Cold noodle salad with a Mediterranean twist! Chewy rice noodles and crunchy colorful vegetables are tossed in a creamy, nutty tahini dressing with plenty of warm spices to make a quick and easy dinner salad. Plus, learn how to make rice noodles perfectly, so they aren’t clumpy or gummy!
I love Asian-style cold noodle salads, brimming with chopped vegetables and tossed in a creamy peanut sauce. It’s one of my favorite things to order when we eat out, but when I’m at home I add a Mediterranean twist by swapping out peanuts for allergy friendly tahini! The best part is this healthy, vegan, gluten-free dinner salad is ready in 15 minutes.
While a typical noodle salad has quintessentially Asian ingredients like rice vinegar and soy sauce, I took a different approach for this recipe. Asian rice or soba noodles are quickly cooked until tender, and then tossed in a decidedly Mediterranean dressing. While there are plenty of nods to this recipe’s Asian inspiration — ginger, garlic, and lime juice — I used the sesame-forward flavor of tahini paste to add a little twist!
If you need a peanut substitute or want to try something a little different but just as flavor-packed, this noodle salad recipe is your ticket! Keep it vegan for a light meal or add pan-seared salmon, grilled shrimp, or turkey meatballs for extra protein.
In this post
Ingredients you’ll need
To make this vegan noodle salad, you’ll need noodles, a variety of colorful vegetables, and the tahini dressing. Here’s everything you’ll need to get started:
For this salad, my favorite noodles are rice or soba noodles.
Rice noodles are a white noodle made from, you guessed it, rice! They have a neutral flavor and kind of sit in the background of the other flavors you pair it with.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat, and have a lovely nutty taste, which works well with the nutty flavor of tahini paste. Despite the name, buckwheat doesn't contain any actual wheat and is gluten free. Soba noodles are also the more nutritious option: 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of cooked soba noodles has 5.1 grams of protein, for example, and it is also a complete protein (which means it contains all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce).
Other types of noodles you can use in this salad include:
- glass noodles
- mung bean noodles
- angel hair pasta
Noodle salad dressing with tahini
The tahini-based dressing is what adds the Mediterranean twist to this otherwise Asian-inspired salad. Tahini is a rich and creamy paste made from a single ingredient: roasted sesame seeds. Most people know it because it adds the creamy, nutty flavor to hummus.
It’s the perfect swap for peanut butter in this recipe because it provides the nutty flavor and creamy texture you crave without the allergen risk. Even if allergies aren’t a concern in your family, the shift in flavor profile from peanuts to sesame seeds is a fun way to switch things up! Here, the noodle salad dressing combines tahini with lime juice, fresh garlic, and spices to give the salad a Mediterranean flair.
Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Tahini - Quality tahini takes the place of peanut butter in the creamy noodle salad dressing. Nutty and nutritious, you need a good ⅔ cup of tahini to properly coat all the noodles.
- Lime - You’ll need lime juice and zest to add some acidity and to brighten up the earthy tahini.
- White vinegar - Just a teaspoon or two of distilled white vinegar adds a nice tang and a little more acidity to cut the richness of the tahini.
- Red chile flakes - If you like some heat, don’t skip the red chile flakes! For a milder option, use Aleppo-style pepper instead.
- Garlic and ginger - These spices add warmth and flavor, and are also a nod to this salad recipe’s Asian inspiration.
- Extra virgin olive oil - Our Spanish Hojiblanca EVOO is my favorite in this salad dressing because it is robust and ever so slightly peppery.
Color and crunch are important elements for the vegetables in this rice noodle salad, especially to add interest when contrasted with the chewy noodles. I used scallions, carrots, and radishes in my noodle salad, but you can use your favorite crunchy vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, bell peppers, and red onions would all be delicious options. I also added chopped cilantro for a peppery bite and a good amount of slivered almonds for even more texture and nutrition.
How to make it
This simple dinner salad comes together in 15 minutes or less. Here’s how to make it (the print-friendly recipe with ingredient measurements is below):
- Cook the noodles. Cook 6 ounces of noodles of your choice (lots of options suggested above) in generously salted water until tender and chewy. Rice noodles are my favorite here, and they take 3 to 5 minutes to cook. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Keep the noodles in the strainer while you work on the salad dressing.
- Make the noodle salad dressing. Grab a large mixing bowl and whisk together ⅔ cup tahini, the juice and zest of 1 lime, 1 to 2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar, and a little cold water (start with 1 tablespoon). Add kosher salt, black pepper, 1 or 2 teaspoons red chile flakes or Aleppo pepper, and whisk again. You can also add 1 teaspoon cumin to add even more depth of flavor. Keep whisking, adding more cold water a little bit at a time, until you have the consistency of a creamy dressing. (It should be slightly runny and not too thick.) Add 1 clove minced or grated garlic and 1-inch fresh ginger that’s been grated. Drizzle about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and mix. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Make the cold noodle salad. Drop the strained noodles into the bowl with the tahini salad dressing. Toss well with a pair of tongs so that the noodles are properly coated in the dressing.
- Add the vegetables: 3 chopped green onions, 1 or 2 peeled and chopped carrots, and 2 to 3 thinly sliced radishes. Add about a cup of chopped cilantro and toss well again. Sprinkle ½ cup slivered almonds on top. Serve the salad immediately with lime wedges on the side.
Tips for the best noodle salad
Making perfect noodles every time requires a little knowhow. It’s not uncommon for people to end up with clumpy or gummy noodle salad, but there is hope! Just follow the steps below for silky, slippery noodles every time!
- Rinse the noodles: Once the noodles are tender (sort of like al dente pasta), immediately dump them into a strainer and rinse them thoroughly with cold water while swishing them around. I only rinse my noodles after cooking when I’m making cold noodle salad, and especially when using rice noodles. Rinsing the noodles will remove the surface starch, which is the main culprit in gummy noodles. Rinse them for a good minute or two, until the noodles have cooled almost completely. This also stops the cooking process so they don’t become too soft.
- Toss the noodles in some olive oil. If you need to, drizzle a little EVOO over the noodles in the strainer and toss (or add the oil as you toss the noodles with the dressing and veggies). The thin coating of oil will stop the noodle strands from sticking together. This is particularly helpful if the noodles sit for a while as you’re working on other things.
- Serve the cold noodle salad immediately. Once you toss all the salad ingredients together, you should enjoy the salad immediately. The longer the noodles sit in the dressing, the more they will clump up and become gluey. The tahini dressing will also become thicker and thicker as it sits. (But if you have leftovers, you can toss them with a little more olive oil and a drizzle of tahini the next day.)
Serve it with
I love this salad recipe because it’s filling, allergy friendly, and vegan, which makes it perfect for weeknights or to quickly toss together for unexpected guests.
Cold noodle salad is great on its own but it's also an easy starting point to build into your own creation. If you want to keep it vegan but need a little more protein, throw in some cooked chickpeas or these vegan lentil meatballs. But you can also pair this salad with other things like baked chicken breasts or my easy green goddess chicken (the flavors go so well with this salad), grilled salmon, sautéed shrimp, or even fish sticks.
How to store leftover noodle salad
We never have leftovers of this at my house, but if your household is smaller or you served it as part of a larger spread you'll want to follow a few rules when storing noodle salad.
- Keep the noodles, tahini dressing, and veggies separate, and only toss together as much as you will eat.
- Store leftover rice noodles in a shallow airtight container. It’s a good idea to toss them with a little extra virgin olive oil before refrigerating to prevent the noodles from sticking together.
- The tahini salad dressing will keep in an airtight container or tightly closed Mason jar for up to 4 days. It will thicken up in the fridge, so just whisk in a little cold water to loosen it before use.
- The prepared carrots and radishes will keep for up to 4 days in a tight lid container. Green onions will only stay crisp for about 2 days after being chopped.
More pasta salad recipes
Cold Noodle Salad with Creamy Tahini Dressing
- 6 ounces rice noodles or soba noodles
- 3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
- 1 to 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 to 3 radishes, thinly sliced
- ½ to 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup toasted slivered almonds
- Lime wedges for serving
For the dressing
- Cook the noodles in salted water according to package instructions until nearly tender (I used rice noodles, which cook in about 3 to 5 minutes). Drain the pasta and rinse it under cool water for two minutes moving the noodles around as you do it.
- Work on the dressing. In a large bowl, combine the tahini with the lime juice, vinegar, and a little bit of cold water (start with 1 tablespoon). Season with kosher salt, black pepper, and red chili flakes (or Aleppo pepper). Whisk, adding a little more water as needed until the tahini loosens to the consistency of a creamy dressing. Add the garlic, grated ginger, and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
- Give the pasta another rinse under cold water to loosen it (rice noodles can especially get sticky and clumpy). Drain.
- Add the noodles to the bowl with the tahini dressing. Toss with a pair of tongs to coat the pasta. Add the chopped veggies, cilantro, and toasted slivered almonds. Toss again until well combined.
- Taste and adjust seasoning, and if you need another drizzle of olive oil to loosen the salad, add that. Serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.
- What noodles to use? Rice noodles, soba noodles, glass noodles, mung bean noodles, udon, or even angel hair pasta would work!
- What vegetables to use? I used scallions, carrots, and radishes. But feel free to use whatever crunchy veggies you'd like! Broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, bell peppers, and red onions would all be delicious options.
- Tips for silky noodles that don't clump up: Once the noodles are tender, drop them into a strainer and immediately rinse with cold water while swishing them around. This will remove the surface starch, which causes clumping. If the noodles will be sitting without any dressing while you work on other things, toss them with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Oil will coat the strands lightly and prevent them from sticking together.
- Serve this noodle salad with: While great on its own, this cold noodle salad is a great starting point to make the recipe your own. For more vegan protein, toss in some cooked chickpeas or these vegan lentil meatballs. But you can also add baked chicken breasts or my easy green goddess chicken (the flavors go so well with this salad), grilled salmon, or even fish sticks.
- How to store leftovers: Keep the salad components separate, and only toss together as much as you will eat. Leftover rice noodles should be stored in a shallow airtight contained in the fridge. Toss them with a little extra virgin olive oil beforehand to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Store the tahini salad dressing in an airtight container or tightly closed Mason jar for up to 4 days. It will thicken up, so just whisk in a little cold water before use. The prepared carrots and radishes can be stored for up to 4 days in an airtight container. Green onions will only stay crisp for about 2 days after being chopped.
- Visit our Shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oils, organic spices, and more.