tastes good raw, it’s pretty much good to go in pasta salad. Just make sure you cut everything up into an appropriate sized so you don’t have giant piece of cucumber that you’re gnawing on. I like to julienne everything because that somehow makes the vegetables pair better with the pasta. No giant florets or chunks, everything should be delicate and bites sized. If you’re not a huge fan of raw vegetables, give them a quick blanch in boiling water then shock in cold water before adding to your pasta salad. Also, leafy greens (aside from kale) tend to wilt, so add them right before serving.

julienned vegetables |

Here are some veggies you can try:

  • crunchy: bell peppers, carrots,  broccoli, cauliflower, onions, celery, corn, peas,
  • juicy: tomatoes, cucumbers
  • leafy: kale, romaine, arugula, baby spinach, basil, mint

Can you make pasta salad in advance?

Yup, that’s one of the joys of pasta salad. You can definitely make it in advance – I recommend making it the day before or the morning of the day you’re planning on serving.

pasta salad |

Tips and tricks

  • Cook the pasta tender. Make sure you’re cooking the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions. Since the pasta won’t continue cooking in sauce, you want to cook it perfectly, not too soft and not too toothsome, just tender enough. Usually there’s a range of time on the box, cook it to the higher side of the range.
  • Avoid dry pasta salad. Pasta has a tendency to soak up dressing like a sponge. Keep some of the dressing for stirring into the salad right before you serve it so every item is flavorful, glossy, and lightly coated with dressing.
  • Season. Make sure you taste your salad after it’s chilled. Cold food tends to taste muted, so give it a taste and adjust if needed.
  • Texture. Textures make eating fun and are why people come back over and over again to a dish. A pasta salad without texture tends to be too soft. Add nuts and seeds, crunchy vegetables, fresh tender herbs, jammy eggs, soft cheese, crispy bread crumbs, or even crushed up chips or crackers. Add the garnish at the last minute, right before you serve so the crunchy things stay crunchy.
  • Noodles. If you’re over pasta, why not try a cold noodle salad. Soba, rice noodles, and egg noodles work well, just make sure that you dress them well so they don’t stick together.

making pasta salad |

I hope your summer is full of sunshine and pasta salad!
xoxo steph


pasta salad recipe |

Pasta Salad

No barbecue, backyard get together, or summer outing is complete without pasta salad.
Serves 4
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes


  • 1/3 cups rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cups neutral oil
  • 1-2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 6 oz pasta short preferred
  • 2 cups red cabbage thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper cored and sliced
  • 1 orange pepper cored and sliced
  • 1 cucumber deseeded and julienned
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cups fresh cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cups green onions sliced


  • Whisk together the dressing and set aside.
    pasta salad dressing |
  • Cook the pasta according to the package directions. When the pasta is ready, give it a quick rinse under cool running water, making sure that none of the pieces are sticking together. Drain well.
    short pasta |
  • While the pasta is cooking, prep the vegetables.
    julienned vegetables |
  • Add the pasta to a large bowl and toss with 1/2 of the dressing, making sure to coat each piece of pasta.
    making pasta salad |
  • At this point the pasta should be fairly cool. Add the vegetables, the remaining dressing, and toss to coat evenly. Enjoy!
    pasta salad |

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Pasta Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 430 Calories from Fat 248
% Daily Value*
Fat 27.5g42%
Saturated Fat 3.7g23%
Cholesterol 31mg10%
Sodium 253mg11%
Potassium 630mg18%
Carbohydrates 37.5g13%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 7.6g8%
Protein 8g16%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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