Tahini Pesto Pasta Salad

This tahini pesto pasta salad is made with an untraditional, tahini-based pesto. It’s oil free, easy to prepare, and super creamy! A perfect make-ahead dish for summer gatherings or cookouts.

A round, white bowl holds a pasta salad that's made with a tahini base. The pasta salad is full of cherry tomatoes and peas.

This is one of those recipes that felt incredibly obvious to me once I’d made it. I love tahini on anything and everything. I’m a big fan of homemade, vegan pesto. And I could eat pasta salad all summer long. How had I never thought to combine all of these things?!

My curried tahini pasta salad proved to me that tahini is a great creamy base for pasta salads. It’s a little more nutritious than vegan mayo, but still tasty and accessible. And tahini and fresh herbs are always a winning combination, as lots of my favorite dressings go to show.

This tahini pesto pasta salad will be on repeat all through the summer, with new vegetables appearing as they come into season. It’s delicious, easy, and it’s pretty perfect for all of your warm weather potlucks and gatherings, 4th of July festivities included.

What is pesto sauce?

Traditional pesto is made with olive oil, basil, pine nuts, garlic, and parmesan cheese. It’s almost vegan, but for the cheese. So my version of pesto has always included nutritional yeast in place of the cheese.

For a long time, this basic recipe was my go-to. But I’ve learned that there are lots of fun, non-traditional ways to prepare pesto. Hemp seed pesto is a favorite. So is avocado pesto.

And, now that I’ve tried tahini pesto, I know that I’ll be making it very often!

How to make tahini pesto sauce

To make tahini pesto, you simply replace the fat traditionally provided by olive oil with tahini. It’s a different kind of pesto for sure: thicker, more creamy. But it has that characteristic pesto flavor from the basil and nutritional yeast. I like to add some lemon juice for brightness.

It’s easiest to make the tahini pesto in a food processor. A blender will work, too, but I find that a food processor is more effective for a rich sauce like this one.

When I first made this sauce, I was worried that the tahini might add a bitterness to the pesto. I’m happy to say that it doesn’t! I find the pesto to be nicely balanced, especially once it’s tossed with pasta and other ingredients.

Tahini pesto pasta salad ingredients

As with most pasta salad recipes, the ingredients for the tahini pesto pasta salad are somewhat flexible. You could use different summer vegetables as add-ins, if you like. I really enjoy the combination of grape or cherry tomatoes, peas, and zucchini half moons.

I think that broccoli florets, fresh, chopped arugula, corn, and summer squash would also be lovely in the pasta salad.

For some crunch, you could add toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds, toasted pine nuts, or some of my cashew parmesan cheese. This dish is also good with dollops of my go-to cashew cheese.

Serving tahini pesto pasta salad

I especially like to pile the tahini pesto pasta salad on top of a bed of fresh baby greens. If you’d like to make it a side dish at dinnertime, you can serve it with some grilled or baked tofu or seitan and a crisp little salad.

The pasta salad is also a fun component for a make-ahead vegan lunch box. Serve it with some fresh veggies (cucumber spears, carrot sticks, etc.), maybe a protein component (like baked tempeh cubes or tofu fingers), and some fruit or a vegan treat to finish off the meal.

Preparation & storage

The tahini pesto can be prepared up to two days in advance of mixing the pasta salad up. The pasta salad leftovers, meanwhile, keep very well for a few days. You can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days once the salad is prepared.

Can I freeze tahini pesto?

Yes! Tahini pesto can be frozen, just like regular pesto can be. I freeze mine in small mason jars, but an ice cube tray is also a handy vessel for doing this.

A round, flat plate has been piled high with a plant-based pasta recipe. It rests on a marble surface.
A round, white bowl holds a pasta salad that's made with a tahini base. The pasta salad is full of cherry tomatoes and peas.
5 from 8 votes

Tahini Pesto Pasta Salad

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the tahini pesto:

  • 6 tablespoons tahini
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 1/2 cups basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A few turns freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup water

For the pasta salad:

  • 12 ounces pasta of choice
  • 1 heaping cup cherry or grape tomatoes halved or quartered
  • 2 cups zucchini or another chopped green vegetable of choice, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup green peas fresh or frozen and thawed

Instructions

  • To prepare the pesto, add the tahini, garlic, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast to a food processor. Pulse 10-15 times, enough to break down the herbs and roughly combine everything. Turn the motor on and drizzle in the water. You're aiming for the texture of a thick sauce—so a little thicker than a tahini dressing. Keep processing until the sauce is pretty smooth (it's fine if some of the herbs are visible). Taste and adjust lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
  • To prepare the pasta salad, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions; about 3 minutes before the end of cooking, add the zucchini and peas to the pot.
  • Drain the pasta and veggies, then transfer them to a large mixing bowl and add the cherry tomatoes. Add the pesto and mix everything well to combine. Serve.

Notes

Tahini pesto will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. The pasta salad will keep in an airtight container for 2 days.
An overhead image of a bowl of creamy pesto pasta salad, made with fresh vegetables. It is sitting on a white marble surface.

If you’re a fellow tahini addict, the tahini pesto pasta salad is worth your time. Even if you don’t use the pesto in a pasta salad, it’s a great sauce for grilled veggies or grain bowls. It’s a perfect way to savor the flavors of summer! Hope you enjoy it.

xo

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    21 Comments
  1. 5 stars
    We tried this reciped last week and it was absolutely delicious. I love Pesto on anything but this was surprisingly wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’ve been making a lot of pasta salad this summer and this one sounds wonderful. I love that it sounds “hearty” with tons of flavor 🙂

  3. Looks amazing!! I too am curious what type of pasta you used? I love Banza pasta so I’m wondering if it would hold up well?! Thanks!

  4. 5 stars
    So I just finished cleaning the bowl with my finger to get the last tasty bits of that sauce! What a great and easy recipe!

  5. This would be perfect at a cookout. I’m going to try it the next time we have one at our house. First of all, I love tahini. Secondly, I love pesto! This is such a great combo that I never thought of. Thank you for the idea!

    What is your favorite type of noodle? Do you just use a regular noodle? I’m thinking that will hold up the best here. I love brown rice pasta, but I don’t know if it’ll work?

  6. 5 stars
    My husband made this for dinner and I loved it! Will definitely make it again, thanks for the great recipe!

    Danielle
    solongusa.blogspot.com

  7. I love, love the idea of tahini in pesto. I was just given a ton of fresh herbs from a friend’s garden and can’t wait to try this. Do you think it would freeze well also?

    • I’ve had good luck freezing regular tahini dressing and regular pesto, so I suspect this will freeze well!

  8. 5 stars
    Auugh…! I wish i had seen this before the 4th! My friend asked me to bring pasta salad and it certainly wasn’t as delicious as this one. Well, and i still have a bunch leftover. I made the tahini pesto tonight since i have everything on hand!!
    I used some as a dip with cucumbers, bell pepper and cherry tomatoes which was amazing, love the creamy tahini and herbs together. Also smeared a bit on some tempeh after i seared it to get the edges crispy and that was also a great combo!
    Will certainly be remaking this

  9. 5 stars
    Your timing is perfect. I have an abundance of basil and cherry tomatoes in the garden and was pondering a pesto salad, and voila, this recipe showed up in my in box. Made this for our holiday meal. It was a hit. Followed the recipe as is, but had golden zucchini in garden instead of green.
    This is an excellent salad! I have to say the tahini pesto is pure genius. I also love tahini, and have decided I like this better than regular vegan pesto (I made it sans nootch as you did). This sauce would also be tasty on baked potatoes, veggie bowls, grains, etc. I can’t wait to try other veggies.
    Thank you, Gena! Wishing you a happy Independence Day.

  10. This pesto sauce is so delicious I can eat it by the spoonful. Thanks for a wonderful recipe.

  11. Oooooh so creative!! I’ve never seen anyone think of using tahini for pesto before. I’ve been scavenging for recipes to use of all my fresh herbs (specifically basil and parsley) so this is perfect timing. Now, I am not a big tahini fan – on its own – but if you say that its flavor here isn’t too distinct, then I’m excited to give it a try!