You can't have a summer barbecue or potluck without pasta salad. Unfortunately, the typical versions aren't all that healthy — white pasta swimming in a heavy mayonnaise-based dressing. Occasionally, there are token bits of celery or carrot, but nothing to get a nutritionist excited.
But with a few easy fixes, this classic dish can be transformed into a healthful fresh vegetable pasta salad loaded with good carbs and low in saturated fat and sodium. Best of all, it is every bit as creamy as full-fat versions.
To start, the white-flour macaroni is replaced with whole-wheat or multigrain pasta, which adds nutrients, dietary fiber and a light, nutty flavor. The recipe calls for elbow macaroni, but any small pasta shape will work fine.
Next, the dressing gets a substantial makeover. Full-fat mayonnaise is replaced with the reduced-fat version and gets a tangy boost from some reduced-fat sour cream and fresh lemon juice. If you like, plain nonfat yogurt can be used instead of the sour cream.
Plenty of colorful vegetables then are added into the mix. Carrots, celery and red bell pepper join cherry tomatoes and chopped scallions to give the salad crunch and layers of flavor.
Of course, you can add any vegetables to the recipe. Fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley or chives, also are nice.
To add protein and make the pasta salad into a complete meal, stir in two cans of drained and flaked tuna, some diced chicken breast, or even some small shrimp.
Fresh Vegetable Pasta Salad
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni (or other small shape)
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup chopped scallions
To make the dressing, in a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, then rinse under cold water and drain thoroughly.
Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and add the carrots, celery, tomatoes, bell pepper and scallions, Add the reserved dressing and mix thoroughly to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 167 calories; 40 calories from fat; 4 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 8 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 4 g fiber; 238 mg sodium.