25 Minute Creamy and Cold Vegan Pasta Salad
Craving a creamy, cold pasta salad?? This veggie-packed pasta salad makes enough for a crowd and will win you over with the right amount of crunch and a flavourful maple tahini dressing (no mayo!) that no one will guess is vegan!
You KNOW how much I love a good salad…like I could eat my 15 minute kale caesar salad every single day of my life and not be over it. But even I have to admit that when it comes to BBQs or potlucks, a really good pasta salad is the star!
It’s got to be loaded with veggies cuz this gal needs some texture, you know? And it’s got to be saucy enough to be craveable, whether you skew towards a tangy vinaigrette-based, Mediterranean-inspired pasta salad or a creamy, cold, more traditional style macaroni salad like this one.
My original pasta salad is still on repeat around here but I wanted to create this incredible, green veggie-packed pasta salad to appeal to anyone wanting a more traditional-style macaroni salad. Of course, I couldn’t resist putting my own spin on it, with a creamy vegan maple tahini dressing and tons of green veggies (I am a dietitian after all, ha!) and fresh herbs to make it really flavourful and exciting.
I love showing people that plant-based recipes are every bit as joyous as more traditional fare and I really think this cold vegan pasta salad nails that intention. Creamy, savoury tahini swaps in for mayo here to offer a bit more flavour and yes, nutrition!
I love tahini so much that I tend to use it A LOT. If you have a copy of either of my cookbooks, Eat More Plants or Good For Your Gut, you’ll never wonder how to use up that tahini sitting in the fridge again!
Grab these ingredients and make this creamy vegan pasta salad
This creamy, dreamy vegan pasta salad is made with 8 ingredients (mostly veggies!) and a double batch of my delicious maple tahini dressing so there is no mayo involved. Feel free to customize the salad with whatever veggies you like in your pasta salad or whatever you have lurking in your veggie drawer!
- Pasta: Use 2 cups of dry elbow macaroni, or 3 dry cups of the larger shapes like rotini, penne or rigatoni. Want more protein? Use legume-based pasta like Banza. Gluten free? Feel free to substitute GF pasta!
- Celery: I chose celery rather than carrots to keep everything green but still crunchy. I really like a fine dice on my celery so it almost looks like confetti on the salad, rather than slices.
- Broccoli: you could chop this finely but was feeling playful and wanted to try grating the broccoli and I really liked it! Do whichever you prefer.
- Green Peas: yes, green peas are a legit green veggie! They’re high fibre with 3 grams of fibre per half cup, pack a surprising amount of plant-based protein (4 g per ½ cup!) and minerals. I usually use frozen peas here but if you have access to fresh peas, lucky you!
- Fresh dill: dill is about as underrated as it gets in the herb world but I can’t get enough of it…I encourage you to get into it! You can also substitute any fresh herb you have on hand, like basil or parsley and the salad will still be delicious.
- Green onions: Writing Good For Your Gut gave me a new appreciation for green onions because they are just this delicious intersection of a fresh herb and onions! If using just the dark green parts, it keeps things milder and low FODMAP.
- Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast is always my go-to for building a richer, umami-spiked flavour. Here, I am using it in place of cheese but you could totally use your favourite vegan feta or make vegan parmesan in 5 minutes flat.
- Sunflower seeds: for extra crunch! You can substitute whatever nut or seed you have on hand
- Dressing: I designed this salad to be dressed with a double batch of my creamy maple tahini dressing which I just can’t get enough of…it really makes the salad SO dreamy!
Low FODMAP? You can make this creamy pasta salad low FODMAP-friendly with a few simple swaps.
- Use gluten free, rice or corn based pasta.
- Substitute carrot for celery and 30 green beans for green peas.
- Use only the dark green parts of the green onion.
- Omit the garlic in the dressing.
How to make this easy cold pasta salad!
This amazing vegan pasta salad will be ready in just 25 minutes, including boiling the pasta! In fact, it comes together so quickly that by the time the pasta is done, you’ve tidied up the kitchen and just need to cool the pasta under the tap and toss it all together.
Step One: cook the pasta in well-salted water until tender, not mushy…usually a minute or two more than the al dente time on the package. Salt is essential to seasoning the pasta from the inside out so it has even more flavour!
Step Two: while the pasta is cooking, place the frozen peas in the colander you’ll use to drin the pasta and dice all the veggies and get them into a large salad bowl.
Step Three: blend up a double batch of the maple tahini dressing.
Step Four: when the pasta is tender, drain it over the peas and rinse well with cold water to remove excess starch. Draining the pasta over the peas is a little time saving hack as it helps instantly thaw the peas but also, the frozen peas help chill the pasta faster too!
Step Five: toss pasta with veggies and half the dressing in the bowl. Add sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast and toss again. You can enjoy this salad right away but if you have 1-2 hours to chill it, it will be even more flavourful.
FAQ: why is my pasta salad NOT creamy??
There are SO many reasons why a creamy pasta salad can end up being dry and well, not that creamy…but it’s 100% fixable. Never eat dry pasta salad again with these tips!
- This is the big one: make sure you rinse pasta in ample cold water. Not only will cold water help cool the pasta faster, but rinsing pasta well (stir and toss the pasta as you rinse!) will help rinse away starch that hoovers up dressing, making pasta salads dry.
- Cook pasta until it’s tender – NOT al dente. While al dente is great when you’re serving hot pasta, it’s not for cold pasta salads. Cooking the pasta until tender – not mushy – more fully hydrates the starches in the pasta keeping leftovers softer, more tender, and hydrated.
- Add plenty of veggies to your pasta salad! While pasta sucks up dressing, adding veggies – which don’t – helps maintain the creamy balance of dressing to pasta.
- And….just make extra dressing. We make a double batch of maple tahini dressing and dress the salad with half of it, so that the salad is nice and saucy to begin with and if the salad leftovers get a bit dry, you can simply toss with more dressing!
Tips, Tricks and Substitutions
- This pasta salad will keep well, covered in the fridge, for 4-5 days. Toss with a bit of remaining dressing to keep it extra creamy!
- Unlike a hot pasta dish where you want your pasta cooked al dente, for a pasta salad, you want to cook your pasta until it is tender – not mushy – because pasta will get firmer as it chills.
- Make it your own! Feel free to substitute whatever nuts, seeds and veggies you have on hand.
More picnic-friendly vegan side dishes
- 25 Minute Mediterranean-style Baby Potato Salad
- Nourishing Kale and Quinoa Salad with Edamame
- 30 Minute Low FODMAP Quinoa Salad and Dressing
- Healthy Vegan Broccoli Salad
- Healthy, Baked Zucchini Fritters (Vegan)
25 Min Creamy + Cold Vegan Pasta Salad
- 2 cups small elbow pasta, or 3 cups of a larger shape like fusilli or bow ties
- ½ pound broccoli, finely chopped or grated into broccoli rice
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 2 ribs celery, finely diced
- ½ cup fresh dill, chopped
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast, 1/2 cup vegan parmesan or feta
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- 2 batches maple tahini dressing
- Cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water until tender, not mushy…usually a minute or two more than the al dente time on the package.
- While the pasta is cooking, place the frozen peas in the colander you'll use to drain the pasta.
- If you haven't already, make a double batch of the dressing.
- When pasta is done, pour the hot pasta over the peas in the colander and rinse well with cold water, stirring the pasta in colander as you rinse to make sure you rinse it all well.
- Toss the pasta and peas with the celery, broccoli, green onions, dill and half the dressing. Toss again with sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast.
- Serve immediately, or for even richer flavour, chill for 30-60 minutes before serving. Leftovers will keep for up to 5 days. Just toss with a bit of extra dressing before serving.