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The Best Pasta Salad I've Ever Eaten

I've gone gluten-free. So anything made with wheat = no bueno.

It's been about 4 months and it's actually going pretty good.  I started because I heard it helps reduce inflammation.  Knowing myself, I needed something like this that could be more of a lifestyle change than a true diet (though I have lost about 20lbs in the process!).  Apparently, going vegan is even better to bring down swelling, but I could never, ever give up dairy. 

My middle name is Cheese.  And also, TV.  And also, Michelle.

Subconsciously, I think it was a way for me to control SOMETHING when my health was on a bottomless downward spiral.  Truth is, though, even now that I've rebounded I don't mind the restrictions.


I never really noticed before, but GF substitutes are everywhere! From grocery stores to restaurants, it's pretty easy to stay on track because everybody who's anybody is swapping wheat for rice. You learn about new brands like Udi's, Van's, and Glutino but even Ronzoni, Bisquick and Betty Crocker have jumped in the ring.

Gluten's kinda sneaky (FACT: it lurks in soy sauce).  You'd be surprised what never had gluten to begin with and is totally ok to eat.  Like, Cheetos (FACT: they are delicious). When I do fall off the gluten wagon, it's usually for fluffy pancakes, crispy pizza, crusty bagels, or a cozy bowl of pasta.

But that's not my fault, that's Science.

Anyway, I've been eating lots of salads.  Do you know what my favorite kind of salad used to be?  Pasta salad!  Let me be clear: not nasty supermarket counter mayonnaise-y elbow macaroni pasta salad.  Fancy pasta salad.

The best I've ever had was at a restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ, called Cowboy Ciao.  They're famous for their Stetson Salad, and for good reason: it's savory and sweet and crunchy and creamy and super addictive. So much so, that when I came home, I HAD to recreate it -- and make it even better with more of the things I like.

Next time I cheat, it will totally be with this here cowboy...


TIME: 10 minutes cook time, 30 minutes prep time

SERVES: 4 people once, or a single gal for 4 nights

  • 2 cups of Israeli couscous (if you find a GF kind, let me know!)
  • 4oz of smoked salmon
  • A handful of grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can of corn nibblets, drained
  • A few tbsps of sunflower seeds
  • A handful of dried cranberries (or Craisins or Plum Amazins)
  • Shredded asiago cheese 
  • Guacamole ranch dressing (as much as you like)
  1. Go shopping for all this stuff -- and find a more economical way to do it than I did.  It cost me $34.62, and I didn't even care. Yep, this is THAT good.  Also, I mis-manage my money so my tolerance for overspending is quite high.
  2. Come home and make the couscous according to whatever the box says.  Make sure you get the Israeli kind that looks like pasta pearls, not the tiny kind that looks like seedy sand.  They will probably tell you to toast the couscous, then boil and drain it.  Feel free to skip the toast part -- I never have the energy for that step and it still tastes just fine.
  3. Lay the couscous in a bed at the bottom of deep dish bowl and let it cool off.  Later, you'll be making stripey layers on top of the couscous with each of the ingredients.  This may seem unnecessary, but it is not.  Organized food tastes better.
  4. Chop up the smoked salmon.  This is the best part of the salad.  If you don't like salmon, get over it.  It's the bacon of the sea.  If you do, it's up to you how much to spend here, but since you'll be eating it with a whole bunch of other stuff, no one will know if you buy the cheaper packaged kind.
  5. Cut all the grape tomatoes into fourths so the pieces are small and will blend in with the rest of the chopped salad.  If you can't find grape, use cherry and cut into eighths, but beware those have more greenish oozy tomato guts inside.
  6. Open (and drain) the can of corn, the dried fruit, the cheese, and the sunflower seeds.  Feel free to substitute anything you want here, but you're looking for a mix of sweet (corn), sweet chewy (fruit), salty (cheese), and salty crunchy (seeds).  Also, use these in any amount you like.  I added measurements because this is a recipe, but the truth is I never use them when I cook.  Or assemble pretty salads.
  7. Remember those stripey layers I mentioned in Step 3?  Now's the time to make them.  Start with the salmon down the center and build out from there.  You should be able to fit 7 in total, including one for a peek at the couscous that lies underneath.
  8. Now bring this to the table and let your friends and family oooh and ahhh.  Take a victory lap. You earned it!  Incidentally, this is how they do it in the restaurant, too.
  9. Last step is to mix it all up, tableside. Pour the creamy guacamole ranch dressing on top and go to town.  Yes, I said, "creamy," as in fatty -- skinny cooks can't be trusted.  If you can't find the guacamole kind of ranch, get some guacamole and mix it with some good old-fashioned ranch.  It's really not complicated.
  10. Now chow down. Shouting "Yee Haw!" with a mouthful of food is 100% optional. You should probably chew and swallow first.

So, is a salad really a salad if it doesn't contain anything green? 

And can you seriously not wait to make this at home?  Go!  Do it.  Then mosey on over to the comments and tell me how it was.

tags: food


Jessica said...

This salad loos delicious will totally try it!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I've been to that restaurant in Old Town and had that salad. It is as delicious and famous as she says :)

Anonymous said...