This easy Greek Pasta Salad packed with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion is an instant favorite.
Growing up, there were basically two kinds of pasta salad that showed up at summer gatherings. One was made with a bottle of Italian dressing. The other with a jar of mayonnaise. There was nothing wrong with either version, but they also weren't exciting.
That all changes with this Greek Pasta Salad. It's fresh, crunchy, full of flavor, and exciting with pops of feta cheese, black olives, oregano, and pepperoncini peppers. It's a pasta salad that takes center stage instead of being a mandatory side dish. In fact, with some grilled chicken or fish, it works great as a main course.
If you love Greek salad as much as I do, this is a recipe you will love. The salty feta cheese, crispy cucumbers, sweet tomatoes, briny olives, and herby oregano - it all just works. You'll notice I also add some pepperoncini for a hint of spice and my secret weapon - a bit of pepperoncini liquid in the dressing. It adds some extra punch to the dressing.
How to make Greek dressing?
The dressing really makes this salad and brings all the ingredients together. It's relatively simple but the bright taste of the lemon and the zippy red wine vinegar bring out all the fresh flavors in the vegetables. And you can't have a Greek salad without lots of oregano.
- 1/4 cup olive oil or 1/4 cup Greek yogurt/light mayo with 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp pepperoncini liquid (or lemon juice)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- Salt and pepper
Tips for Making Pasta Salad
For what seems like a relatively straight forward recipe, there are some common issues that people face when making pasta salad. Most of these start with hard or broken pasta. Here's what you need to do.
- Slightly overcook the pasta and then cool it down immediately: One complaint that I commonly hear about pasta salad is that the pasta gets hard and sometimes breaks. To prevent this, slightly overcook the pasta so it is right beyond al dente. Just a minute or two extra. Then drain it and run it under cold water (or add ice) to cool it down. If you are making the pasta ahead of time, toss it with a little oil so it doesn't stick together.
- Choose short pasta shapes with texture: For the best flavor, choose a short pasta shape that can soak up some of the dressing. Think penne, rotini, farfalle, or elbows.
- High-quality ingredients: This Greek pasta salad gets a lot of its flavor from the olives, feta cheese, and pepperoncini peppers. For that reason, make sure to choose ingredients that are really flavorful. I like to choose feta packed in brine over crumbled feta since it has more flavor. Choose a great-tasting olive, like Kalamata, over sliced canned black olives. Choose brands that you would eat on their own.
- Dress right before serving: There is nothing worse than a big pool of dressing at the bottom of the bowl. With oil-based dressings, I like to dress the pasta salad right before serving it. If you make the creamy version, you can dress it ahead of time and leave it in the fridge.
Recipe Ideas and Variations
- Switch up the pasta: One of the easiest ways to switch up the flavor of this pasta salad is by using different pasta. Think tortellini, gnocchi (surprisingly good in pasta salad), orzo, or whole wheat pasta. It will also work with zucchini noodles.
- Add chicken, shrimp, or salmon: To make this heartier or turn it into a main dish, add some protein. Favorites include grilled chicken, garlic shrimp, or salmon. For an easier option, use a rotisserie chicken, canned tuna, or cooked shrimp cocktail.
- Add chickpeas: For a vegetarian protein source, consider adding some canned chickpeas. Rinse them well before adding to make sure they don't have a tinny flavor. If you have time, marinate them in the dressing before adding them to the salad.
- Make it creamy: For a creamy salad, add some Greek yogurt or light mayonnaise to the dressing.
- Turn it into a bowl: Make some grilled chicken and turn this into a delicious Greek Chicken Bowl with pasta instead of quinoa.
Can I use store-bought Greek dressing?
Sure! If you don't want to make your own dressing, you can use a store-bought option. Look for one that is flavorful and doesn't have any added sugar, which isn't needed in Greek dressing. Both vinaigrette versions and creamy versions will work.
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Greek Pasta Salad
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- 3 cups cooked pasta
- 1 English cucumber, chopped
- 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 green pepper, sliced
- 1/4 red onion, sliced thin (more to taste)
- 1/4 cup pepperoncini, chopped
- 3/4 cup feta cheese, cubed
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1.5 tbsp pepperoncini liquid (or lemon juice)
- 1.5 tsp dried oregano
- 1.5 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
- Salt and pepper
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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