Rice or pasta salad is one of my favorites when I want a big dish that can be made in advance and kept for several days.
I frequently make it for passages or potlucks and use a vinegar-and-oil dressing on it, as it lasts better that way—and there’s less chance of food poisoning if the refrigerator isn’t quite as cold as ideal or it sits out a bit in the heat— a particular problem with potlucks in the tropics!
To be honest, this isn’t really a recipe in the sense of giving exact ingredients and amounts, but rather a flexible “here’s how I make it.” While this might be frustrating to some, this approach allows you to use the ingredients you like or—perhaps more importantly—that you have available.
If you want more detailed guidelines, I’ve created a recipe for folks who like having the extra help. You’ll find it at the bottom of the post.
You’ll need a large serving/storage bowl with a tight-fitting lid for this, such as the one I highlight as a good Potluck Salad Bowl. You can also use a smaller bowl and make just enough for one or two people. The big thing is that if you’re going to store it for a day or two—particularly on passage—the lid MUST be leakproof.
Cook enough rice or pasta to fill the bowl between half and two-thirds full. I like to use chicken or vegetable bouillon powder instead of salt in the water for extra flavor. If you’re using pasta, medium size shapes are best, such as macaroni, penne, rotini or bows. However, you can use the small size pasta or even couscous—just don’t fill the bowl more than half full since they are more dense.
Add a mix of “salad veggies,” based on your own preferences and what is available—diced onions (don’t add too many, as the flavor will strengthen as it sits), green onions (ditto), bell peppers (any color), diced tomatoes (if you don’t have fresh, you can use drained canned tomatoes), or cucumber. You can also add some canned vegetables, such as green beans, peas or corn (any of these are also good fresh and cooked, also). Black olives are good, too. Unless you’ll be serving it right away, don’t use mushrooms as they get slimy.
If you want a heartier salad, add a can or two of ham or chicken, drained, or some deli ham or salami or other meat, chopped into bite-sized pieces. I find any sort of fish, including tuna, to have an unpleasant taste after the salad has sat for a day and don’t recommend using any.
You want enough add ins so that the bowl is reasonably full.
I use a variation of my Easy Vinaigrette dressing. You can also use a bottled Italian or vinaigrette dressing.
For my dressing: I sprinkle either some Mrs. Dash, Italian seasoning or Montreal Steak seasoning over the top of the salad (don’t use all three!)—or you can use none, which is usually my choice on passage since I can be a little prone to seasickness and less spicy foods do better. Go easy on any garlic, as it will intensify as the salad sits.
Then I pour two to four mixing spoons of olive oil or canola oil over the salad, depending on the size of the bowl (about 1 tablespoon per cup of cooked rice or pasta). Mix the salad and see if most of the ingredients are very lightly covered with oil. If not, add a little more. This isn’t an exact science and don’t worry if you think you got a little too much—it will absorb into the rice or pasta as the salad sits.
Then sprinkle the salad with a little sugar or sugar substitute. Add about twice as much vinegar as you used oil—I like balsamic or red wine vinegar, but you can also use white or cider (if using cider, use a little less as it has a sharper taste). You can add a little lemon or lime juice, too, if you like that flavor.
Toss the salad again. Taste it and see if you need to add additional spices, oil or vinegar.
This will last 4 days in the refrigerator.
Shake the bowl (cover on!) or toss the salad before serving. If desired, when serving, you can add hard boiled egg quarters, cheese or mushrooms—none of these should be added too far in advance as their texture will disintegrate as they sit in the dressing. If you discover that the salad is too dry as the dressing has absorbed into the rice or pasta, add a little oil and vinegar and mix.
Flexible Pasta or Rice Salad
- 2 cups pasta (elbows, bowties, shells, or other medium sizes or rice)
- 2 tablespoons scallions (OR diced onion)
- 1/4 cup diced bell pepper
- 1/4 cup diced tomatoes (OR drained, canned tomatoes)
- 1/4 cup diced cucumber
- 1 can chicken (OR ham or sliced ham or salami)
- 1 tablespoon Mrs Dash seasoning (OR Italian seasoning OR Montreal Steak Seasoning)
- 2 tablespoon olive oil (OR canola OR vegetable)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar (OR sugar substitute)
- 4 tablespoon red wine vinegar (OR Balsamic, cider, or white OR lemon juice)
- Cook pasta or rice according to package instructions. While it’s cooking, prepare vegetables and other add-ins.
- Drain pasta. Pour cool water over it to stop it from cooking more. Add pasta (or rice) to large bowl with a tight-sealing lid. Top with your choice of add-ins.
- Pour the oil over the pasta or rice and veggies. Stir until all ingredients are coated.
- Sprinkle a small amount of sugar or other sweetener over the salad. Then add the vinegar. Stir until all ingredients are coated.
- Taste. If you don’t like the balance, add more of whatever you think is missing.