Lighten Up for Summer with this Healthy Entrée Salad
I love all dried legumes and pulses, and eat them throughout the year — though I confess I’m most drawn to them in cold weather, when I make hearty soups, stews, and dals. But beans make great warm-weather fare too. Enter bean salads.
Although there are many appetizing hot bean dishes that are ideal for warm weather, cold main-course salads seem particularly appropriate. Because they’re high in protein and other important nutrients, they can anchor an entire meal. They also made great side dishes at a barbecue or picnic. Today’s dish would serve admirably in either role.
Best of all, it’s a snap to make. Although I often put it together right before serving (and serve it at room temperature), you can also make it ahead and serve it chilled. And because it contains pasta, it appeals to a wide range of folks, kids included. Plus it’s oil- and vinegar-based, so it’s healthier than many mayo-based pasta salads.
And the flavor? Well, don’t plan on having too much for dessert — you’ll want seconds of this.
This recipe combines parts of two other entrée salads we discussed a couple of summers ago: White Bean and Tuna Salad and Tuna Pasta Salad. As with both of those salads, exact measurements (or even specific ingredients) aren’t all that important in this recipe — you have a lot of latitude in putting the salad together (I discuss some variations in the Notes).
This recipe serves 4 as a main dish, or about twice that number as a side dish. It’s easy to double if you need to feed a crowd.
The dish takes about 20 minutes to prepare, assuming you use the pasta-cooking time to perform some other steps; otherwise, it’s more like 30 minutes.
Leftovers keep well for a few days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- ½ pound dried pasta of an interesting shape (I like shells, but macaroni, penne, farfalle, or other shapes work too)
- ~1 tablespoon salt for seasoning pasta water
- ~ ½ cup onion, cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice (red or yellow, depending on how sharp you like your onion)
- 1 red bell pepper, cleaned and cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice (optional; see Notes)
- 2 15-ounce cans of white beans, rinsed and drained (you can use 1 can if that’s too many beans for you; cannellini are ideal — otherwise, use any white bean, like Great Northern)
- 2 5-ounce cans tuna, packed in olive oil (may substitute water packed)
- ~¼ cup parsley, finely minced (or to taste)
- 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh herb of choice, finely minced (optional; fresh basil goes particularly well in this salad)
- extra virgin olive oil to taste (probably about ¼ cup)
- red wine vinegar to taste (probably a tablespoon or two)
- salt to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot (4-quarts is a good size) almost to the rim with water, place on stove, cover, and turn heat to high. When water is boiling, add salt (1 tablespoon), and then add pasta. When water returns to boil, turn the heat down so the water is at a nice simmer. Set timer for 6 minutes. At that point, start testing the pasta to see if it’s done — you want the pasta to be firm, with a little resistance to the tooth (al dente), but still cooked. It’s likely you’ll need to cook the pasta another minute or two after the timer goes off. When it’s done, dump the pasta into a colander and, using the vegetable sprayer from your sink, douse it with cold water until the pasta is cool. Allow the pasta to drain, then place it in a large mixing bowl.
- Clean and dice the onion and bell pepper, and add them to the bowl containing the pasta (I often perform this and the next few steps while the pasta is cooking).
- Open the can(s) of white beans, rinse, and drain. Add to the pasta bowl.
- Open the cans of tuna. If oil-packed, just dump it into the pasta bowl. If water-packed, drain first. (The oil the tuna is packed in isn't extra virgin olive oil, but it'll work fine in this dish anyway.)
- Wash, dry, and mince parsley. Add to pasta bowl.
- Repeat with the fresh herb, if you are using one.
- Mix the pasta and other ingredients well, taking care to flake the tuna and distribute it evenly throughout the mixture.
- Add extra virgin olive oil to taste (usually several tablespoons; maybe ¼ cup). Mix well.
- Add red (or white) wine vinegar to taste (about 1 tablespoon is usually enough). Mix well.
- Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix well.
- Serve immediately, or refrigerate in an airtight container and serve later. I often garnish with extra parsley.
- For this salad, my favorite pasta is medium or large shells (not the giant ones that are meant to be stuffed). Any pasta with an interesting shape adds visual appeal to this dish.
- Any good-quality canned white beans will work in this recipe. Cannellini are traditional, but others work well too. If you have cooked, dried beans on hand, you can substitute those. In fact, that’s what I almost always do (I use 1 cup of dried beans, cooked).
- Oil-packed tuna has the best flavor and it’s what I recommend. Just add the oil from the can to your salad — no need to drain since you’ll be adding more olive oil anyway.
- You can substitute fresh-cooked tuna or salmon if you want to step up from canned tuna.
- In my experience, any onion works well in this salad. Some people object to onions that have an assertive flavor, however. You can reduce the “bite” by soaking your diced or sliced onions in cold water for 30 minutes, then draining them before using.
- You might prefer this dish with green bell pepper rather than red. Or no bell pepper at all.
- Cooked green peas are a great addition to this dish. You can added frozen peas to the pasta cooking water a minute or two before the pasta is finished, and just cook them with the pasta. Drain the pasta and peas together, and cool both with water from your vegetable sprayer as directed in Step 1.
- Asparagus is another interesting addition, as are pitted black olives. If in season, tomatoes are great, too. How much of these ingredients to use? I suggest ½ to 1 cup, but adjust to suit your taste.
“That’s a nice addition to our cookware,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs, pointing to our new ceramic olla.
“Yes, I said enthusiastically, “it’s a Spanish bean pot. It’s fun to use, and works great! I used it to cook the beans for today’s dish. I’m sure I’ll be finding lots of uses for it.”
“Let’s hope so,” said Mrs K R as she polished off her plate of Pasta, Bean, and Tuna Salad. “We should eat more beans and lentils year round. They’re delicious! Not sure why we always seem to cut way back on them in the warmer weather.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, eyeing my plate and the half-full serving bowl. “We do make bean salads sometimes, and often have Baked Beans with barbecue or for picnics. But otherwise, we tend to forget about beans and pulses in the summer.”
“Too bad, because they’reo healthy, and a great source of protein,” said Mrs K R as she dished up seconds. “And they’re tasty served either room temperature or chilled.”
“They’re almost a complete food, and a great meat substitute,” I said, pushing my plate over for Mrs K R to load up.
“So, it’s agreed then,” she said. “You’ll be coming up with some new warm-weather bean dishes this summer, right?”
“Um, right,” I agreed.
Guess there’s no olla-ternative.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Tuna Pasta Salad
Edamame and Bean Salad
White Bean and Tuna Salad
Salade Frisée aux Lardons
Summer Pasta Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato salad
Chicken, Lettuce, and Mayonnaise Salad
Comfort food at its best and it looks so appetizing.
Thanks foe another great recipe!
Hi Daniela, this definitely is warm weather comfort food! Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, thank you so much for commenting on my blog. It is nice to know that people remember me. :)I love your salad, and will definitely try to make it soon. In our family beans are common year round, cold or hot season. Sometimes I think we eat more beans during hot days, but that's just because I make one salad almost every day when yellow wax beans are around. :)
I love finding new ideas for light pasta salads for summer. It's always fun to try something new! Your pictures are great!
This looks delicious. And I learned something today - I didn't know the trick about soaking onions in water. Thanks for sharing that fact, and this recipe.
What a refreshing but wholesome dish - looks gorgeous :)
Choc Chip Uru
Protein power lunch indeed! This looks fabulous and perfect to make and take for lunches during the week. Thanks for the inspiration!
Hi Marina, beans really are nice in salads, aren't they? I hope things are going well with your upcoming move to Seattle! Thanks for taking time to comment.
Hi Ashley, one can't have too many pasta salads, I say! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Hi Beth, it truly is nice. And that onion trick is good to know if you have some really strong onions! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Uru, it's really a great dish. Ditch the tuna, and it's one you could eat, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Shut Up and Cook, this is a great lunch for work - it packs well in those little plastic containers. Thanks for the comment.
John, your photography makes this dish look bright and fresh. Did you use a flash on your camera?
That salad looks amazingly good. I know it's getting cold here but I'm going to make a salad like this for sure and I'm not waiting for Spring.
Your olla has me swooning.
I love both versions, but as I'm already thinking of the warm days ahead, I can't wait to try it cold. It reminded me of dishes like Russian Salad or black eyed peas with boilded egg and tuna, which people love to have cold for lunch in the summer.
I love making a big batch of this on the weekend. Makes for a great and quick weekday lunch for both myself and my husband.
That's a very colourful pasta dish and it would be so good for you too. I love those shell pasta shapes xx
This is the perfect salad for a barbecue. As you say, everyone loves pasta, and I really like the nutrition boost with beans and tuna. Nice recipe!
Hi Fran, I took these pictures with studio flash; the flash is behind & above the subject, with a bounce card in front for fill. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, the olla is wonderful! And even though you're getting cold weather, this is such a super salad I think you'd still enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Alex, it's a wonderful cold salad! I know several black-eyed pea salads - they're so good! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, the leftover from this might be the best part! This usually provides a couple of meals for us. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, isn't the shape of shell pasta fun? My favorite for salads. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, this really is a versatile salad - main course, side, whatever you want. Thanks for the comment.
I love a good tuna pasta salad, but have never tried adding beans to it. This sounds very tasty.
Must be peculiar [think my friends would agree :) !], but I have absolutely no problem eating cold main course salads during winter: well, ours are not snowy, perhaps that makes a difference ;) ! This is a lovely, light, appetizing combo! The great thing is it's so quick and easy to prepare for a single person, and in the unlikely event there are leftovers, these promptly disppear into a pita bread!!!
Hi Dawn, the beans really add a nice touch - well worth trying! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eha, we actually do sometimes eat cold main course salads in the winter, too, but are just more likely to do it in warm weather. And the leftovers would be great in a pita bread! Thanks for the comment.
I like beans in salads and dip but I've never tried it with pasta before. Great recipe!
I've never tried tuna in pasta salads before -- looks total yum!
I would have this beautiful pasta plate with fresh baked baguettes. Perfect dish for spring backyard lunch. Thank you, John for sharing this dish and wish you and Mrs. K R a wonderful week! :)
This, for me, is when Italian cooking is at its best. Combine a few, easy to find, ingredients, add a few herbs, and dress them lightly with oil & vinegar for a healthy, satisfying meal. It's not rocket science but it sure is a great way to get a tasty meal onto the table. And it describes your salad to a "T". What I also like is that it will keep in the fridge. Living alone, it's a big plus if the salad will be equally good on Day 2 as it was previously. Thanks for sharing a great recipe and for taking the time to make note of some of the possible variations.
Hi Peachy, beans go extremely well with pasta (or other grains). Definitely worth a try! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kiran, it is total yum! And tuna in pasta is a classic summer salad - truly worth trying. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ray, this would be great with baguettes! And it's a great picnic dish. I hope your week is great too, and thanks for the comment.
Hi John, that's what I like about Italian cooking too - although technique is always important, in so many Italian dishes ingredients trump everything else. It goes without saying those ingredients are fresh and of high quality. And although this salad doesn't usually last long in our house, it definitely does keep for several days in the refrigerator. Thanks for the comment.
I like the idea with soaking onion. And I love the salad, simple and delicious.
It's finally warming up here and this salad would be perfect! I don't eat salads during winter, for some reason my body repels the cold salads. Summertime, they are lovely. I also like tuna with my salads and add the beans and pasta, perfect entree salad. Lovely, fresh and colourful John! I look forward to more summertime bean and lentil recipes.
Hi Marta, salads are so great, aren't they? And that onion soaking trick is kinda nifty! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nazneen, we do salads in the winter, but usually very few main course ones. But we really go wild with them in warm weather! As a matter of fact, dinner tonight is a big chef's salad. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Sounds wonderful to me, John! Light, refreshing, delicious...perfect hot weather entree. I think even the hubby would go for this :)
Hi Liz, this really is a tasty and refreshing salad. And I'll bet the hubby would enjoy! Thanks for the comment.
Adding Tuna to the pasta salad made it a truly 'Mama Mia' one !
Love your black backdrop photos. Always dazzle my damn, sore eyes :)
Hi Suborna, it's really a nice dish - well worth trying. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
My mom puts tuna in salad often, and this salad reminds me of her. :) Love the pasta salad. I can eat this as main dish considering I got fish, carb, and some veggies. :D
Hi Nami, this really is a pretty complete meal. If you want to add more veggies, it's easy enough to do (I often serve a side of tomatoes with this). Thanks for the comment.
I love pasta salad in the summertime! And, bean salads--I don't think of making them often enough. Adding peas sounds great too. This makes me want to have a picnic.
Great little main dish for the upcoming hot summer days. I like the fact you use a nice light vinegar instead of a heavy mayo dressing. Take care, BAM
Hi Lisa, finally the weather is warm enough for picnics! And pasta salads are so nice for them, aren't they? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bam, mayo is great, but doesn't quite work in this salad IMO. And I'm looking forward to some warm weather for a change! Thanks for the comment.
I'll take seconds!!
Great summer dish!
Hi Kristi, ;-) Seconds are required, I think! Thanks for the comment.
This pasta salad looks great John, I like the idea of adding beans and yes, I will add some peas on mine...I will definitely make this dish...especially with the warm weather.
Have a great week :)
What a nice creation. I love meal that is fast and hearty, yet light, such as this Pasta Bean and Tuna Salad. It must be refreshing for hot weather.
Great looking pasta John, perfect for a quick dish to grab on the way!
Hi Juliana, peas are really nice in this! They add not only great flavor, but terrific color. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Amy, it's really a nice dish - very flavorful and fills you up in a good sort of way. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gourmantine, this really is a pretty fast dish to put together (assuming you have cooked or canned beans on hand!). Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, your pasta salad look very delicious. Great combination of tuna and beans. I like the 3rd picture, the bowl look so cute.
Hi Amelia, it's a great dish! And that third picture is actually my favorite. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Now that's a gorgeous pasta dish, and healthy too. I love legumes of all types, but I don't believe I've ever added them to a pasta dish. The use of the oil packed tuna sure makes this a tasty, quick and easy weekday dinner. Great pasta dish!
Hi MJ, after years of using tuna packed in water, I've gone back to the olive oil pack. And I'm never going back - so much more flavor. Beans and pasta have a real affinity for each other - great combo. Thanks for the comment.
Looks delicious Uncle John! My mom used to make a variation of this with pickles, onion, tuna and mayo which I loved (and you may be familiar with?). I will definitely try out your recipe soon :)
Hi Zoe, because it's pasta, this dish has your name on it! I do know the variation you mean and I make it too — check out the link to tuna pasta salad (first link right after the post in the "you may enjoy reading about" section). Thanks for the comment!
Gorgeous and comforting salad, John. Love tuna in salad. Scrumptious photos.
Hi Lail, isn't tuna so nice in salads? Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Love beans and tuna, John! This is a fabulous salad and you included so many tasty textures and flavors. With the warm days coming, it'll be a perfect dinner to enjoy.
Hi Hannah, it's a totally refreshing and satisfying salad! And really nice for this time of the year. Thanks for the comment.
You know, this salad sounds so fresh, filling and delicious! Love it!
Hi Lizzy, it's simple to make, and totally delish! A winner, in my book. Thanks for the comment.
I love that this is vinegar and oil based. I'm not too big on store-bought mayo. I know, I should start making it at home using your instructions! :) This is a gorgeous pasta salad. It would be great for a picnic!
Hi Gomo, I like that this is a bit lighter than a mayo-based salad, too. Although you definitely should try making your own mayo someday! Thanks for the comment.
Amazing salad and healthy option. Would love to try this on a hot summer afternoon.
Hi Asian Slow Cooking, it really is perfect for hot summer days. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Thanks so much for this recipe. It inspired me - especially with the addition of the beans - to create my own pasta salad.
Hi Jeff, your pasta salad looks terrific! :-) Thanks for the comment.
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