The only pasta salad recipe you’ll ever need

A big bowl of pasta salad is welcome at any picnic table.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Onions may seem a perennial ingredient since they’re available all year, but red onions taste especially fresh and crisp now. We’re nearing the end of the harvest, but these purple bulbs are still coming straight out of the ground and into our kitchens at the end of summer. That means they don’t have the harsh bite, dry petals or papery skins that older onions develop.

To highlight red onions’ mild sweetness and crunch, I toss thin slivers raw into pasta salad. They turn it into a dish I actually like. Normally, I have a love-hate relationship with pasta salad. It’s everything I need — fast, easy, make-ahead, portable, big batch — and not what I want. At least not in its usual form. The cold noodles are too hard or too soft, too bland or too gloppy.

Here, they’re just right. When tossed warm with a Thai-inspired fish sauce vinaigrette, the pasta stays tender and soaks up the sauce’s spicy, savory tang. Red onion brightens the mix while pork jerky, a snack that should become a pantry staple, adds heft and saves you the hassle of cooking meat. Crinkles of red cabbage take this dish into September and beyond and turn this into a hearty yet light one-dish meal.

Light and bright, this pasta salad tastes great cold or at room temperature.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Thai Pork Jerky Pasta Salad

30 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

This salad is delicious with any pork or beef jerky, especially Asian-flavored varieties. For the tastiest version, seek out freshly made, deep-fried pork jerky at your local Thai market. While you’re there, get fresh Thai lime leaves. They deliver a fresh, herbaceous bite without the risk of wilting like most leafy herbs. If you can’t find them, substitute the freshly grated zest of a lime or 2 very thinly sliced fresh bay leaves.

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound fusilli or other short pasta
  • 3 Thai bird or other small hot chiles, seeded, if desired, and minced
  • 5 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons everyday extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 ounces pork jerky, preferably Thai, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • ½ small red cabbage, diced
  • 8 fresh Thai lime leaves, veins removed and very thinly sliced

1 Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package’s directions.

2 While the pasta cooks, whisk the chiles, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and olive oil in a large bowl. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse under cold water until just warm. Shake dry in the colander, then immediately transfer to the sauce. Toss until well coated.

3 Add the pork, onion, cabbage and lime leaves, mix well, and serve.


Roast Pork Pasta Salad
Substitute char siu (Chinese roast pork) for the pork jerky.

Tofu Pasta Salad
Substitute Thai marinated and deep-fried tofu for the pork jerky.

Gluten-Free Pasta Salad
Substitute cooked rice noodles for the fusilli.

Make Ahead: The pasta salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.