Late Summer Pasta Salad with Curried Tahini Yogurt Sauce

September 11, 2008 at 7:17 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Cruciferous rich, Pasta, Peter Berley, Sauce/dressing, Starches, Vegetable dishes) ()

I make this pasta salad (adapted from a recipe in Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen) a couple of times every summer.   It’s not the most exciting recipe in the world, but it’s reasonably tasty and full of veggies—broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, and herbs. The sauce is made from yogurt and tahini, and is creamy without being greasy or overly rich. Although it’s flavored with curry spices, it tastes more co-op than Indian.  With its bright yellow slightly goopy sauce, the dish won’t win any beauty contests.  Nonetheless, it makes a healthy one-dish dinner, and the leftovers make a great lunch to bring to work. Below is my version of Berley’s recipe, with my own game plan.

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. aleppo pepper (or use chili flakes for a hotter dish)
  • 1/4 tsp. fine salt + 2 Tbs. salt for the pasta water
  • 82g plain yogurt (1/3 cup)
  • 80g tahini (1/3 cup)
  • 45g lemon juice (about 3 Tbsp.)
  • 30g water (about 2 Tbsp; omit or reduce if your veggies and pasta aren’t well drained–see note)

Salad ingredients:

  • 1 head broccoli, stems sliced thinly, tops cut into small florets (about 1 pound)
  • 3/4 pound string beans, snapped and halved  (about 3 to 4 cups)
  • 10 ounces whole wheat chunky pasta, like penne, rigatoni, medium shells, etc. (anywhere from 8 – 12 ounces works okay)
  • 2 – 3 cups cherry tomatoes or coarsely chopped tomatoes (about 12-14 ounces?)
  • 1/2 cup chopped mint, cilantro or parsley (I prefer mint, or a mix of all three.  I’ve also added some dill and savory.)
  • fresh black pepper to taste


  1. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large (5- to 6-quart) pot. (But I think 4 quarts is too much for a 5-quart pot? Maybe only 3 quarts is needed, and will prevent an overflow.)
  2. Meanwhile, chop the garlic and measure out the spices.
  3. In a small skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and turmeric and saute for 30 seconds.  Transfer the mixture to a very large bowl (the bowl you plan to serve the salad in).  Mix in the aleppo pepper, salt, yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, and water (if using).
  4. When the water comes to a boil add 2 Tbs. salt.  When the water returns to a boil add the broccoli stems and the string beans. Cook for 1 minute then add the rest of the broccoli and blanch for 3 minutes, until the vegetables are starting to get tender but still pretty crisp.  (Note that after three minutes the water won’t have come back to a boil, and the veggies will still seem a little raw, but remove them anyway.  They’ll keep cooking as they cool and end up perfectly al dente.)  Use a slotted spoon or sieve to remove the vegetables, and set them in a large sieve to drain. Don’t pour out the cooking water!
  5. When the water returns to a boil add the pasta. Cook until al dente.
  6. While the pasta is cooking, slice the tomatoes and chop the herbs and add them to the serving bowl with the sauce, the fresh pepper, and the drained broccoli and green beans.  When the pasta is done, drain it well in the now empty colander, and then add it to the serving bowl.  Toss and serve immediately.

My notes/changes

In the original recipe I thought that the amount of sauce was excessive, so I decreased it.  I reduced the 1/2 cup of tahini and 1/2 cup of yogurt each to 1/3 cup, and the 1/2 cup water to 3 Tbs.    I also added more herbs (from 2 Tbs. to 8 Tbs.).   I left the amount of spices the same. I increased the green beans from 3/4 pound to 1 pound. These changes are already reflected in the ingredient list above.

Water:  A couple of times when I’ve made this the sauce ended up tasting a bit watered down.   If you’re not very careful about draining everything then you will need to add less (or no) water.  I suggest that you omit the water. You can always add more at the end if the sauce is too thick.

Salt:  I need to double check that 2 Tbsp. of salt is the right amount for 4 quarts of water. I think it’s correct, but maybe it’s too much? I’d rather waste less salt by using only 1 Tbsp. in the 4 quarts of cooking water (which is the ratio CI recommends for cooking pasta) and adding a bit more salt to the sauce. Or possibly adding 1 tsp. of soy sauce to the sauce.  I think just a touch of soy sauce might create a more rounded, umami flavor.  Too much and it will make the sauce taste Asian though, so be careful.

Pasta and servings:  The second time I made this I used 9 ounces of pasta, to make 4 large servings (about 3 cups each).  With a side dish this could probably be stretched to 6 smaller servings.  I thought the pasta/sauce/vegetable ratio was perfect, but Derek thought it could use more pasta.  Last time I made it we used 10.5 ounces, which again made 4 nice-sized, one-pot dinner servings.  I’ve also made it with 11 ounces of pasta, and it was good. You could probably go up to 12 ounces pasta for more of a pasta dish and less of a salad.

Spices and seasoning:  I still think it needs something to give that last bit of pizzazz, but I haven’t yet figured out what that could be.  I’ve tried adding a few walnuts to the dish, but when I bit into them the bitterness of the walnut overpowered all the other flavors in the dish.  I don’t think it was the right addition.  Derek liked the walnuts though.  Maybe if I had cut them into smaller pieces instead of just halving them? Or maybe pine nuts?

Veggies:  Other raw and cooked veggies would go with this sauce as well:  cauliflower, raw cucumber and radishes come to mind.

Rating: B+
Derek:  B+

Update July 2010: I made this recipe using 12 ounces of whole wheat penne and the larger amount of tomatoes. I served it (at room temperature) for dinner to 4 people, and had probably two servings left over.  As an appetizer I served cold cucumber soup.  For dessert we had watermelon and a cheese plate, but I was too full to eat any cheese.  It was a nice hot-weather supper.

Update August 2016: I made this recipe using one head of broccoli, almost one pound of green beans, and filled my measuring cup with sliced cherry tomatoes (so maybe 2.5 cups?). Derek thought it could use less green beans (so maybe back to the original 3/4 pound) and more broccoli.

Note:  Heidi Swanson has also blogged about this recipe.

Nutritional info

As I made the recipe last night (with 10.5 oz of pasta and only 3/4 pound green beans), 1/4 of the recipe has about 517 calories (13.3% protein, 28% fat, 59% carbs).  That’s a tad low on protein for a one-pot dinner.  I wonder what a few chickpeas would add to this dish?  It has 183% of vitamin C,  52% of folate, 35% of magnesium, 31% of iron, 30% of B6, and 29% of potassium.

When made with 9 ounces of whole wheat pasta (and different veggie amounts), the nutritional stats per serving are approximately 34% fat, 50% carbs, 16% protein:

Serving Size: 1/4 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 441
Total Fat 18g
Saturated Fat 2.7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 1mg
Sodium 334mg
Carbohydrate 58.6g
Dietary Fiber 11.4g
Sugars 6.9g
Protein 19g
Vitamin A 77% Vitamin C 179%
Calcium    17% Iron 34%


  1. Dan said,

    Thanks for the recipe! It fit this week’s Kretschmann’s box pretty well. But I substituted more string beans and some chickpeas for the broccoli, corn/quinoa elbows for the pasta (Katrina isn’t eating wheat), parsley for the cilantro, and coconut milk for the yogurt (both because we didn’t have any yogurt, and because, well, bitter dairy, you know). (When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound like I followed the recipe at all, but I felt like I was following it exactly while I was cooking! :)) It was tasty. If I made it again, I’d do an even higher veggie-to-pasta ratio.

  2. captious said,

    Glad you liked it. Even with the substitutions I bet the basic tahini/curry flavors came through. I’m not positive on the veggie/pasta ratio, as I kind of just eye-balled all my veggies, didn’t actually measure. How large is “one head of broccoli” anyway?

  3. austingardener said,

    As a gardener I can honestly say that one head of broccoli can vary between 2- 8 cups. One head means nothing.

  4. Jeff York said,

    I concur with austingardener. I’m online now trying to find an empirical equivalent to a “head of broccoli” and finding it’s about as nebulous as it gets.

  5. captious said,

    Made this this weekend. Alma (at 3.5 years) was not a fan, even though we left the herbs out of hers.

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