Have you heard the news? We’ve officially entered #pastasaladsummer, a glorious season in which the boring and too-rich pasta salads of yore are being eagerly replaced by lighter, more summery concoctions. And yes, I’ve hopped aboard.
While many of the trending recipes are tossed in a tangy vinaigrette, creamy pasta salads are by no means on the outs. In fact, there’s an impossibly easy way to upgrade any mayo-laden recipe, firmly securing its inclusion in the pasta salad movement. And that’s replacing the mayo with tahini.
There are countless benefits to this simple swap. The sesame seed paste adds a savory, nutty flavor to any pasta salad recipe. It appeases the mayo-haters—and excites the tahini lovers. It makes it that much easier to make the entire salad vegan. And best of all, it won’t spoil in the sunshine, making it a safer, smarter option for picnics and backyard BBQs.
This concept isn’t new, it’s just underrated. I first came across it in recipe developer Ali Slagle’s cookbook I Dream of Dinner, which features a Tahini-Herb Pasta Salad packed with chickpeas, herbs, and toasted sesame seeds.
In her cookbook Dada Eats Love to Cook It, recipe developer and food blogger Samah Dada writes that “tahini is my kitchen’s MVPP (Most Valuable Pantry Player).” She puts the paste to use in more than 20 recipes, including her Turmeric-Tahini Pasta Salad flavored with turmeric, cumin, and cayenne. Are you hungry yet?
How To Make a Tahini Pasta Salad
First things first: buy a quality tahini. Look for jars with a unified paste, and take a glance at the nutrition label, too. Sesame seeds should be the only ingredient listed. (If you can find it, we recommend Soom).
Next, you’ll need to loosen up the paste to create a silky, pourable dressing. This might be built into your recipe if you’re swapping it in for mayo, but if not, a good place to start is a 2:1 ratio of tahini to lemon juice. Then, drizzle in enough water (in this case, the pasta cooking water) until it reaches your desired consistency.
From there, throw in some flavor boosters: grated or minced garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of Dijon mustard, the zest of the lemon, and whatever spices will complement your salad. All that’s left to do is toss it with your noodles—and I think these cute elbows are calling your name.