This Red Lentil Pasta Salad recipe is simple, fresh, and ready to serve in just 30 minutes. Made with red lentil penne pasta, homemade vinaigrette, feta cheese, and plenty of vegetables, this healthy, gluten-free dish is packed with plant-based protein and fiber. It’s easy to make and can be served cold, making it perfect for summer picnics, potlucks, or meal prepping.
When I think of summer side dishes, pasta salad is usually one of the first to come to mind. Who doesn’t love a delicious pasta salad to go with their hot dogs and hamburgers?
Pasta salad is a fantastic side dish because it is so customizable. You can change up the type of pasta, vegetables, cheese, and dressing to make a completely different pasta salad every time.
One of my favorite pasta salad recipes is this red lentil penne pasta salad. Loaded with olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers, its Mediterranean-inspired flavors are sure to leave your guests asking for more. Plus, it’s gluten-free and packed with fiber and plant-based protein.
This healthy red lentil pasta salad recipe is perfect for all of your Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Fourth of July cookouts.
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Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Healthy- Loaded with colorful vegetables, heart-healthy fats, plant protein, fiber, and iron, you’ll feel good about serving this up at your next backyard barbecue.
- Gluten-Free- Made with red lentil pasta, this pasta salad is the perfect side dish for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
- Ready in 30 Minutes- Prepare the vegetables and dressing while the pasta cooks and you’ll be good to go in 30 minutes flat.
- Easy to Make- The most difficult part of this recipe is cooking the pasta, which is quite easy! All the other steps only involve chopping, measuring, and mixing. Easy peasy.
- Versatile- Don’t love cherry tomatoes? Add sun-dried tomatoes instead. Can’t stand feta cheese? Switch it up and use mozzarella or goat cheese.
- Made for a Crowd- While the recipe card below lists 8 servings, those servings are quite generous. If you’re hosting a gathering with plenty of food, this recipe would easily be suitable for at least 12 people.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Red Lentil Pasta- I prefer to use red lentil penne pasta because it holds up better than rotini and other delicate-shaped pasta. My favorite brand is Explore Cuisine Red Lentil Penne.
- Olive Oil- Fruity and balanced, extra virgin olive oil is the base for our homemade red wine vinaigrette.
- Red Wine Vinegar- I like to make my vinaigrettes with red wine vinegar because of its tangy, slightly sweet flavor.
- Dijon Mustard- Acts as an emulsifier in the vinaigrette without adding any noticeable flavor.
- Honey- Adds sweetness to the vinaigrette, balancing the acidic flavor of the red wine vinegar.
- Garlic- Gives the vinaigrette a notable garlic flavor.
- Italian Seasoning- For a slight herby flavor in the vinaigrette.
- Cucumber- I like to peel my cucumbers before adding them to pasta salad, but it’s not necessary. However, deseeding the cucumber is necessary to reduce the water content.
- Cherry Tomatoes- Perfectly bite-sized, cherry tomatoes are juicy and sweet. I recommend quartering and deseeding the tomatoes to prevent ending up with a watery pasta salad.
- Red Onion- Adds a mild onion flavor that pairs well with the other flavors in this dish.
- Kalamata Olives- Briny, rich, and flavorful, Kalamata olives are the perfect addition to this Mediterranean-inspired pasta salad recipe.
- Feta Cheese- Crumbled feta cheese is rich, tangy, and slightly salty. The perfect addition to this homemade pasta salad.
- Parsley- Fresh chopped parsley is bright and herbaceous, adding a pop of earthy freshness and color to the dish.
Fresh Tip: A fun and easy vegetable to grow, cherry tomatoes are the perfect plant for a beginner gardener. Try growing your own cherry tomatoes this summer and use them to make this pasta salad!
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make this red lentil pasta salad.
Step 1: Cook the red lentil pasta. Fill a large stockpot with water and add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Set the stockpot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium and add the red lentil pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and immediately rinse it under cold water to halt the cooking process and get rid of any excess starch.
Step 2: Make the vinaigrette. While the pasta is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, garlic, Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
Step 3: Mix the pasta salad. Add the cooked pasta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives, parsley, and feta cheese to a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta salad and stir gently until everything is well coated with the dressing. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for up to one day.
Tips for Success
- Salt the water. Adding a tablespoon of salt to the pasta water helps to season the pasta from the inside out.
- Cook the pasta to al dente. Lentil pasta quickly turns to mush when overcooked. To prevent this, cook the pasta until it is tender but firm when you bite it. The red lentil penne I used in this recipe took about 7 minutes.
- Rinse cooked pasta under cool water. Made from lentils, red lentil pasta is incredibly starchy. Rinsing the cooked pasta under cool, running water not only removes some of the starch but also helps to halt the cooking process.
- Make ahead. Want to prepare this recipe a few days ahead? You can easily chop all of the vegetables and make the vinaigrette up to 2 days ahead of time. Then, when you’re ready to make the pasta salad, just cook the pasta and mix everything together.
Substitutions and Variations
One of the reasons pasta salad is such a wonderful side dish is that it is highly customizable. Here are a few ways you can try customizing this red lentil pasta recipe to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Red Lentil Pasta- Substitute any gluten-free pasta for red lentil pasta. Try edamame pasta, black bean pasta, quinoa pasta, chickpea pasta, brown rice pasta, or corn-based pasta. Of course, you can use regular pasta as well.
- Olive Oil- Opt for a neutral-flavored oil such as safflower oil or canola oil. Or, you could try a nutty-flavored oil like walnut oil or sunflower oil.
- Red Wine Vinegar- Swap red wine vinegar for an equal amount of lemon juice, white wine vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar.
- Dijon Mustard- Replace dijon mustard with yellow mustard, brown mustard, or ¼ teaspoon of mustard powder.
- Honey- Maple syrup, agave nectar, granulated sugar, and brown sugar are all suitable substitutes for honey.
- Garlic- Use ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder in place of fresh garlic.
- Italian Seasoning- Swap dried Italian seasoning for some chopped fresh herbs. Italian seasoning is typically made from oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram.
- Cucumber- Sautéed zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant are all excellent substitutes for cucumber.
- Cherry Tomatoes- Dice up any type of fresh tomato you have on hand. Or get fancy and try sun-dried tomatoes instead!
- Red Onion- Use white onion, shallots, or even green onion in place of the red onion.
- Kalamata Olives- Considered a black olive, you can easily swap Kalamata olives with black olives or green olives in this recipe. Alternatively, try using capers, brined artichokes hearts, or pickled pepperoncini.
- Feta Cheese- Substitute feta cheese for mini fresh mozzarella balls, goat cheese, or halloumi. For vegan pasta salad with red lentil pasta, either leave the feta out entirely or swap it with dairy-free feta cheese.
- Parsley- Try fresh oregano, basil, or mint in place of or in addition to fresh parsley.
- Vegan- Swap the feta cheese for dairy-free feta cheese or leave it out entirely.
- Add Protein- Chickpeas, white beans, grilled chicken, or steak would all make an excellent addition to this red lentil pasta salad. Adding protein makes this cold pasta salad more of a complete meal.
- Artichoke Hearts- Earthy and slightly sweet in flavor with a soft, creamy texture, marinated artichoke hearts would make a tasty addition to this pasta salad with lentil pasta.
- Arugula- Leafy greens make a delicious, healthy addition to any pasta salad recipe. Try adding some arugula to give this dish a peppery kick.
- Red Bell Peppers- Both fresh red bell pepper and roasted red peppers would add tons of flavor to this healthy lentil pasta salad.
- Roasted Summer Vegetables- Roasted tomatoes, red onion, zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, and eggplant would be the perfect addition to this Mediterranean-inspired lentil pasta salad.
- Toasted Nuts- Nuts make for a fun, crunchy mix-in. Toss in some toasted pine nuts, walnuts, or pistachios to round out this dish with a nutty flavor.
What to Serve with Red Lentil Pasta Salad
Red lentil pasta salad is the perfect side dish for all of your summer cookouts. It pairs wonderfully with grilled meats, seafood, or tofu. And of course, burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches are always a fantastic match as well.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes to serve with red lentil pasta salad.
Storage and Reheating
How to Store
- Room Temperature- If serving this pasta salad at a cookout or barbecue, it’s important to only allow the pasta salad to sit at room temperature for a maximum of 2 hours. If it’s especially hot outside, the amount of time it can stay out of the refrigerator is even less.
- Refrigerator- Store red lentil pasta salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Red lentil pasta does tend to dry out a bit in the refrigerator. Mixing the pasta salad to redistribute the vinaigrette can help.
- Freezer- I do not recommend freezing red lentil pasta salad. Fresh cucumbers and tomatoes both have high water content and do not freeze well.
How to Reheat
Red lentil pasta salad is intended to be served chilled directly from the refrigerator. If you prefer your pasta salad without the chill, allow it to sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes before you dig in.
I do not recommend using the microwave, stovetop, oven, or any other method to heat the pasta salad.
When planning for a party, preparing ahead is the name of the game. This red lentil pasta salad recipe can easily be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Alternatively, if you want to get ahead, but still want freshly-made pasta salad, make the vinaigrette up to a week before you need it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Red lentil pasta is exactly what it sounds like – pasta made with red lentils. Most red lentil pasta is made with red lentil flour only. Barilla, Tolerant Organic, and Explore Cuisine are a few popular brands.
Red lentil pasta does taste a bit like lentils when eaten plain. However, it is pretty mild in flavor overall. When coated with vinaigrette dressing or tomato sauce, the flavor is very similar to wheat-based pasta.
Yes! Red lentil pasta has a few advantages over pasta made from refined flour. First, red lentil pasta typically contains more fiber per serving. Second, pasta made from lentils is often higher in protein than regular pasta.
Since red lentil pasta is made from red lentils, it is not a low-carb substitute for pasta. However, red lentil pasta contains more fiber than regular pasta so it is usually lower in net carbs.
Red Lentil Pasta Salad
- 1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 1 pound red lentil penne
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 1 clove garlic grated or finely minced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon black pepper freshly cracked
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes quartered and deseeded
- 1 large cucumber peeled, deseeded, and diced
- ½ large red onion diced
- 1 cup Kalamata olives halved
- ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- Fill a large stockpot with water and add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Set the stockpot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium and add the red lentil pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and immediately rinse it under cold water to halt the cooking process and get rid of any excess starch.1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 1 pound red lentil penne
- While the pasta is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, garlic, Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon honey, 1 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Add the cooked pasta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives, parsley, and feta cheese to a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta salad and stir gently until everything is well coated with the dressing. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for up to one day.1 large cucumber, 2 cups cherry tomatoes, 1 cup Kalamata olives, ½ cup fresh parsley, 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese, ½ large red onion
- Note: Do not leave out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.
- Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Make Ahead: Prepare the vinaigrette up to one week in advance. Prepare the vegetables up to 2 days ahead.