Rainbow garden Pasta Salad is one of my favorite salads ever! This amazing one-bowl meal gets its bright colors and flavors from multicolored, multi-flavored (spinach and tomato flavored) rotini or spiral pasta, black olives, orange carrots, green dill pickles, fresh dill, green peppers and red tomatoes along with radishes in a tangy homemade vinaigrette. Chop up a big bowl of this and you can have a complete meal of it with added proteins like tofu, paneer (Indian cottage cheese), shredded or cubed cheese or some healthy walnuts, sunflower seeds etc.
I am a huge lover of salad, any salad! The only thing I missed (really!!) when I moved back to India was the huge salad bars in restaurants in USA. I used to love to spend a looong time in the restaurant, savoring all different types of premade mixed salads (pasta, potato, greens etc.), the humongous variety of salad greens and other fresh vegetables along with a mind boggling array of salad dressings (blue cheese, mayo, Italian, honey-mustard etc.). With visual treats (exciting for the gourmet in each one of us) of various kinds of breads, desserts and sometimes Italian dishes like pizza or soups, every trip to US was never complete with a visit to a local salad bar!
With summer here, nothing sounds more inviting than a big bowl of fresh salad, packed with onions, radishes, carrots or sometimes fresh, tender zucchini in a tangy vinaigrette; bottled store bought or even better, homemade!
Addition of pasta (any variety like macaroni, spiral/rotini or even some penne; try to use the enriched ones) adds a lovely texture as well as some carbs to the meal; sprinkle some nuts (sunflower, heart-healthy walnuts, almonds etc.) and some sweet raisins or even some chopped up dates (adds a sweet and pleasant dimension to the salad) to elevate the nutrition quotient.
Sometimes, when I do add tofu (soybean curd) or paneer (Indian cottage cheese), and sometimes precooked beans like red kidney beans, chickpeas or even black beans; stirring some in elevates the protein content and gives a nice and different texture to this bowl of goodness.
Pasta salads are normally dressed up with a creamy dressing with mayonnaise. I love my Italian vinaigrette any day. Almost always, I do have a big bottle of homemade vinaigrette in the refrigerator. It is so easy to make with easily available ingredients already in your pantry.
Just blend oil (any cooking oil or salad oil; olive oil is the best) with some vinegar (white or red wine), a little water and seasonings like salt, pepper, oregano or Italian seasoning and a dash of fresh garlic (minced or grated finely). Shake well in a jar and your homemade vinaigrette (without all the added chemicals, preservatives and not to mention the high cost of store bought dressing) is ready.
Of course, if you are out of any of these ingredients or short on time, store bought can also be substituted.
I had some fresh dill along with Kalamata olives, (I love the flavor of dill and my family loved the aroma it lent to the salad!), so I added some chopped dill leaves too. You can substitute with any other fresh herb like cilantro or even mint leaves. For added crunch, I have stirred in some dill pickles (always in my pantry; use them in sandwiches or for a low-calorie snack attack!)
The best part of this salad is you can make it ahead of time (stays fresh for a day or two in the refrigerator) and serve later with any meal. Make a big bowl and they are great for parties or potlucks. Just take some extra dressing to drizzle on the salad just before serving for extra flavor. A squeeze of lemon adds fresher tang to the dish.
Add more veggies to pasta and you can indulge in this guilt free any time. So, it does not matter what veggies you have in your pantry or refrigerator, as long as they can be eaten raw or if not, blanch them (like broccoli, green beans etc.), an amazing healthy pasta salad is just a few minutes away. Do not like pasta? Just omit them and enjoy the salad anyway!
Do try this one and let me know in the comments below or on my facebook page.
- 1 cup multicolored rotini or spiral pasta
- 3 to 4 red radishes
- ½ cup julienned or cubed green pepper
- ½ cup julienned or cubed yellow pepper
- ½ cup tomatoes, chopped
- ¼ cup olives, sliced
- ¼ to ½ cup dill pickles, sliced
- ½ cup sliced red onions
- ¼ cup chopped dill leaves
- ¼ cup grated carrots
- Crumbled blue cheese
- Shredded or cubed cheese (cheddar)
- Baby spinach leaves
- Dates etc.
- ½ cup salad oil or olive oil
- 2 tablespoons vinegar (white or red wine)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 large garlic, grated
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano (or Italian seasoning)
- Salt and pepper
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Place all the ingredients in a tight fitting jar and shake well. Taste the vinaigrette and adjust seasonings. Keep aside.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain thoroughly, rinse with cold water and keep aside.
- In a large salad bowl, add other salad ingredients to the cooled pasta; drizzle half the dressing and mix well.
- Adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper) according to taste.
- If needed add more dressing.
- Toss well and chill until serving time.
- When ready to serve, toss again; add more dressing if needed along with other toppings like raisins, walnuts, spinach leaves, chopped dates, crumbled blue cheese or cheddar cheese, croutons etc.
- Serve immediately.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator.
- This salad can be prepared a day ahead and chilled in the refrigerator (develops more flavor) until serving time.
- You can add a little of the pickle juice (from the jar of pickles) to the dressing or in the salad for additional flavor.
- Have fun with other vegetables for different flavors, texture and crunch.
- Squeeze some lemon or lime juice for added vitamins and tang.
- Instead of dill, you can use cilantro or even mint leaves.
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