Vegan pasta salad is the ideal lunchtime meal because it's quick to prepare and delicious to eat. It's also great to make in advance to have as a ready-to-go meal to eat at any time.
In this how-to guide, you'll find everything you need to know to make the best vegan pasta salad.
Check out our best vegan salad recipe collection!
Pasta salads are one of our go-to springtime and summertime meals. We love them because they are super tasty and easy to make. They are also generally healthy, nutritious, and fulfilling, which is not a bad thing.
In this guide, we show you how to make our favorite vegan pasta salad with simple seasonal ingredients. We also show you how to customize this pasta salad and make it yours; for instance, by changing the veggies or the dressing, you can turn this into a scrumptious creamy vegan pasta salad.
Take our recipe as a general guideline on making a great pasta salad, and feel free to change it based on your preferences.
Our general recommendation is to use seasonal veggies of different colors and with different textures so that your vegan pasta salad is going to be not only tasty and colorful but also packed with different antioxidants (more colors in veggies = more vitamins and antioxidants).
We also recommend adding a legume. We add cannellini beans to make the salad more fulfilling and increase the protein content. We love white beans cause they are softer and creamier than any other legumes we have tried.
Pasta: shape, type, and size do matter in pasta salads. Use dry pasta, not fresh pasta. Dry pasta holds up better once cooked. Use a short pasta type such as bow tie (farfalle), rotini, fusilli, or penne. Do not use long pasta types such as spaghetti or linguine. We like to use regular Italian dry pasta (naturally vegan). If you are on a gluten-free diet, use gluten-free pasta.
White beans: cannellini beans are our favorite for this vegan pasta salad recipe because they are super soft, neutral in taste, slightly nutty, creamy, and absorb the flavor of the dressing. You can replace them with any other white bean or with chickpeas, lentils, or peas.
Cherry tomatoes: you can use any type of small tomatoes for this salad. We like cherry tomatoes or any other small vine tomatoes or grape tomatoes cause they are sweet and crunchy. You can replace tomatoes with red bell peppers.
Corn: we use whole kernel corn, the canned sweet variety. It adds color, crunch, and sweetness to the salad. You can replace it with yellow bell pepper. Corn goes so well with the beans; we love it.
Olives: since we keep this salad dairy-free, we use olives to add a salty, umami-rich taste. Make sure you get olives without pits. They can be black, green, or Kalamata olives. Olives in brine or oil are fine; make sure you drain the salted water or the oil away before tossing them in the salad.
Cucumber: we generally use American Cucumber. English, Persian, and Kirby cucumbers are also great options. Cucumber adds crunch and freshness to the salad. You can replace cucumber with celery or with thinly sliced zucchini.
Red onion: sweeter and less pungent than white or yellow onions, red onions are the perfect flavor match with white beans and corn. Slice it thinly for best results. Shallots or spring onions work too.
Fresh herbs: we use both flat-leaf parsley and basil. Other great fresh herbs for this pasta salad are cilantro (fresh coriander), dill, chives, and mint. Just use the ones you have at hand. Be generous. Fresh herbs add a ton of freshness and flavor.
Dressing: we make a simple Italian dressing with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar), salt, pepper, and dried oregano. For a creamy vegan pasta salad, check out the "variations" chapter below.
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water as per package directions. Drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water to avoid overcooking, and keep a nice bite to it. Also, we don't want the hot pasta to touch the vegetables. They'd lose their crunch.
Transfer to a large mixing bowl, drizzle with a few drops of olive oil, and give it a mix. The oil prevents the pasta from sticking.
Rinse and dry the veggies. Chop the tomatoes in half or quarters. Cut olives in half. Drain canned corn. Drain and rinse white beans. Chop the cucumber. Thinly slice the red onion. Finely chop parsley and basil. Add all veggies to the bowl, then make the dressing.
To a small bowl, add vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Whisk well until the ingredients are emulsified (i.e., the vinegar and the oil become one).
Alternatively, you can add all ingredients to a small mason jar, close it, and shake well.
Pour the Italian dressing onto the other ingredients, then mix well with a spoon. Taste and adjust for salt. If necessary, add more dressing.
You can now serve the pasta salad or store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Tip: the pasta salad gets tastier if you let it sit for 30 minutes as the pasta absorbs the flavor from the veggies and the dressing.
This easy pasta salad is perfect for a quick and healthy lunch, but to be honest with you, we often eat it for dinner too, especially when we have some leftovers in the fridge, are we are too busy (or lazy) to cook.
It is also the perfect make-ahead dish to bring to picnics and potlucks. No one will notice it's vegan.
Important: if you do make this ahead and serve it a few hours or days after it's made, I recommend doubling up the dressing and bringing half with you to add shortly before the pasta salad is served. This is because the pasta will absorb most of the dressing as it sits in the fridge.
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Five mistakes to avoid when making pasta salad
Not picking the right pasta.
Use dry pasta made from 100% durum wheat semolina flour. Any imported pasta from Italy (Barilla, De Cecco, Buitoni, Rummo, and others) is a good choice. Dry pasta holds better its shape and texture once cooked and cooled. Do not use fresh pasta for pasta salad. It won't hold its shape.
When it comes to the shape of the pasta, opt for short types such as rotini, fusilli, orecchiette, farfalle (bow ties), and elbows. Avoid long pasta types such as spaghetti, linguine, and bucatini. Short pasta types have more nooks and crannies and hold on better to the other ingredients and the dressing.
Not salting the pasta water.
Not adding salt to the pasta cooking water is the most common mistake that people make. Pasta water should always be salted. Coarse sea salt or Kosher salt is best. The salted water infuses the pasta with flavor. This is especially true for cold pasta salads, vegetarian pasta salads, and vegan pasta salads. The cold temperature makes the dish less tasty, so you need to add salt to the cooking water.
The ratios of salt to water to pasta are 1 tbsps of coarse sea salt per ½ gallon of water per ½ pound of pasta. Or 2 tbsps of coarse sea salt per 1 gallon of water per 1 pound of pasta.
In the metric system, that is 10 grams of salt per 100 grams of pasta per 1 liter of water.
Undercooking the pasta.
Cook the pasta for exactly the time indicated on the package. We rarely advise that, as we usually want the pasta a little undercooked to keep it al dente, but when it comes to pasta salads, we cool down the pasta with water and then put it in the fridge. The cold temperature makes the pasta a little harder, with some bite, so we don't want to undercook it.
Overcooking the pasta.
In the same way, we don't want to overcook the pasta. To prevent that, drain the pasta, then rinse it under cold running water for just 5 to 10 seconds to cool it down. This will prevent the pasta from overcooking and warming up the vegetables.
Do not rinse the pasta for longer than 10 seconds, or it will lose taste.
Not making enough dressing.
Since pasta salad is generally served cold or at room temperature, its flavor will be muted compared to a warm pasta dish (cold temperatures reduce the perceived flavor of foods).
A good, tasty dressing is key to ensuring your pasta salad won't be bland.
When making pasta salad in advance (for instance, if you bring it to picnics or potlucks), make a double portion of dressing and bring it with you to add last minute before serving the salad.
While in the fridge, the pasta will absorb most of the dressing. It'll get a little dry. Adding extra dressing just before serving makes all the difference.
If you want to increase protein.
This vegan pasta salad already packs a good amount of protein, thanks to the beans and the pasta. However, if you want to boost that up even more, you can use pasta made with legumes (chickpea pasta, lentil pasta, or protein pasta). You can also double up the bean content or add some fried tofu, air-fried tofu, or baked tofu to it.
Add salt to pasta water.
This is important for any pasta dish, but it's especially important when making pasta salad. Add salt to the pasta cooking water. The pasta will taste a lot better this way. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of salt (ideally coarse sea salt or Kosher salt) for each ½ gallon of water for each ½ pound of pasta.
Cool the pasta under cold running water.
Cooling the pasta under running cold water will ensure your pasta won't keep cooking with its residual heat and become overcooked. We recommend this step with all cold pasta dishes.
Let the pasta salad sit for 30 min before eating it.
The pasta salad will taste a lot better as the flavors have time to come together. If you store the pasta salad in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before eating it.
Did you know? Adding legumes such as beans, chickpea, and lentils to pasta is a healthy, quick, and cheap way to ensure you are eating more than enough (complete) protein.
Legumes, in general, contain a high level of Lysine, an essential protein building block, but are deficient in Methionine. On the other hand, pasta and grains are rich in Methionine (another essential protein building block) but deficient in Lysine.
So, to get a full protein profile with all essential amino acids, just combine legumes and grains. Learn more on this topic from the article "Macronutrient intakes as determinants of dietary protein and amino acid adequacy" or the book "Becoming Vegan: the complete reference to plant-based nutrition" from Davis, Brenda; Melina, Vesanto.
Vegan Creamy Pasta Salad
Ingredients: 3 cups short pasta (penne, rotini, elbow, fusilli), 1 stalk celery (sliced), 1 cup red bell pepper (diced), ½ cup corn, ½ red onion (diced), 1 cup cherry tomatoes (cut in quarters), ¾ cups vegan mayo, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste, 3 tablespoons of parsley or other fresh herbs.
Step 1: Cook pasta as instructed in our recipe and add it to a large mixing bowl.
Step 2: Add chopped veggies to the mixing bowl.
Step 3: In a small bowl, add vegan mayo, vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard. Pour over the veggies and the pasta and mix well. Add finely chopped fresh herbs, mix again, and serve or store in the fridge.
Vegan Pesto Pasta Salad
Ingredients: 3 cups short pasta (penne, rotini, elbow, fusilli), 2 cups cherry tomatoes cut in half. ¾ cup vegan pesto (you'll need water, basil, pine nuts, almonds, nutritional yeast, olive oil, garlic, salt)
Step 1: Cook pasta as instructed in our recipe and add it to a large mixing bowl.
Step 2: Make the pesto or use a store-bought one. To make it, add vegan pesto ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend till creamy. Taste and adjust for salt.
Step 3: Add cherry tomatoes to a bowl with pasta. Add pesto and mix well. Serve or store in the fridge.
Yes, you can make gluten-free pasta salad by using any gluten-free pasta.
Your pasta salad is bland for two reasons:
1) you did not add salt to the pasta cooking water.
2) the dressing is not tasty/salty enough.
Pasta salad requires more condiment/salt than warm pasta because you eat it cold, often from the fridge, and the cold temperature reduces the dish's flavor.
To fix a bland pasta salad, you've got to add more dressing. This is especially true if you did not add salt to the pasta cooking water. Remember that the dressing for pasta salad should be quite strong, as the cold temperature of the pasta reduces the taste of the dish.
In some cases, if, for example, you have not added salt to the pasta cooking water, you might have to add salt directly to the pasta salad.
No. It is not required for pasta salad to sit overnight. You can just make it and eat it. To increase its flavor, you can make it ahead and let it sit for 30 minutes. This is enough for the flavors to come together.
According to international food safety standards (HACCP), food that has been left out of the fridge for more than 2 hours should not be consumed. This applies to pasta salads as well.
Yes, but make sure you keep into account three things when you change the veggies: 1) colors - you want bright colors that go well together, 2) textures - you want a mix of crunchy, soft, and creamy, 3) flavors - you want a sweet, acidic, and umami.
Baked vegetables are also delicious in this pasta salad. Check out our Roasted Vegetables for inspiration.
Store leftovers in the fridge, preferably in an airtight container, for up to 3 days. Not suitable for freezing.
For many more salad ideas, check out our salads category page.
Vegan Pasta Salad
- 3 cups (½ pound) farfalle pasta uncooked, or rotini, fusilli, penne
- 1½ cups (1 can) cannellini beans or other white beans, drained
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes halved or in quarters
- 1 cup cucumber diced
- ½ cup olives pitted, halved
- ½ cup corn
- 3 tablespoons parsley finely chopped
- ⅓ cup basil leaves optional
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- ½ teaspoon salt or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Cook the pasta in salted boiling water as per package directions. Drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water to avoid overcooking. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, drizzle with a few drops of olive oil, and give it a mix.
- Chop the tomatoes in half or quarters. Cut olives in half. Drain canned corn. Drain and rinse white beans. Chop the cucumber. Thinly slice the red onion. Finely chop parsley and basil.
- Make dressing. To a small bowl, add vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Whisk well until the ingredients are emulsified (i.e., the vinegar and the oil become one). Alternatively, you can add all ingredients to a small mason jar, close it, and shake well.
- Add all ingredients, including veggies and dressing to the mixing bowl with pasta and mix well with a spoon. Taste and adjust for salt if necessary.
- Let sit for 30 minutes before serving (if you have time) to allow flavors to come together. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.