This is one of those recipes that felt incredibly obvious once I’d made it; given my love of tahini and love of pesto, how is it possible that I hadn’t thought to combine them before? My curried tahini pasta salad proved to me that tahini is a great creamy base for pasta salads—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.
For a long time, I used this pesto recipe religiously, and it’s still my go-to for something basic and traditional. I’ve learned, though, that other fats can be used for a pesto base, and sometimes they’re even creamier and more interesting than regular pesto. I love an avocado pesto for pasta, and now that I’ve tried tahini, I have no immediate plan to turn back.
I worried at first that the flavor of tahini might be too distinctive for pesto, that it would overwhelm the basil and lemon. It’s true that this sauce doesn’t taste like a traditional pesto; it’s nuttier and earthier for sure. But for me, it still makes sense. Tahini often joins forces with parsley in Middle Eastern cooking, and that pairing is alive here; the only thing that’s really different is that there’s also plenty of basil thrown into the mix.
I didn’t add nutritional yeast to this recipe, as I usually do to pesto, but if you’re craving cheesy flavor, you can definitely include it (I listed it as an option in the recipe). You can adjust the garlic to fit your taste. Once you’ve got the sauce blended up—and it’s easy to prepare in advance of the rest of the dish—you simply toss it with pasta and veggies of choice.
It’s been scorching hot here in NYC, so I wanted to add veggies to the dish that required as little cooking as possible. I used raw cherry tomatoes and threw zucchini and peas into the pasta pot in the last few minutes of cooking. You could roast your vegetables before adding them, if you prefer, or use cucumber and shredded carrot for all raw mix-ins (this would have lots of nice crunch). I’d love to try the dish with roasted cauliflower and carrots when it’s cooler.
Tahini Pesto Pasta Salad
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 optional
- 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
- To prepare the pesto, add the tahini, garlic, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast if using 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.
I love tinkering with the proportion of pasta to veggies in pasta salad; if you’re eager for something that’s more salad-like than pasta-like, you could definitely use 8 ounces of pasta and an extra cup or two of the zucchini and tomatoes. I’m guessing that some chopped arugula, à la this recipe, would also be lovely in the dish.
If you’re a fellow tahini addict, this one is worth your time. Even if you don’t use it in a pasta salad, it’s a great sauce for grilled veggies or grain bowls—and such a perfect way to savor the flavors of summer. Hope you enjoy it, and wishing everyone a great holiday this week, if you’re celebrating. I’ll be having a mostly regular work week around here, but I hope to find some time to gaze up at the New York City fireworks on Wednesday night!