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What is Pasta Salad?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pasta salad is a chilled salad made with cooked and cooled pasta tossed in a dressing with a variety of other ingredients. Various versions of this dish are made in pretty much every region of the world where pasta is consumed, from glass noodle salads in Vietnam to American macaroni salad, and this dish can be incredibly diverse. Pasta salad is classically a summer food, usually served as an appetizer or side, although it can also be eaten as a main course.

In this salad, pasta is the star ingredient. Almost any variety of pasta can be used, and some cooks like to mix pasta shapes such as fusilli and penne for more texture and visual interest. As a general rule, filled pastas should be avoided, as should large pasta shapes. Many cooks also recommend cooking the pasta al dente, so that it does not become soggy after it has been blended with the other ingredients in the salad.

Dressings for pasta salad are quite varied. Vinaigrette made with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper is a simple and common choice, but cooks can also make creamy dressings with various cheeses, mayonnaise-based dressings, or Asian-style dressings and marinades. Dressings can be tangy, sweet, or spicy, and they are typically left runny, so that they do not congeal on the salad.

The list of other ingredients which can be used in a pasta salad is also quite extensive. Fresh vegetables like celery, onions, and broccoli can be used, along with preserved fruits and vegetables such as sundried tomatoes and olives, and ingredients like herbs, cheeses, cooked legumes such as beans or lentils, meats ranging from various cured meats to freshly grilled chicken or fish, and so forth. Many cooks recommend sticking to one to four additional ingredients, so that the pasta salad does not become overwhelmed with the flavor of too many things.

Pasta salad should be kept chilled, to ensure that it does not become contaminated with bacteria. Some people like to allow it to warm to room temperature before serving, to allow the flavors of the salad to come out more, in which case any leftover salad should be discarded, as bacteria may have gotten a chance to establish itself in the salad while it was being allowed to warm.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On Sep 28, 2011

@simrin-- I agree with you. I used to think that tuna and pasta is not a good combination until I had a tuna pasta salad. Not only is it a great combination, but it's really healthy too.

I'm on a diet right now and I'm trying to include more healthy protein and vegetables in my diet. I generally eat too much bread, so I'm trying to limit that too. My dietitian said that pasta is a better carbohydrate than bread and she prefers me to have some pasta instead.

I've started making tuna pasta salad a lot for this reason. I use a can of tuna, two cups of pasta and lots of veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. I only drizzle some olive oil and and balsamic vinegar for dressing. It's a really satisfying, low-fat and healthy meal.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 27, 2011

I had a really good Asian style pasta salad the other day. It was really interesting because it was made with pasta and not noodles, but the rest of the ingredients and the sauce was very Asian. I'm not sure of all the ingredients in the sauce, but I think that I tasted sesame seed paste, soy sauce and garlic. There were also a variety of vegetables that reminded me of Asian stir-fry.

I really liked this pasta salad. It was really different than the kinds of pasta salads I've had before, but in a good way. I liked the nutty flavor the sesame paste added to it. Soy sauce is a really good addition too.

This is the great part about pasta salad. You can change the recipes and play around with the ingredients until you get a taste you like. Everything goes with pasta, so your imagination is the limit.

By turquoise — On Sep 26, 2011

My favorite pasta salad is made with small shell pasta, mayonnaise, plain yogurt, boiled and diced carrots, peas, and diced pickles. And of course, salt and pepper to taste.

I love this pasta salad, my mom has been making it for me since I was a kid and I still make it to this day. It's the perfect side dish for a barbecue or sandwich and a great snack for when you're home.

By somerset — On Jul 03, 2009

For the American version of pasta salad, or macaroni salad there are a few traditional ingredients. To cooked macaroni you add mayonnaise, celery and onion, voila, here is your great summer salad.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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