We are now entering pasta salad season, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. Easy to assemble and delicious at room temperature, at first glance you might think that pasta salads are perfect in bentos. There are a few things to watch out for though, in order to make sure that your salad is as safe as it is delicious at lunchtime. I also have a super-easy Chickpea and Pasta Salad recipe that is very bento-friendly; t’s vegetarian (easily converted to being vegan), to fit in with the theme for this month .
A lot of people probably make a pasta salad for dinner, and bring the leftovers for lunch the next day, since it’s so easy to make a little extra. If you do this, the following safety tips are particularly important.
This is a very easy, bento-friendly vegetarian pasta salad. It’s bento-friendly since it has no mayonnaise or onions in it. It becomes a vegan salad just by omitting the goat cheese.
This makes about 4 cups of salad, enough for 2 bentos (or 1 very generous bento.) However, you could make a quantity of the marinated chickpeas and store it in the refrigerator for a few days.
The marinated chickpeas:
Drain and (if you’re using canned) rinse the chickpeas. Pat dry with paper towels. Combine all the ingredients and toss well. Let marinate, covered, in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4-5 days.
For the salad:
Cook the pasta in salted water (the method using just a little water  works well here). Add the snow peas at the last minute or two to cook them too.
While the pasta is cooking, cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Cut or crumble the goat cheese.
Drain the pasta well, and take out the snow peas. Slice the snow peas into slivers.
Toss the still hot pasta with the marinated chickpeas, including the marinade (take out the raw garlic). Add the tomatoes and toss more. Since the pasta is warm, it will slightly ‘cook’ the tomatoes, making a sort of sauce. Add the cheese and the snow peas, and taste to see if you need to add any seasoning (a little extra grind of pepper may be needed). Let cool completely. (Putting it into a metal tray or bowl will help to cool it down faster.)
Make sure the lettuce leaves are completely dry (pat dry if needed with kitchen or paper towels) and line your bento box. Add the pasta salad and the optional radishes.
I used the type of radish called French Breakfast in the U.S. here - they have a sort of watercolor quality about them, which make them much prettier I think than regular round radishes (though I love those too). I cut them into little tulips, by making little diagonal cuts into the middle of each, in the way devilled eggs are often cut. After cutting, I salted them lightly (which enhances the flavor while cutting the sharpness a bit), and packed them into the corner of the bento. I didn’t mix them into the pasta salad because the radishes do exude some moisture.
If you don’t want to bother with cutting the tulip shapes, just slice the radishes - or even leave them whole.
(Incidentally, it’s tough photographing pasta salads so that they don’t look like a mess! This one looks a bit messy, but it is tasty I promise.)