Today is the first day of summer, and with it come beach days, picnics and BBQs- all in need of that perfect side salad. Growing up as a vegetarian, the salad intended as a side was often my main meal and so I developed a real appreciation for the more filling salads such as potato salad or a hearty pasta salad. But be it a side for your soy burgers, a lunch for the week or a quick Tuesday night dinner, pasta salad is an easy and filling dish that can be made ahead and eaten warm or cold.
While most potato and pasta salads are heavily reliant on mayonnaise, I’ve developed one completely mayo-free. While there are many delicious vegan mayo options, pasta salad has the pasta-bility to be something much greater than mayo flavored pasta- and I think its time we take pasta salad out of that box (get it? Because pasta comes in a box 😀 ). So instead of the oil and egg taste of mayo, I combined the flavors of radish and mint for a crisp, bright, fresh and spicy sauce.
You might notice that the radishes I use are not those common to the U.S. (the small, pink variety). While those would also work perfectly in this recipe, I tend to use young Chinese radishes- they are very similar but completely white. I buy them at the local Asian grocery store with the leaves attached for 89 cents a bunch- this leaves me with the extra treat of the greens which can be sauteed or made into a quick pesto.
Another key ingredient to the pasta salad dressing is the mint. I harvested mine directly from the side yard, where I had planted it more than 10 years ago. When I was fairly young, my mother helped me to dig up and transplant a few mint plants from a friends garden and plant them alongside the house. When we moved away we kept the house, but I forgot all about the mint I had left growing there. Now, years later, my couple of resilient small mint plants have turned into a small minty-fresh forest. It is one of the plants I can smell and be transported directly to a memory- although oddly not the memory of planting it. Fresh mint takes me back a couple years after I had planted the mint, to a summer I spent at a farm. One day in the garden we picked some mint and brewed it into a simple, pure tea. And while there is nothing extraordinary or important about that memory, the smell of mint always transports me to that greenhouse, sipping freshly brewed mint tea.
This recipe has three simple components- the sauce, the veggies and the pasta. The most difficult part is the sauce- while a good food-processor or blender should be able to reduce the radishes to an uniform, smooth consistency, it will likely take a little bit of time. But that’s for your blender to figure out, not you.
The veggies are a good place for you to use your creativity or take advantage of what you already have lying around. I used onions, red bell peppers and celery, but there are all sorts of vegetables that would be delicious here- cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes (if you REALLY like radishes!), broccoli, cabbage and any other vegetable you enjoy raw.
The last note is on the pasta, because pasta shape does matter. I used ditalini- I think a pasta salad should use small, diced vegetables and equally small pasta. You should use whatever pasta says “pasta salad” to you, but keep in mind that small noodles will serve you better and those with more ins and outs will hold onto more sauce.
Mayo-Free Radish Mint Pasta Salad
- 1 lb of ditalini or similarly shaped noodles
- Four small radishes
- 12 mint leaves
- 1 TBSP agave
- 1 TBSP soy sauce
- 1 TBSP sesame oil
- 1 TBSP lemon juice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup of unflavored, unsweetened soy milk (a little more if needed)
- ½ an onion
- 1 bell pepper
- 2 stalks of celery
1. Put on a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, when the pasta is finished, drain and set aside.
2. Chop the radishes into smaller pieces before placing them into large blender or food processor, add the mint, agave, soy sace, sesame oil and lemon juice and allow to blend. After a few minutes, slowly add the soy milk. Add enough to blend smoothly, but not so much that the sauce becomes watery. Allow to blend until it has reached a smooth consistency.
3. Dice the onion, bell pepper and celery.
4. In a large bowl combine the noodles, vegetables and sauce. Mix until it is all evenly coated, and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.