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.

JUMP TO THE RECIPE

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!