All this talk about summer pasta salad recipes over the past couple of weeks has given me the idea to take the pasta salad concept a step further.
Sure, it's great to publish your favorite pasta salads recipes on your blog, but what if I could create a tool that would help my readers create original pasta salads of their own? It would be the equivalent of Choose Your Own Adventure for pasta salads!
That's exactly what I created for today's article. Let me introduce to you the Pasta Salad Permutator. With the Permutator's unpatented six-step process, you can have the basic tools and building blocks to compose your own original pasta salad recipes.
How to Use the Pasta Salad Permutator:
Step 1) First, start with the sauce base, the basic chassis of your pasta salad. Most pasta salads sauces fall into these fundamental categories:
vinegar-based (red wine vinegar, white, cider, balsamic, etc)
asian-style or other sauces (tamari, hoisin, soy sauce, oyster sauce, tahini, etc)
Choose any one, or employ a combination of two or more.
Step 2) Then, add your vegetable inputs. Here is a partial list of choices ranging from common to the not-so-common:
peppers (red, green, yellow, orange)
onions (and red onions)
tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, green, plum, etc)
olives (various kinds)
sundried tomatoes, etc.
You can limit your choices to a few or several of these, depending on various factors. What seems interesting to you on that day? What's in season? What's reasonably priced? Which items might go well together? You get the idea.
Keep in mind, there's no need to constrain choices to veggies here. How about considering some fruits too?
various dried fruits
apple or pear chunks, etc.
Step 3) Now, move on to your protein inputs. There are obvious choices, such as:
various types of cheeses
...and so on. But you can also consider less obvious choices, like:
seafood (shrimp, salmon pieces, crabmeat, etc)
various types of nuts
grains (bulgur, cooked wild rice, barley, etc)
very firm tofu
There are no limits here! Choose just one or several, again basing your decision on your budget, your dietary restrictions, or what sounds interesting to you.
Step 4) Next, consider adding some leafy greens to invigorate your recipe!
Fresh parsley, basil, mint, dill, spinach or rosemary are all fragrant, interesting and healthy possibilities. You can also consider more sturdy greens like kale and swiss chard here, but keep in mind that tough leafy greens like these should probably be blanched in boiling water briefly before adding.
Step 5) We're almost done. Next, add your spices. Here's where things can get really fun. Choose from these categories:
Hot spices: Tabasco, cayenne, chipotle, jalapeno
Mild: black pepper, white pepper, oregano, paprika
More exotic: cumin, curry, nutmeg, massala spices
Other/weird: lemon zest, grated orange peel, fennel seeds, cinnamon
Step 6) Finally, choose your pasta shape, being mindful of the nature of your sauce. A thinner sauce might require a pasta with nooks and crannies that will hold more sauce (e.g., shells, rotini, penne rigati). A thicker sauce, like our Thai Pasta Salad, might need a broad pasta with a lot of surface area, like linguine or fettucine. And of course it's always fun to pick cool-looking shapes for visual appeal (wagon wheels, cavatappi, etc).
Congratulations! Now that you've seen each of the six steps, I'll walk you through a specific example of how I might use the Permutator to create my own original pasta salad recipe:
1) I'll start with hoisin sauce with olive oil for an Asian-style pasta salad.
2) Then add garlic (maybe I'll simmer the garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes, then add in the hoisin sauce) and hmmmm... how about mandarin oranges and dried apricots?
3) Then fresh spinach, and basil for greens.
4) Let's have this salad be meatless, so I'll skip this step.
5) Cayenne or red pepper flakes for spiciness.
6) And for the pasta, let's try rotini.
Presto, I've just created a delicious original Asian pasta salad! I hereby name it: Spicy Singaporean Pasta Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Dried Apricots. How easy was that?
As you can see, this isn't rocket science. Almost all pasta salads have the same six building blocks in common. The Permutator is just a simple tool to help you create some really interesting combinations. Roll some ideas around in your brain while you walk through the six steps and see what original recipes you can invent.
You can make your choice from the specific list of ingredients I have above, or add additional ingredients of your own choosing in each category. Let your mind really go and come up with some crazy, exotic ideas--you might surprise yourself with something truly unique and delicious!
Before I set you free to devise your own pasta salads, I'll take you through one more example:
1) Lemon juice and vinegar as the base.
2) Cucumbers, celery, feta cheese, sundried tomatoes and olives (we're going a bit Greek here)
3) Some chickpeas for protein.
4) Fresh parsley and mint (now leaning more towards Turkey)
2a) Let's back up for another pass at step 2) and add something interesting: pineapple chunks.
5) And now let's get truly interesting with spices: a few dashes of ground cinnamon (to taste) and then add Tabasco (to taste).
Voila: Sweet and Spicy Middle Eastern Salad with Pineapple Chunks. Also--did you notice something unusual about this "pasta" salad? Yep, it doesn't even contain pasta. Don't create a box for yourself and think that any rules have to constrain you. Sometimes the best and most creative recipes manifest when you truly throw out the entire rulebook.
Try out my Permutator and I guarantee you'll come up with some creative and original pasta salads of your own. In fact, I'd love to hear reader submissions of their own pasta salad creations--leave yours in the comments section below! I'll come up with a suitable prize for the best sounding recipe. And heck, just for some extra fun I'll give out a prize for the most revolting recipe too (here's a sample title: Spicy, Curried Wagon Wheels with Mayonnaise, Fennel Seeds and Cilantro).
Let's get going dreaming up those recipes!
Thai Pasta Salad
Fattoush! A Middle Eastern Salad Recipe
Chickpeas, Pasta and Tomato Salad
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions