Packed with Mediterranean flavors, this red lentil pasta salad is simple, fresh, and ready to serve in just 30 minutes. It’s the perfect healthy, gluten-free side dish for all of your summer get-togethers.
When I think of summer side dishes, pasta salad is usually one of the first to come to mind. I mean, who doesn’t love a good pasta salad to go with their hot dogs and hamburgers?
Pasta salad is great because it’s basically a blank canvas. You can dress it up or down however you see fit. The classic mayonnaise-based pasta salad is always a big winner. An Italian-style pasta salad with salami and mozzarella is fantastic as well.
My favorite type of pasta salad, however, is this vegetable-packed, vinaigrette-dressed red lentil pasta salad. Loaded with olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers, it’s so flavorful that all of your guests are sure to love it.
I especially love this pasta salad recipe because not only is it gluten-free and vegetarian, but it’s also high in fiber and plant-based protein. It’s the perfect side dish for all of your Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Fourth of July cookouts.
So, if this pasta salad sounds like exactly what you need this summer, keep reading to learn everything you need to know to make it for yourself.
Some links throughout this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you’re willing to use them, it helps fund this site and allows me to continue to provide content. I appreciate your support!
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. Of course, check all labels prior to using any ingredient to be sure they are gluten-free.
- 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.
- Made for a Crowd- While the recipe card below lists 8 servings, those servings are quite generous. If you’re hosting a gathering where plenty of food will be available, this recipe would easily 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 because it seems to hold up better than rotini or other delicate-shaped pasta. My favorite brand is Explore Cuisine Red Lentil Penne. Lentil pastas are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, and iron.
- Cucumber- While I like to peel my cucumbers before dicing them, it’s not necessary at all. Deseeding the cucumber is necessary, however, 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.
- Kalamata Olives- Briny, meaty, and delicious, Kalamata olives are the perfect addition to this Mediterranean-inspired pasta salad recipe.
- Feta Cheese- Crumbled feta cheese is rich, tangy, and a little salty. So yummy!
- Parsley- Fresh chopped parsley is bright and herbaceous, adding a pop of earthy freshness to the dish.
- Red Wine Vinegar- I like to make my vinaigrettes with red wine vinegar because of its tangy, slightly sweet flavor.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- Fruity and balanced, extra virgin olive oil is the perfect oil for a vinaigrette.
- Dijon Mustard- In a vinaigrette, dijon mustard acts as an emulsifier, holding together the oil and vinegar. With all of the other flavors in this dish, you can’t really taste the dijon mustard at all.
- Honey- A good vinaigrette is a balanced vinaigrette. Just a touch of honey is all you need to balance the acid and salt with some sweetness.
Sustainability 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 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 to 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, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, 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 1 day.
- 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 from happening, cook the pasta until it is just beginning to become tender, but still firm when you bite it. For the red lentil penne I used in this recipe, that was 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 it 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 need the pasta salad, just make the pasta and mix it all together.
Substitutions and Additions
One of the reasons pasta salad is such a wonderful side dish is because it is highly customizable. Here are a few ways you can make this red lentil pasta salad fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Red Lentil Pasta- Edamame pasta, black bean pasta, quinoa pasta, and chickpea pasta are all suitable, gluten-free substitutes for red lentil pasta. You could also use brown rice pasta or a corn-based gluten-free pasta. Of course, if you’re not gluten-intolerant, you can always reach for whole wheat pasta or refined pasta.
- Extra Virgin 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- Lemon juice, white wine vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar would work well in this red lentil pasta salad.
- Italian Seasoning- If you don’t have Italian seasoning on hand, you can substitute it with a combination of the individual dried herbs. Italian seasoning is typically made from a blend of dried oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. You could also swap the Italian seasoning out for some fresh herbs instead.
- Cherry Tomatoes- Dice up any type of fresh tomato you have on hand. Or, get really fancy and try sun dried tomatoes instead!
- Kalamata Olives- Considered a black olive, you can easily swap Kalamata olives with black olives in this recipe. You could also try using capers, brined artichokes hearts, or pickled pepperoncini.
- Red Onion- Use white onion, shallots, or even green onion in place of the red onion.
- Feta Cheese- Mini fresh mozzarella balls, goat cheese, or halloumi could be used in place of feta cheese. If you need to make this recipe vegan, either leave the feta out entirely or swap it with dairy-free feta cheese.
- Chickpeas- Add an additional boost of fiber and plant-based protein with a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas. Roast and season the chickpeas to give this dish even more flavor.
- 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.
- 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 Pepper- Another fresh vegetable that would work well in this recipe, red bell peppers add a sweet flavor and crunchy texture. On the other hand, diced roasted red peppers would lend a softer, more intense pepper flavor.
- Roasted Summer Vegetables- Roasted zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant would be the perfect addition to this Mediterranean-inspired pasta salad.
- Pine Nuts- Nuts make for a fun, crunchy mix-in. Toss in some toasted pine nuts 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 to take to all of your summer cookouts. It pairs wonderfully with any grilled meat, seafood, or tofu. And of course, burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches are always a great match.
Here are a few specific ideas for what to serve with red lentil pasta salad.
Storage and Reheating
- Refrigerator- Store red lentil pasta salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days. I have noticed that red lentil pasta tends to dry out faster than refined wheat pasta does. Don’t forget to mix the pasta salad to redistribute the dressing before serving.
- Freezer- I do not recommend freezing red lentil pasta salad. Fresh cucumbers and tomatoes both have a high water content and do not freeze well.
How to Reheat
While red lentil pasta salad can be enjoyed chilled directly from the refrigerator, you can also warm it up a bit if you prefer. I recommend adding a teaspoon of water before reheating to help add moisture to the lentil pasta. Then, microwave the pasta salad for about 30 seconds or until it is slightly warmed through, but not hot.
Frequently Asked Questions
Red lentil pasta is exactly what it sounds like – pasta made with red lentils. Usually, red lentil pasta is simply made with red lentil flour. Barilla, Tolerant Organic, and Explore Cuisine are a few popular brands.
While red lentil pasta does taste a bit like lentils when eaten plain, it’s overall pretty mild in flavor. This means that when coated in a vinaigrette dressing, like in this pasta salad, or smothered in tomato sauce, it 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 will typically contain more fiber per serving. Second, pasta made from lentils is often higher in protein than regular pasta, making it more of a complete meal.
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.
Other Side Dish Recipes to Try
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
- 1 large cucumber peeled, deseeded, and diced
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes quartered and deseeded
- 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 cool, running water to halt the cooking process and to 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, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, 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 1 day.1 large cucumber, 2 cups cherry tomatoes, 1 cup Kalamata olives, ½ cup fresh parsley, 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Did you try this recipe?
Let me know! Comment below, or take a picture and tag me on Instagram @enwnutrition.