This tuna pasta salad is a bright, light, and zesty combination of pasta and tuna with crunchy veg in a mayonnaise-yogurt dressing. It’s a quick, easy, healthy, protein-packed side or main perfect for lunch or dinner, picnics, BBQs, and potlucks!
As the weather (finally) warms up, I find myself craving pasta salads and light, picnic-friendly dishes. I’ve already shared a Greek pasta salad and a Caprese pasta salad. Now it’s the turn of this crowd-pleasing, classic creamy, protein-rich tuna pasta salad.
This tuna salad with pasta is a balanced and delicious meal. It combines the carbs of pasta with protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids from the tuna, extra protein from the yogurt, and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from the various vegetables. Using a mixture of mayo and yogurt, this version is also lighter than the mayo-exclusive classic without sacrificing creaminess.
Not only is it delicious, but this fresh and zesty tuna noodle salad is also super quick and easy to prepare in just 15 minutes. It’s also economical, meal prep friendly, customizable (to diet and flavor preferences), versatile, and travels fairly well too. It’s a must-have at any picnic or BBQ alongside corn ribs, grilled peach burrata salad, and more.
Tuna Pasta Salad Ingredients
You only need simple and inexpensive kitchen and pantry staples to pull together this tuna pasta salad recipe.
- Pasta: I used small pasta shells, though I also love making tuna macaroni salad (with elbow macaroni). Any small-shaped pasta will work. I.e., bow tie pasta/farfalle, fusilli, rotini, etc. Use regular or whole-wheat pasta.
Use gluten-free pasta, if preferred, like lentil pasta or chickpea pasta. Just note that they don’t tend to store very well, and the cooking time will vary.
- White tuna: You can use packed or canned tuna. I prefer to use high-quality tuna (like canned albacore, which is firmer with a mild flavor) packed in water for the best flavor and texture. However, you can use oil-packed tuna if needed and reduce the amount of mayonnaise in the dressing.
- Vegetables: This tuna salad recipe with pasta uses a crunchy, vibrant combination of crisp celery, robust red onion (or shallot/ green onion for a milder flavor), and fresh green peas (frozen – no need to thaw – or canned).
- Parsley: To add fresh herb flavor in every bite. Fresh or dried dill would also work well.
The Pasta Salad Dressing
- The dairy: Rather than using 100% mayonnaise, this slightly lightened-up tuna salad combines mayonnaise with natural yogurt (or Greek yogurt). You can use sour cream in a pinch. Use low-fat options if preferred, though it won’t be as creamy.
- Mustard: This will add subtle tangy heat and depth to the dressing. I recommend using Dijon mustard, but any mustard will work, including wholegrain.
- Seasoning: garlic powder, salt (kosher/sea salt), black pepper.
Alternatively, make a lighter salad with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
How to Make Tuna Pasta Salad
There are just a few steps required to prepare this cold tuna pasta salad recipe: cook the pasta, chop the veggies, mix the sauce, and assemble!
How Long to Cook Noodles for Pasta Salad
The best way to prepare pasta for pasta salad is to follow the package instructions in liberally salted water, cooking it for 1-2 minutes less than recommended so the pasta is al dente.
Once cooked, immediately drain and rinse the pasta to halt the cooking process and quickly cool it down.
Prepare the Ingredients and Dressing for Tuna Pasta Salad
Combine all the dressing ingredients (mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, and spices) in a large bowl and stir well.
Then, finely chop the celery and red onion, and mince the parsley. Add them to the bowl and stir.
Finally, mix in the cooked pasta and peas and toss to combine. It’s best to leave the tuna noodle salad for at least an hour for all the flavors to meld and combine, though you can enjoy it immediately if preferred. Enjoy!
What to Serve with Tuna Pasta Salad?
You can serve this versatile salad as a side dish or main on your dinner table, at potlucks, picnics, or BBQs alongside:
- A leafy green salad – like arugula salad or another vinaigrette salad,
- Garlic bread, focaccia, or a buttered dinner roll,
- Gazpacho or another light soup,
- Grilled vegetables – like corn on the cob, zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, etc.,
- Fresh fruit – like sliced watermelon, fruit salad, etc.,
- Deviled eggs or deviled egg potato salad,
- Roasted potatoes and other potato side dishes.
And, of course, all your favorite picnic or BBQ dishes will taste great alongside it.
How Long Does Tuna Pasta Salad Last in the Fridge?
Once assembled, store the salad in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days, stirring it well between each time you serve.
The flavors will meld and change over time (it tastes even better on day two, so making it ahead is highly recommended). Feel free to liven it up with extra seasoning or a splash of lemon juice before serving. It will also become less creamy over time as the pasta soaks up the dressing, so you might want to add a little more yogurt/mayo.
Can You Make It Ahead?
To maintain all the textures, you can prepare all the elements (pasta, veggies, and dressing) 2-3 days in advance, waiting to combine them until just before serving.
In fact, the flavor of the dressing will improve within a day (or at least several hours) as the flavors mingle/meld, so I highly recommend preparing it in advance.
More Hearty Salad Recipes
If you try this easy tuna pasta salad recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
The Best Tuna Pasta Salad
- 10 oz pasta small shells (2.5 cups); any small-shaped pasta will work (bow-tie pasta/farfalle, fusilli, rotini, etc); use regular or whole wheat pasta or even gluten-free
- 10 oz white tuna drained (1.5 cups); tuna in water is best
- 4.1 oz celery 2 large stalks (1 cup chopped)
- 3.5 oz red onion 1 medium (1 cup chopped); for a milder flavor, use green onion
- 5.6 oz green peas frozen, 1 cup
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise regular or light
- 3/4 cup natural yogurt or Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped, or dill, or a combination of the two
- Prepare the pasta according to the package instructions in liberally salted water, cooking it for 1-2 minutes less than recommended so the pasta is al dente.Once cooked, immediately drain and rinse the pasta to halt the cooking process and quickly cool it down.
- Once cooked, immediately drain and rinse the pasta to halt the cooking process and quickly cool it down.
- Meanwhile, combine all the dressing ingredients (mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, and spices) in a large bowl and stir well.
- Finely chop the celery and red onion, and mince the parsley. Add them to the bowl and stir.
- Mix in the cooked pasta and peas and toss to combine. It's best to leave it for at least an hour for all the flavors to meld and combine, though you can enjoy it immediately if preferred.
- For more flavorful pasta: Cook it either in liberally salted water or vegetable stock.
- Use good-quality tuna: This is one of the main flavors in this recipe, so try to use high-quality tuna for the best flavor (and texture).
- Leave it to rest: I recommend letting the salad sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes after assembling it to allow the flavors to meld. This produces a better, more well-rounded flavor.
- Experiment with veggies: You can choose from plenty to add flavor, color, and texture to the tuna salad. I love using it as an excuse to clear out my fridge.
- Tweak it to your liking: You can easily adjust any of the flavors in the dressing, the size of the chopped veggies, the type of pasta, etc., to suit your dietary and flavor preferences.
- Use chicken: This creamy pasta salad tastes just as delicious with chicken instead of tuna.
- Lemon juice: To add bright and zingy flavor to the mayo-yogurt dressing.
- Pickles: Add some chopped pickles or pickle relish to the dressing for a sweet-tart tang.
- Cayenne pepper: To add a hint of spice.
- Other vegetables: For extra color, flavor, and crunch, you could add:
- Cherry tomatoes,
- Cucumber (English or Persian cucumbers work best as they’re low-seed),
- Bell pepper (any color),
- Carrots (shredded),
- Avocado (diced and added only when serving).
- Capers: To add a tangy, briny flavor that pairs well with the tuna.
- Olives: Kalamata olives/regular black olives to add briny, salty flavor.
- Hard-boiled eggs: Tuna and eggs are a delicious and nutritious combination.
- Nuts/seeds: toasted walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc., for added crunch.
- Fruit: Add a hint of sweetness with fresh grapes or sliced apple/pear.
- Cheese: Robust cheese like parmesan, mature cheddar, or feta cheese works particularly well.
- Beans: Add a can of chickpeas or white beans for extra fiber and protein.
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