7 Simple Whole-Grain Pasta Salads

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Today's cooking blog is a lesson in cooking without a recipe. Once you know which ingredients pair well together, how big a serving size is, you can start to combine them to suit your needs. We're starting with a dish that anyone, regardless of their cooking skills can make: pasta salad.

Pasta salad is an easy, go-to meal when the weather is warm, but most of the recipes we know and love are mayo-based, which means they're not so great for us. The easiest swap is to use lowfat plain yogurt instead of mayo.

But what about when you're tired of your same-old pasta salad? Here's an easy way to turn one box of pasta into dinner for four or a side dish for your next neighborhood gathering.

You don't even need a recipe. Adjust the portions as needed, and learn to cook "without a net." This is a great chance to experiment in the kitchen without taking a big risk.
  • "Cook" this dish the night before. The flavors taste even better the next day.
  • Undercook your pasta slightly--it should be al dente. Drain and rinse your pasta with cool water, then immediately combine with the other ingredients. Overcooked pasta yields a gummy glob of pasta salad.
  • You'll also want to use a bite-size pasta in this dish.
  • For vegetables, figure on 1/2 cup of each per person.
  • For protein, you'll want 12 ounces cooked for four people.
  • For the extras like nuts, bacon, or cheese, keep portions small: 1/2 ounce per person.

    Cook your protein ahead of time for an even faster meal!
To one box of pasta (preferably whole wheat), add little of this, a little of that, and--voila!--an instant meal or side dish that's ready in no time.

Cool Summer Sliced grapes or cherries Diced celery and cucumbers Cubed poached or grilled chicken Toasted walnuts or pecans Cucumber-yogurt dressing
All American BLT Chopped Romaine Chopped green onions Sliced grape or cherry tomatoes Chopped turkey bacon, cooked Tomato-yogurt dressing* swap 1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes for fresh
Grilled Grilled Romaine Grilled eggplant Grilled summer squash and zucchini Parmesan cheese No dressing--just drizzle your veggies with balsamic, pepper and olive oil
Asian Snow peas Bean sprouts Shredded carrots Grilled or poached chicken Sesame ginger dressing
Italian Chopped tomatoes--fresh or roasted Thinly sliced red onions Chopped parsley and basil Feta cheese Your favorite vinaigrette
My Favorite! Wilted spinach or arugula Artichoke hearts (packed in water and drained) White beans (drained and rinsed) Steamed asparagus Basil vinaigrette or pesto (homemade or jarred)
Southwest Grilled shrimp with a spice rub Roasted corn Black beans (drained and rinsed) Chopped tomatoes Cubed Monterey or pepper Jack cheese (no dressing needed)
What is your favorite pasta salad recipe?