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If someone forced me to pick one adjective to describe this dish, I would (a) wonder why the aggressive posture, and (b) call it FRESH. That’s what is so lovely about pasta salads – they are a cold dish that is flavorful and relies heavily on delicious herbs and veggies to make a plant-based dish that is freshness on another level. What’s particularly fun about red lentil pasta salad, in particular, is the bold color. Of course traditional pasta salad included bold vegetable colors, but when you incorporate red lentil pasta, it just embraces even more of the rainbow.
What you’ll love about red lentil pasta salad
This particular pasta salad uses a vinaigrette-based dressing and extra lemon juice with lemon zest, meaning you get an end result that is absolutely refreshing.
You are welcome to customize the recipe, to suit your preferences. Not a tomato fan? No problem! The seasonings and vegetables are delicious as-is, but you can certainly experiment with your own additions.
The red lentil pasta creates a really beautiful backdrop for the remaining ingredients. The pop of red allows for some fun with the food color palette and adds a delicious layer of vibrancy.
Red lentil pasta. I use an 8 or 8.8 oz container of either Barilla or Banza pasta. My noodles of choice are rotini because the spirals do a great job of capturing the seasonings. You are welcome to use the pasta you prefer!
Sliced zucchini. Please note that I’m not offering the designation of “thinly-sliced” zucchini here. Red lentil pasta is a hearty pasta choice, and if you slice the veggies too thin, it will be hard to add zucchini to each bite. Therefore, slice the zucchini about 1/8th of an inch thick.
Cherry tomatoes. Though I’m not the biggest fan of raw tomatoes (outside of pico de gallo) – please no haters – I really think tomatoes have a place in pasta salad. They add a little extra burst of flavor that blends well with the added seasonings.
Scallions. I would suggest using scallions or red onions in this recipe. Though I love a good red onion, the scallions impart a more subtle flavor that has universal appeal. Part of what makes red lentil pasta salad so fun is the color, so the white and green of the scallions really pops against the backdrop of the pasta. Red onions would add a vibrant color as well.
Yellow bell pepper. As with the other vegetables in this dish, feel free to select the bell pepper color of your choice. However, yellow creates a beautiful contrast in this dish and a really nice flavor.
Champagne vinegar. I just love a good use for champagne vinegar, since it has a light flavor with floral and fruity notes perfect for pasta salad.
Extra virgin olive oil. You are essentially making a vinaigrette, so olive oil is a must! This also aids in coating each noodle to add moisture. As most cooks will encourage, use the best extra virgin olive oil you can, to avoid any off-flavors.
Kosher salt. A little salt is needed to cook the lentil pasta, and to mix into the dressing.
Coarse sea salt (optional). Topping the pasta salad with a little coarse sea salt is a nice touch, but technically optional.
Freshly-ground black pepper. A little pepper adds depth of flavor to the dressing, but is practically unnoticeable.
Dried oregano. If you use no other seasoning in this recipe, choose oregano for the most flavor per bite, and a delicious complement to the tomatoes in the dish.
Dried parsley. A little goes a long way, and just adds a little herby dynamism to the dish.
Dried thyme. One of the most versatile herbs, in my opinion, thyme is a nice touch!
Cook the lentil pasta according to the package directions. Usually, this means to cook the pasta in salted water for about 7 minutes; though, a few more minutes will help make the pasta more tender.
While the pasta cooks, chop your vegetables and aromatics. Aim for bite-sized pieces (for example, 1/8-1/4 inch thick zucchini slices).
Drain the pasta and place in a glass bowl to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne vinegar, olive oil, dried oregano, parsley, and thyme.
Add the chopped veggies to the pasta and then drizzle with the dressing. Toss to thoroughly combine.
Add the zest and juice of one lemon before tossing once more.
Serve immediately or allow to chill in the refrigerator. Store in an airtight container for up to one week before serving cold.
Pro Tip: Remember that lentil pasta is very hearty, so it can be drier than traditional pasta. When you store in the refrigerator, be sure to toss again before serving. Taste test and add more olive oil or lemon juice, if desired.
Pasta. You are welcome to use the pasta of your choice, but keep in mind that lentil pasta is what makes this recipe gluten-free. Different cuts are a great opportunity to experiment, too! In case you are interested in the nutritional profile of red lentil pasta, check out this article that compares red lentil and chickpea gluten-free pasta options.
Seasonings. If you prefer an Italian blend, or different herbs altogether, feel free to experiment! I do suggest, though, incorporating dried oregano.
Vinegar. Red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar would be the best substitution. Champagne vinegar has a very subtle, delicate flavor and you want to avoid a stronger vinegar that will overpower the other flavors.
Vegetables. Consider different colored bell peppers, squash, or thinly-sliced red onion in place of scallions.
Red Lentil Pasta Salad
- 8.8 ounces red lentil pasta this was the size of my box - 8 oz is fine
- 1/3 cup diced yellow bell pepper
- 1/2 cup thinly-sliced zucchini
- 2 scallions sliced
- 1/3 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in half
- 2 tablespoons kalamata olives
- 1 lemon zest and juice
Pasta Salad Dressing
- 1/3 cup champagne vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- pinch freshly-ground black pepper
- pinch coarse sea salt optional, for garnish
Pasta Salad Dressing
- Whisk together the ingredients for the salad dressing.
Red Lentil Pasta Salad
- Cook the red lentil pasta according to package directions. Drain and allow to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Add the cooled pasta to the sliced vegetables.
- Pour the dressing over the salad. Toss to coat. Add the remaining teaspoon each of dried parsley and dried oregano, as well as the juice and zest of the lemon. Stir to incorporate.
- Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
The star of the show is the red lentil pasta – of course – because this is what includes a boost of plant-based protein and serves as a gluten-free alternative. As discussed in previous articles, lentils are a great crop for the environment thanks to low emission production during harvest. Plus, they can be grown in various climates, expanding their local reach.
Perhaps what is best about the pasta salad is the fact that you can select your favorite vegetables, and choose locally-grown, organic varieties to suit your preferences!
Frequently Asked Questions
Does red lentil pasta taste like regular pasta?
In my opinion, the red lentil pasta version tastes essentially the same as traditional pasta. That being said, I’m used to alternative pastas – like chickpea pasta – and might have a different barometer than those who are flour pasta fans. Red lentil pasta does have a subtle flavor, which ultimately takes a “back seat” to the fresh veggies and spices that are the true stars of the show in this recipe.
Is lentil pasta gluten free?
Yes, most lentil pasta is certified gluten-free and a great choice for those who are interested in pasta alternatives without gluten. That being said, it is critical to check labels and make sure the brand you are selecting meets your standards and clearly states their certification.
Does red lentil pasta take longer to cook?
Not at all! In fact, the brands I use (Barilla and Banza, specifically) cook in about 7 minutes, which is similar to traditional pasta cook times, averaging 8-11 minutes.
What is the texture of the pasta and the pasta salad?
Great question! In my experience, red lentil pasta is a little heartier than traditional wheat-based pasta. This means that it is sturdy and great for incorporating into a pasta salad dish that features a number of delicious fresh vegetables and aromatics. I should note that red lentil pasta (and pasta salad) can be a little drier, so it is important to taste test as you make it. If needed, add a little more olive oil, vinegar of choice, or lemon juice to revive the salad a bit. If you store it in the refrigerator before serving, remember to toss it in the marinade that sinks to the bottom of your container, to reincorporate into the pasta salad.
Have actual red lentils on hand? Take a peek at my red lentil tortilla recipe to make a fresh batch of homemade tortillas! This is a delicious option for gluten-free tortillas and a rich source of plant-based protein. Delish!