A Mediterranean diet inspired vegan pesto pasta salad that is loaded with veggies and tossed in a dairy-free walnut pesto sauce. The perfect dish to bring to summer parties and cookouts! It’s vegan and gluten-free. This post is sponsored byCalifornia Walnuts.
I did a poll on my Instagram stories for this recipe and am so excited to share it with you! I knew I wanted to create a summer dairy-free pasta salad but wasn’t sure if it should have a vegan pesto sauce or a light vinaigrette and y’all voted basil pesto so here it is! If you were team vinaigrette, here’s another tasty recipe for you or try this one with zucchini noodles!
This recipe is one that takes traditional pasta salad and gives it an EBF Mediterranean diet upgrade — and it’s perfect timing because May is Mediterranean diet month!
If you’re not familiar with it, the Mediterranean diet has been gaining popularity for awhile now… and for good reason! Studies show that it can cause weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, premature death. And a recent study also showed that it’s better for gut-health than other diets.
So what is the Mediterranean diet all about? Well, it’s based on foods commonly eaten in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea — Italy, Greece, Spain, and Turkey. (Pretty sure I need to take a trip to each location just for a little Mediterranean diet research. Who else wants in?)
The focus of the diet is whole foods including vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts (like walnuts!), fruit and extra virgin olive oil. Fish, lean meat, dairy and eggs are eaten occasionally, but red meat is eaten rarely. Avoided foods include added sugar, processed oils and refined grains.
As you know I don’t have a label for my way of eating which is a balanced diet focused mainly on whole, real foods. That said, of all the diets out there, the Mediterranean diet is probably the closest to how I eat.
And I incorporated almost all of the main components of the Mediterranean diet into this recipe. Let’s break it down:
Vegetables: check! I use peas, cherry tomatoes, fresh arugula, and fresh basil. Veggie packed!
Whole grains: Yep! I subbed traditional white flour noodles for whole grain, gluten free noodles. I used brown rice and quinoa noodles, but you could also use legume based noodles! I love the extra protein and fiber brown rice and quinoa noodles bring to the dish. Side note: rotini noodles are my fav because the swirls capture all the sauce. #priorities 😉
Nuts: I used walnuts to make the vegan pesto sauce which adds incredible flavor and keeps the dish dairy-free. Walnuts have historically been a part of the Mediterranean diet because of their heart-healthy properties. Walnuts in the U.S. are primarily grown in California because the climate is similar to that of Mediterranean countries. Pretty cool, huh?
Extra virgin olive oil: Yep! Make the pesto sauce with olive oil for lots of healthy fats and a full-bodied, unique flavor.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I’ve been eating a higher fat diet lately and LOVE it! It keeps me so full, makes things taste delicious, helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and helps keep my skin and hair hydrated and beautiful. Bring on all the healthy fats!
Back to this vegan pasta salad! I can already tell it’s going to be a staple recipe this summer! It’s so perfect for summer parties, cookouts or barbecues. Speaking of which, if you’re looking for tips on how to eat healthy during summer events pop over to my YouTube channel. I shared a bunch of great tips for healthy eating at cookouts and three plant-based recipes.
A Mediterranean diet inspired vegan pesto pasta salad that is loaded with veggies and tossed in a dairy-free walnut pesto sauce. The perfect dish to bring to summer parties and cookouts!
Vegan Walnut Pesto
1 cup baby arugula
1 cup fresh basil
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 pound rotini pasta (I used GF brown rice + quinoa pasta)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
1 cup fresh baby arugula
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon olive oil (optional)
Make pesto sauce by adding arugula, basil, oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor(affiliate link) and processing until smooth. Add the walnuts and pulse until the walnuts are ground to desired consistency. Set aside.
Cook pasta according to package instructions. Rinse with cool water and drain. Let pasta cool for about 5-10 minutes. Add pasta to a large salad bowl and toss with thawed peas, tomatoes, arugula toasted walnuts and olive oil. Add pesto, starting with ½ cup. Taste and add more pesto if you’d like. I like my noodles coated so I used all the pesto. Taste and season liberally with salt and pepper. Pasta salad can be served immediately, cold or at room temperature.
I wanted to keep the recipe dairy-free but if you’re a cheese lover (like my husband) this pasta salad is delicious with a little feta added.
Serving Size:about 1/2 cup
Keywords: pesto pasta, Mediterranean diet, healthy pasta salad, pasta salad