Spring Pasta and Chickpea Salad and Bento-Friendly Pasta Salad Basics
We are now entering pasta salad season, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. Easy to assemble and delicious at room temperature, at first glance you might think that pasta salads are perfect in bentos. There are a few things to watch out for though, in order to make sure that your salad is as safe as it is delicious at lunchtime. I also have a super-easy Chickpea and Pasta Salad recipe that is very bento-friendly; t's vegetarian (easily converted to being vegan), to fit in with the theme for this month.
Bento-friendly pasta salad basics
A lot of people probably make a pasta salad for dinner, and bring the leftovers for lunch the next day, since it's so easy to make a little extra. If you do this, the following safety tips are particularly important.
- Make sure your pasta is cooled completely before packing. Completely cooling your food before packing is a fundamental rule of bento making, but is particularly important for pasta salads, which may contain many different ingredients mixed together.
- If you use mayonnaise, pack your salad bento with a cooling element. Commercial mayonnaise has preservatives in it that help to deter spoilage, but any good mayo is based on raw eggs. So to be on the safe side, pack your mayonnaise based pasta salad with a cooling element (see Summer Bento Safety).
- Any meats must be cooked through thorougly, and cooled thoroughly. Things like poached chicken and roast beef are popular salad additions to a salad, but make sure they are cooked through thoroughly and are completely cooled before adding to a salad. An alternative is to pre-freeze cooked meat, and to add the frozen bits directly to your cooled salad in the morning. The frozen bits act as cooling agents, and will have defrosted by lunchtime.
- Avoid using raw onions in your salad if possible. Raw onions can spoil rather quickly, and taint the whole salad. If possible, avoid using them, or pack them separately and mix them into your salad at the last minute. One trick to deter spoilage while still having that oniony crunch and flavor is to lightly salt the onion slices and to massage them a little until they turn limp. (This is the method used for onions added to Japanese potato salad.
- Make sure the vegetables and other ingredients you are adding are totally fresh and not watery. Adding watery vegetables, like cucumber slices with the seeds, washed but not dried lettuce leaves, and so on can make the pasta soggy and limp. And, I know this is common sense, but do use fresh ingredients. I've seen people mixing in any old leftovers with pasta and calling it a salad - that may be good for eating immediately at home, but not for toting along in a box that will sit around for hours before getting eaten.
Recipe: Spring Chickpea Pasta Salad
This is a very easy, bento-friendly vegetarian pasta salad. It's bento-friendly since it has no mayonnaise or onions in it. It becomes a vegan salad just by omitting the goat cheese.
This makes about 4 cups of salad, enough for 2 bentos (or 1 very generous bento.) However, you could make a quantity of the marinated chickpeas and store it in the refrigerator for a few days.
The marinated chickpeas:
- 1 cup cooked (from dry or canned) chickpeas or garbanzo beans
- 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice (depending on how lemony you want it to be)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half
- 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped or shredded parsley
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Drain and (if you're using canned) rinse the chickpeas. Pat dry with paper towels. Combine all the ingredients and toss well. Let marinate, covered, in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4-5 days.
For the salad:
- 1 cup uncooked small pasta - here I used tiny bowties, or farfalline, but you could use small elbow macaroni, farfalle, radiattore, orzo, etc.
- The marinated chickpeas
- About 8 cherry tomatoes
- About 5-6 snowpeas or mangetout
- washed lettuce leaves
- 30g / 1 oz. fresh (not too aged) young goat cheese or feta cheese
- salt, pepper
- Sliced or tulip-shaped radishes (optional, see below)
Cook the pasta in salted water (the method using just a little water works well here). Add the snow peas at the last minute or two to cook them too.
While the pasta is cooking, cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Cut or crumble the goat cheese.
Drain the pasta well, and take out the snow peas. Slice the snow peas into slivers.
Toss the still hot pasta with the marinated chickpeas, including the marinade (take out the raw garlic). Add the tomatoes and toss more. Since the pasta is warm, it will slightly 'cook' the tomatoes, making a sort of sauce. Add the cheese and the snow peas, and taste to see if you need to add any seasoning (a little extra grind of pepper may be needed). Let cool completely. (Putting it into a metal tray or bowl will help to cool it down faster.)
Make sure the lettuce leaves are completely dry (pat dry if needed with kitchen or paper towels) and line your bento box. Add the pasta salad and the optional radishes.
I used the type of radish called French Breakfast in the U.S. here - they have a sort of watercolor quality about them, which make them much prettier I think than regular round radishes (though I love those too). I cut them into little tulips, by making little diagonal cuts into the middle of each, in the way devilled eggs are often cut. After cutting, I salted them lightly (which enhances the flavor while cutting the sharpness a bit), and packed them into the corner of the bento. I didn't mix them into the pasta salad because the radishes do exude some moisture.
If you don't want to bother with cutting the tulip shapes, just slice the radishes - or even leave them whole.
(Incidentally, it's tough photographing pasta salads so that they don't look like a mess! This one looks a bit messy, but it is tasty I promise.)
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