This Green Goddess Pasta Salad with avocado, broccoli, spinach, and pumpkin seeds is an easy vegan make-ahead side or light main course literally bursting at the seams with healthy ingredients. This 30-minute plant-based recipe is tossed in a simple lemon garlic olive oil dressing, and packed with green veggies!
This is one of my favorite vegetarian pasta recipes. It’s actually vegan, since the parmesan cheese is completely optional. It’s served cold, which makes it perfect to make ahead for meal prep, leftovers, or to take on a picnic, and I love how it’s packed with so many healthy green veggies (and is thusly named “Green Goddess Pasta Salad”).
The textures of the whole wheat pasta, creamy avocado, and crunchy pumpkin seeds work so well together. The healthy fats from the olive-oil based dressing and avocado help balance out the bitterness of the broccoli and spinach. I could eat this every week!
I adapted this from a tortellini salad in one of my favorite cookbooks,Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (the blogger from 101 Cookbooks). Her blog, and the book, are full of unique, nutrient-packed vegetarian recipes that are easy and delicious.
This recipe is versatile– while the pasta, avocado, and delicious lemon-garlic dressing are a “must,” you can easily substitute other green veggies for the broccoli and/or spinach (like arugula or green beans), and something else that’s crunchy for the pumpkin seeds (like almonds).
And I’ve got a special trick to making the pasta salad ahead of time without it drying out.
How to make Green Goddess Pasta Salad
This simple recipe really just involves tossing all the ingredients together in a bowl! Here are the details.
- First, cook the pasta in salted water.
- While the pasta is boiling, mix the dressing in a large bowl (a mixture of salt, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice).
- During the last few minutes of cooking the pasta, add the broccoli and spinach in the water with the pasta, blanching the broccoli to cook it slightly (the same technique I used with the green beans in chicken piccata pasta). This means you won’t have to get another pot dirty to cook the veggies. Hooray!
- Drain and rinse the pasta and veggies with cool water. You want to bring the temp down so the pasta doesn’t immediately absorb all the dressing, which can dry the whole thing out.
- Finally, toss everything together in the large bowl with the dressing– the cooked pasta, broccoli, and spinach, pumpkin seeds, diced avocado, and parmesan cheese (optional). Don’t worry about being too gentle- the great thing about making pasta salad with avocado is that the avocado gets a little mashed up and helps coat every bite.
Make ahead instructions
This Green Goddess pasta salad may dry out if it’s stored in the fridge. Never fear- I have a solution!
I recommend reserving half the dressing aside and tossing with the pasta salad just before serving. It’s a fun trick you can use with any pasta salad recipe you plan on serving a couple hours to a couple days after making it.
And if you have leftovers and have already used all the dressing, you can perk it back up by drizzling with a little more oil and lemon juice.
- If you don’t have pumpkin seeds: sliced or slivered almonds, chopped pecans or walnuts, pine nuts (toasted or not), or sunflower seeds can be used instead.
- If you don’t have lemon juice: use another acid, like red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Balsamic vinegar would be delicious but will add a darker color to the pasta salad.
- Green beans, arugula, kale, asparagus, etc. can be used in place of or in addition to the broccoli/spinach. Cook them right in the water with the pasta as directed.
- Any kind of small or medium shaped pasta can be used- whole wheat or regular, grain-free pasta such as chickpea pasta, etc.
Other Vegetarian Pasta Salad Recipes:
- Caprese Pasta Salad
- 20-Minute Creamy Lemony Vegetable Pasta Salad
- Greek Pasta Salad with Herb Vinaigrette
- Pesto Pasta Salad
Green Goddess Pasta Salad
- 1 clove garlic minced on a microplane zester
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for cooking the pasta
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
- 8 oz. whole wheat penne or any other small-medium shape/variety
- 2 cups broccoli florets frozen or fresh
- 5-8 oz. spinach frozen chopped or fresh baby spinach
- 2 avocados diced
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or another seed/nut
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese optional
- Cook pasta according to directions in heavily salted water. 2-3 minutes before it's finished cooking, add the broccoli florets and spinach to the pasta water. Drain and rinse the pasta and veggies together in a colander, and run cold water over it to rinse and cool it off.
- Meanwhile, mix the minced garlic (1 clove), kosher salt (1 teaspoon), olive oil (1/3 cup) and lemon juice (about 2 tablespoons) in the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk together until emulsified. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary. (If you are making this ahead of time, remove half the dressing and reserve for later in a separate bowl or container.)
- Add the cooled pasta, broccoli, and spinach to the bowl with the dressing, along with the two diced avocados, pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup), and parmesan cheese (1/4 cup), if using. Toss everything together.
- Serve. If making ahead of time: cover, refrigerate, and toss with remaining dressing just before serving. If you have leftovers, an extra drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice will help revive it if it's a bit dry.
- For a vegan version, be sure to omit the parmesan cheese or use a substitute.
- Traditional parmesan cheese may not be suitable for a strict vegetarian diet because it contains animal rennet. If you prefer, you can look for a suitable vegetarian substitute, such as a parmesan made with plant rennet.
- This pasta salad serves 7-8 as a side dish, and 4-6 as a light meal.
- Ingredient substitutions: arugula or another leafy green may be substituted for the spinach, almonds or another nut or seed may be substituted for the pumpkin seeds, other green veggies may be added such as sprouts or green onions, green beans may be used in place of or in addition to the broccoli, red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar may be used in place of the lemon juice.
- Recipe adapted from "Tortellini Salad" in Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson.
Estimated Nutrition Information
This post originally appeared on Bowl of Delicious in May, 2014. It has been republished with new photos, improved recipe instructions, and more pertinent information.