Ditch the mayo and bring this Tuna Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette to the next backyard barbecue or family picnic. A lightened-up classic is always a surefire winner! 198 calories and 5 Weight Watchers SP
Tuna pasta salad is a classic potluck option for summer backyard barbecues. When I was a kid, I was a sucker for my mum’s pasta salad, made with salmon and a mayo dressing. Salmon or tuna still fit the bill, but these days I’m partial to an easy vinaigrette dressing, such as the lemon one in this recipe. If you’ve tried my Primavera Pasta Salad with Shrimp, you know that the dressing is simple to make and has just the right amount of tang.
Put this salad together up to a day in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it. I recommend adding in the basil at the last minute to stop it from browning.
How to make pasta salad:
- Pasta salad is a breeze to put together and there are so many options to switch up the flavor profile.
- Penne, rotini (corkscrews), farfalle (bowties), macaroni, orzo…so many pasta options! I typically use whole wheat pasta for extra fiber, but regular semolina pasta works well, too. Cook according to the package directions in well-salted water. Once al dente (tender, but still firm), drain, then rinse with cold water until cool.
- Choose a protein: For a vegetarian pasta salad, chickpeas, white beans or black beans work well. For meat and seafood lovers, the opt for chicken, shrimp, tuna or salmon.
- Up your veggie quotient: Bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, spinach, green beans, snap peas, avocado…and so on, and so on. If it would be good in a green salad, it would be even better in pasta salad!
- Dressing: While I grew up on mayo-based pasta salads, I now prefer vinaigrette dressings. Lemon juice or white wine vinegar work well for Mediterranean-inspired salads, while lime juice punches up the flavor of a southwestern salad.
- Herbs: Turn to fresh herbs for extra flavor. Parsley, cilantro, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon – to name a few.
- Extra flavor: Cheese, such as feta, queso fresco or bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls) are all popular options. For an extra touch of salt, capers and olives are easy solutions.
How to make a lemon vinaigrette:
- All vinaigrettes have a balance of acid and oil (see my post on How to Make a Vinaigrette for more tips).
- For the acid, fresh lemon juice fills that role in a lemon vinaigrette. I beg of you to use fresh lemon juice rather than the bottled stuff. Since the lemon juice is a main ingredient of the vinaigrette, using the fresh stuff makes all the difference in the world.
- Oil: While a light olive oil can be used for sautéing, a good, fruity extra virgin olive oil is the way to go for a vinaigrette. A little goes a long way.
- Sweet: To balance the acidity of the lemon juice, just a drizzle of agave nectar or honey balances the flavor.
- Don’t forget to add salt! The amount in the recipe is a recommendation. Feel free to adjust according to your taste buds.
Other healthy potluck recipes:
Tuna Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- 12 ounces whole wheat rotini pasta
- 8 ounces canned tuna (in water) drained
- 3 stalks celery cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 1/2 cups halved grape tomatoes
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 green onions thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons capers drained
- 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- 8 leaves basil thinly sliced
- Kosher salt to taste
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Salt well. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled down.
- Transfer the cooled pasta to a large bowl. Add the tuna, celery, tomatoes, green onions, feta cheese, parsley, capers and basil. Stir to combine.
- Pour in the dressing. Stir again until completely combined. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired. Serve or refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, agave nectar, oregano and salt.
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