Healthy Pasta Salad: “OMG, I can eat this?” series

A protein-packed re-thinking of the classic pasta salad.

OMG, I can eat this? aims to reconstruct your favorite No Go meals and turn them into delights you can chow down on without feeling terribly afterward.


Let’s start with the humble pasta salad. This sinfully simple combination of pasta, mayo and nothing-else-good is normally heavy on the simple carbohydrates, fat and sugar and only contain protein in the form of your meat of choice. But, what if we rebuild it from it’s most basic component: the pasta. Then, could it give you a whopping serving of protein, some complex carbs to refuel your worked out body and a whole heap of fiber to keep the system clean and moving? Challenge accepted.

Nowadays, you can buy pasta made out of almost any grain at your local grocery store, but did you know that there is now a protein-rich, non-grain, low-carb ingredient that’s storming your pasta aisle? Sound too good to be true? Well, the folks over at Banza are making a chickpea pasta that feels and tastes every bit as satisfying as the white wheat flour variety.

It’s gluten-free and vegan-friendly and is the go-to pasta in our home. This “pasta 2.0” delivers twice the protein, half the net carbs and a whopping quadruple the fiber!

Now, that we’ve revolutionized the foundation of this salad, onto the bricks and mortar. Husband loves a good pesto. Who doesn’t? The pungency of the garlic mellowed out by creamy pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. And basil. Mmm Mmm Mmm, don’t get me started on basil. How could a simple green leaf pack so much spicy sweetness? Encase all of that in a good extra virgin olive oil and add a punch of raw garlic and you have one of the best gifts that Italy ever gave to the world (besides Pavarotti and things like y’know, the never-ending gift of sight).

Now, I hear some of you yelling, “Pesto!? That’s some advanced-level s*** you got goin’ on there.” First of all, stop yelling. It’s very stressful on the body and I just don’t care for how your voice sounds when you do it. Second of all, if you’ve got a blender, you can make pesto in 20 seconds. Quit your whining and take it out of the cupboard.

So, how best to keep all of that Mmm-inducing flavor but remove the bad stuff? Simple: keep everything… in principle. Basil and garlic, in their perfection, we keep. Oil to round out the flavors, we keep; but, we reduce the amount and add a touch of H2O. The wonderful world of nuts (not quite the same ring as The Wonderful World of Disney) contain a lot of surprises that I’m only discovering now but vegan chefs have known for years. One such surprise is that when you blend up soaked cashews, their creaminess and consistency makes a pretty convincing substitute for cheese sauce, white sauce, really any kind of sauce that has a cream base while reducing all of that saturated fat and bloatiness. So, the double whammy here is that our blended cashews can take the place of the creamy cheese and the nutty pine nuts. Twofer!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a flexitarian and I grew up on tofu, so this recipe uses firm tofu that I simply grilled on a stove top cast-iron grill pan. You can also just buy the tofu pre-grilled or substitute any protein you’d like. Husband isn’t a fan of tofu, so his version had grilled chicken (better yet, rip into a CostCo rotisserie chicken and keep the remainder to start a soup). Seitan, beef, even sausage could work here. Go play!

Now, being a flex head, I lurve me some vegetables. I’ve packed in a ton of them and added some simply pickled onions to add some zing. Wanna see?

Here’s the first food photo I’ve ever taken for a blog:

Protein Pasta Salad

Doesn’t look too terrible, huh? Albeit, that took almost an hour. I’ll take any tips to make that a less strenuous activity. I don’t need to be doing half-hour static shoulder-height holds with a 4 pound camera after obliterating my arms at EQX Barre Burn (fellas, try it before you knock it. I dare you to test your endurance strength against anyone in those rooms).

Protein Power Pasta Salad

I love the pop of color that the red onions give. Eat with your eyes, they say. I do need to learn how to color correct, though. Tips appreciated!

Okay, enough vamping. The recipe! 

Protein Power Pasta Salad

Gluten-free, vegan, high protein, low carb

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Makes 4 servings

Main ingredients

  • 1 box of Banza Chickpea Pasta (I used the shells)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 large handful each of green beans, cherry tomatoes and raddichio, washed and sliced
  • 1 head of cos lettuce, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 a block of firm tofu or substitute protein of your choice

For the pickled onion

  • 1/2 of a medium red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of your favorite vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon of sugar

For the pesto

  • 1 bunch of basil, washed and picked
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 30 raw cashews, soaked overnight or steeped in hot water for 30 mins
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of cold water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of black pepper

Method (and a touch of madness)

  • Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and throw in the pasta.

  • Meanwhile, mix the vinegar, water, salt and sugar (which I don’t add because I’m trying to eliminate added sugar) in a wide bowl. Slice up the onion and place in the bowl. An optional step if you don’t like raw-tasting onions is to quickly pan fry or nuke them to mellow out the zing before adding to the bowl. Mix everything up and then try to submerge as many of the onions as you can so that they begin to pickle.

  • Prep your veg and, about 3 minutes from the end of your pasta cooking time, dunk in your green beans. Drain and run the pasta and green beans under cold water to arrest the cooking process.

  • Prep your protein. Grill it, fry it, chop it, slice it; however Daft Punk want you to, just do it.

  • Combine the pesto ingredients in a blender and switch that baby on. I like this sauce quite smooth and not thick, so adjust yours to your taste with a little more/less oil or water.

  • Combine everything together. I like to have different flavors and textures in my bites, so I leave the cos lettuce out when I mix everything with the pesto then layer the cos into each bowl and only top the salad with the pickled onion so that I can decide how bad I want my breath to be the next day.

There you have it! My first mind-altering recipe. This won’t break the bank and it won’t ruin the split jump work you did this afternoon. In fact, it’ll give you a whopping serving of protein, some complex carbs to refuel your worked out body and a whole heap of fiber to keep the system clean and moving. See? I got you. Challenge crushed.

Guide for the ‘arians:

Flexitarian – good
Pescetarian – good, add in some grilled fish, if you like.
Vegetarian – good
Omnivore – good, add in some grilled anything, if you like.
Vegan – good
Gluten free – good
Lactose free – good

As this is a fledgling blog, I welcome your comments, feedback, suggestions about my writing, the recipes and anything else. Leave them below!

Also, one day when I have money, I’ll set up my own domain and turn these into proper recipe cards with nutritional information, ratings and print ability. I also want to put nutritional information into Myfitnesspal to help all you trackers keep record simply. Let me know you’re thoughts. In the meantime, I’m taking donations.

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