This super easy-to-make summer side dish beats store-bought pasta salad any day. Loaded up with Mediterranean flavors, Greek Pasta Salad with Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette is bright, zesty, and delightfully briney. Best of all, it’ll come together quicker than you can say “Opa!”
If you caught my recent recipe for Warm Chorizo Potato Salad, my apologies; I’m dusting off the same soapbox to advocate for another mayo-free side dish.
For me, a zesty vinaigrette trumps mayo every time, which makes pasta salad my instant go-to whenever there’s a potluck to prep for. That being said, store-bought dressings might bother me even more than mayo-soaked sides– their flavor just isn’t as intense as all of those delicious pasta salad mix-ins deserve. Luckily, making your own flavor-packed dressing is ridiculously easy to do at home in just a few minutes. And in this Greek Pasta Salad recipe, the Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette is worth every second of effort. It’s exactly what makes the difference between a bland barbecue side dish and a rockstar recipe with repeat requests!
But I’ll let you in on a secret…this recipe is not just magical because it seems to vanish from the bowl before you make it back with a serving spoon. It’s also incredibly easy to make– and with busy summer schedules, that is exactly the kind of recipe what we need.
IT’S TIME FOR PASTA SALAD TO GO GREEK
Where I live in New Jersey, it’s easy to find amazing Italian ingredients. I’m talking the best salami and pepperoni on the market, beautiful fresh Italian cheeses, and the most amazing olives you could ask for. In fact, I use them in my pasta salads all the time– especially my Antipasto Tortellini Pasta Salad. That being said, there’s only so many times a summer that I can bring an Italian pasta salad to a cookout to sit amongst 3 other Italian pasta salads that somebody else decided to bring. The market on Italian pasta salads is OVERSATURATED, you guys.
So while I mean no disrespect to my Jersey Paesan’s, I’m of the opinion that Italian pasta salad has had its moment. I think it’s time we showed some love to the other side of the Mediterranean.
Greek Pasta Salad is where it’s at.
Not only do Greeks know their way around a carb (the average Greek eats 11kg of pasta every year vs Americans’ 9kg), but they also have tons of amazingly fresh and flavorful ingredients at their disposal that can stand up to all of that starch. Ingredients like cucumber, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta cheese meld perfectly in pasta salad for a salty, punchy, and refreshing dish.
IT’S OKAY TO SKIP THE MEAT
As I mentioned above, Italian pasta salad tends to be loaded up with pepperoni and salami and all of those delicious things that makes it not so vegetarian friendly– which really is a shame considering summer cookouts tend to already be pretty meat-focused (hello hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, and steak!)
And while I’m definitely in Camp Meat-Eater, it’s sometimes nice not to serve your grilled sausages against a side dish that’s filled with cured sausages, you know? There’s no need to overdo it.
That’s why I love Greek Pasta Salad. With all of the bold Greek flavors in the mix-ins, plus a garlicky vinaigrette packed with sun dried tomatoes, you don’t miss the meat for a second. And if you happen to have a few vegetarians at your next get-together, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it!
BUT DON’T FORGET THE SUN DRIED TOMATO VINAIGRETTE
I won’t beat around the bush. This Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette is better than anything you’ll find in a bottle. Full stop.
The average store-bought dressing is formulated to last 12-18 months unopened, so I don’t think I need to tell you that making vinaigrette at home means more flavor with fresher ingredients and no preservatives. But it does. It means a lot more flavor.
In the case of this Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette, that robust flavor comes from two kinds of acid, a ton of fresh garlic, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and sun dried tomatoes– but that’s not it. The real secret is to ditch traditional, unflavored olive oil (which is usually used in vinaigrettes) in favor of the oil your sun dried tomatoes were packed in. Just drizzle that in there, and a quick whirl in your food processor or blender is all that’s standing between you and the taste of summer in Santorini.
THIRTY MINUTES IS ALL IT TAKES
When I said creating this pasta salad takes less time than a supermarket run, I meant it. Thirty minutes, to be exact, including prep time, pasta-cooking, and dressing assembly.
Last minute plans? Greek Pasta Salad.
Procrastinated for your potluck? Greek Pasta Salad.
Staying in to watch Spartacus in your joggers? GREEK PASTA SALAD.
There’s really no occasion when a 30-minute meal isn’t welcome, so be prepared to whip this recipe out all summer long.
TIPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Swap the Pasta: Squiggly and swirly pastas like gemelli, fusilli, or radiatore are great bases for this recipe, but certainly not the only option. For a more filling salad, opt for cheese tortellini, or to really go Greek, consider using orzo.
- Omit the Olives: Probably the most controversial ingredient in this recipe, olives just aren’t for everyone. If you choose to go without, another briney addition like artichoke hearts will compliment your feta and make a great replacement.
- Experiment with Herbs: If oregano isn’t available or just isn’t doing it for you, fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary will preserve your Greek flavor profile. If you choose to use rosemary, make sure to chop it finely and use in moderation to avoid overpowering the dish.
- Adjust the Spice: Using ¼ tsp of red pepper flakes will amp up the flavor without adding too much heat. Does your group like it spicy? Feel free to get a little more heavy-handed.
- Add Some Crunch: Some of us need a little crunch to spice up a salad. If that sounds like you, a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts is the way to go.
MORE OF THE BEST SUMMER SIDES
- Antipasto Tortellini Pasta Salad
- Warm Chorizo Potato Salad
- Smoky Shrimp Pasta Salad with Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette
- German Potato Salad (Kartoffelsalat)
- Charred Broccoli Salad with Hot Honey Dressing
- Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad
- 16 ounces swirly short cut pasta such as gemelli or radiatori
- 1 English cucumber, sliced and cut into half moons
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained and sliced
- 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil + 2 tablespoons oil from the jar
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile combine the cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, chickpeas, and feta cheese in a large bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
- Drain the pasta and set aside to cool.
- As the pasta cools, add the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, and red pepper flakes to a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, until thinned to your desired consistency, up to 6 tablespoons. Blend in the sun-dried tomato oil from the jar. Season generously with salt and pepper and adjust to taste.
- Toss the cooled pasta into the bowl with the mixed salad ingredients. Pour over the sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and toss once more to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve or serve at room temperature.
- Prep Time: 30 mins