The only thing better than salad is pasta salad. And the only thing better than pasta salad is healthy pasta salad. There are several ways to make this happen. First, just because it’s a pasta salad doesn’t mean that pasta has to be the most abundant part of the recipe. Try mixing some salad greens into your pasta salad. They’ll add flavor and texture and will help to fill you up without eating so many carbs. Mâche and arugula both work great here. Second, skip the mayonnaise. Or, at least cut down on it, like I did here. I like to use a traditional red wine vinaigrette with my pasta salads, mixing in just a spoonful of mayonnaise that helps me achieve that classic, creamy texture. Finally, add tons of fresh veggies to your salad, that’s what will make it delicious!
I remember boxed pasta salad back in America. I loved it, especially when my Mom made it because she had strong tendencies to add ranch dressing to it and spice it up with little add-ins. While I can look back on this dish fondly, I realize now that although it was called salad, there was nothing remotely healthy about it. If my memory serves me, it included a few measly peas and maybe some tiny, minuscule carrot pieces. Probably bacon, and then lots and lots of mayonnaise (and ranch dressing, in our house!). Carbs may not be bad for everybody, but my waistline is not a big fan. I have learned to eat them in limited quantities, and adding in seasonal fresh vegetables like these incredibly beautiful yellow heirloom tomatoes helps me find the right balance.
And the shrimp! I haven’t even mentioned the shrimp! Instead of adding bacon to your salad, shrimp is a great option. Cooked correctly, it’s full of flavor and is low in calories. I grilled mine with lemon and garlic, salt and pepper and a little espelette pepper for some extra kick.
My final piece of advice is to use pasta salad as a way to clean up all of those random leftovers in your fridge. Last week we made chicken on the grill with some bell peppers and eggplant, all very simply seasoned. I made too much on purpose, and the next day we enjoyed what was left with some fresh tomatoes, a bit of pasta and a nice green salad. The charred bits from the BBQ gave it tons of flavor, we had a healthy, effortless and yummy meal in no time, and those leftover vegetables didn’t find their way into the garbage because we forgot about them or didn’t know what to do with them.
This particular pasta salad is a new favorite. The shrimp were perfectly tasty and cheap, and the touch of coconut milk livened things up while adding to the traditional creaminess that I personally expect in a pasta salad. It almost tricked me into thinking that summer was finally here, but judging by the weather we’ve been having in Normandy, I was happy simply to have a bit of summer on my plate that day.
Grilled shrimp pasta salad with mâche, heirloom tomatoes, coconut milk lemon and orzo
Ingredients (serves 2 with leftovers):
1/2 C uncooked orzo pasta
2 C mâche or spinach
250 g of prawns or shrimp
4 cloves of garlic
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 large heirloom tomato, roughly chopped
1 smallish shallot, finely diced
2 T light vinaigrette (1 part oil, 1 part fat-free yogurt, 1 part mustard, 1 part vinegar)
1 T mayonnaise
2 T coconut milk
1 t espelette pepper or cayenne
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Begin by preparing your marinade. Nothing simpler: simply mix half of your lemon zest, the lemon juice and 2 cloves of finely diced garlic in a large dish. Start cleaning your prawns. Begin by removing the head, then slice from head to tail along the stomach of the shrimp, grab onto the legs and peel away the shell. Once the shell is removed (all but the last part of the tail), make a small incision on the back of your prawn (from head to tail) and remove the intenstines. I tend to do the same maneouvre on the belly of my shrimp, removing whatever that is (on the back it’s brown, and on the underside it’s red…). Place in marinade as your clean them, seasoning with sea salt, pepper and espelette pepper before grilling.
Heat your bbq or skillet. Place the shrimp on a grill until just marked and the garlic starts to cook slightly. At the same time, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat, adding a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Place the two remaining garlic cloves inside, without removing them from their casings. Toss from time to time and let them brown, almost burn on the outside, cooking for about 6-8 minutes total. You now have quick roasted garlic!
In a large salad bowl, squeeze the garlic out of its casing and mix with the shallot and remaining lemon zest. Cook your pasta until just al dente, drain and then add to the mix. Season with salt and pepper. Add your vinaigrette, mayonnaise and coconut milk and toss to coat the pasta. Add the tomatoes and once your shrimp are cooked, cut them into bite-sized pieces and add them as well. Adjust your seasoning, and toss in the mâche at the last minute. Serve with bread to sop up the delicious sauce!