We'll start with some truth: There's a lot of bad pasta salad out there. No one wants to eat an assemblage of limp, greasy vegetables and cardboard-like pasta. Fortunately, it's possible to make a pasta salad that's worth eating, but first you have to recognize one fundamental fact: Pasta salad is pasta, not salad. As such, it should be sauced rather than dressed, made with cooked vegetables rather than raw ones, and served at room temperature. Keep these guidelines in mind—though there are exceptions, as you'll see below!—and you'll end up with a pasta salad that completely changes how you view the dish. These 13 recipes, including ones for fideuà salad with chorizo and peppers, spicy peanut noodle salad, and an old-school macaroni number, are all stellar examples of pasta salad's true potential.
With a sauce spiked with Spanish chorizo and garlic, plus pickled red onion and roasted piquillo peppers—remember, cooked veggies are what you're after!—this pasta salad is full of flavor. Avoid attempting to add extra tang in this pasta salad (or most others) with more vinegar, which can leave an unpleasant acerbic aftertaste. Instead, we use parsley, scallions, and lemon zest to brighten things up.
You can get terrific results by applying our guidelines to a standard tomato and basil pasta salad. To do it, cook ripe cherry tomatoes in olive oil until they blister and burst, creating a flavorful sauce to coat the noodles. Since fresh herbs are the exception to the no-raw-veggies rule, we finish the salad with a handful of fragrant torn basil leaves.
There's a catch to our pasta-salad rules: They apply only when you're using Italian-style dried wheat noodles. Asian-style noodles work much better for traditional vinaigrette-dressed pasta salads (and also pair just fine with uncooked vegetables—go figure). This recipe capitalizes on that versatility, bringing Vietnamese rice noodles together with a summery Italian seafood salad, dressed lightly with olive oil, lemon, and herbs.
Whole wheat pasta has a bit more chew, which makes it a good candidate for standing up to vinaigrettes. Here, we toss the cooked noodles with grilled zucchini, fresh tomatoes, basil, and briny olives and feta, then coat the mixture in a simple red wine vinaigrette. This salad is a great make-ahead option—just wait to add the basil leaves until right before you serve it.
Again, with an Asian noodle like soba, the rules go out the window—not only is this salad coated with an acidic lemon-soy vinaigrette, it's got raw cucumbers for crunch! Adding rehydrated seaweed and blanched asparagus to the mix gives the salad plenty of textural contrast, and a hit of fresh ginger perks up the dressing.
For a refreshing and lighter take on Asian pasta salad, try flipping the typical ratio, focusing primarily on the vegetables and mixing in a modest quantity of noodles. That's what we do for this dish, which is crammed with sliced cucumber, bell pepper, scallion, mung bean sprouts, chilies, and herbs. Peanut butter, soy sauce, chili sauce, and lime juice combine to make a creamy dressing that's rich enough to complement the freshness of the other ingredients.
Shirataki, a kind of Japanese noodle made from yam starch, has a reputation as a bland health food, since it's sometimes used as a gluten-free pasta alternative. But it's more than that: These noodles have a slippery, slick texture that's perfect for cold salads, and they're essentially flavorless, which makes them a good canvas for all sorts of dressings. Here, we use a fiery sauce of Sichuan peppercorns, black vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce, and fold in crushed peanuts and chopped cucumber for crunch.
Not every traditional picnic side has to be reimagined in a nouveau light. This is a real-deal, old-fashioned, creamy-mayo-dressed macaroni salad, though with a few helpful additions—namely, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice, which give it more depth. For texture, we also incorporate chopped celery, shallots, and scallions.
Pesto pasta is just as delicious cold as it is hot, if you know how to prepare it correctly. It’s important to add the pesto to the pasta little by little to prevent clumping, then incorporate lemon juice to prevent the sauce from drying out. Peas boost the green color of the salad, while walnuts add a delicious crunch.
If you’re one of those people who can’t get enough of kale, then this recipe is for you. The leafy green makes an appearance alongside cold udon noodles, silky wakame, crunchy bean sprouts, and creamy avocado. A sesame-miso dressing rounds it out, making for a light and healthy dish that doesn’t require too much attention.
This Vietnamese noodle salad brings together a variety of flavors and textures. Fresh vegetables and crispy, fried tofu bring the crunch, while a sweet and savory sauce made of garlic, lime, and chili bring umami flavor. The best way to top it off is with fried shallots, chopped peanuts, and fresh herbs. It may look like a salad, but it eats like a meal.
Though this salad calls for Chinese egg noodles, you can easily get away with linguine, spaghetti, or ramen if that’s all you’ve got. Whatever you go with, you’ll mix it with chunks of poached chicken and a flavorful dressing that includes tahini, soy sauce, ginger, and fish sauce. The final product delivers a refreshing bite with a hint of heat—a combination that makes for the perfect summer dish.
Ramen has a place on this pasta salad list because it can be enjoyed cold, too, especially when the temperatures start to rise. We keep the shrimp and the noodles chilled, and then serve them with a refreshing dressing of soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and sesame oil. You can add whatever toppings you like, such as corn, scallions, tomato, and even crab stick.
All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.