Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad – Sesame pasta salad with mandarin oranges & a tangy Asian-inspired dressing make this the perfect summer recipe! (Gluten-Free)
Now that it’s hot out, all I want is easy, light dinners! And in the summer, that’s often a big, fully-loaded salad. Yum!
If you’ve been here a minute, this salad may look a little familiar to you. It is! This mandarin pasta salad recipe is the pasta salad take on our Sesame Chicken Salad.
Loaded with goodies like mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, tender chicken & our tangy dressing, this sesame chicken pasta salad is a perfect summer meal or side dish. It’s great for potlucks & barbecues (no mayo sitting in the sun!), and it’s layered with fresh flavors that taste delightful on a hot day.
Best of all, it’s REALLY easy to put together, even if this is your first time making gluten-free pasta salad.
Here’s all you need to get started on our gluten-free mandarin pasta salad recipe…
Here’s What Goes Into Our Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad:
- Gluten-Free Pasta (Or Regular Pasta!). We’re gluten-free, so this sesame chicken pasta salad recipe starts with gluten-free pasta. We recommend a small shape, like bowties (farfalle) or spirals (rotini). Jovial is our favorite brand.
- Spring Mix or Spinach. Next is some greens! I like using spring mix here for its blend of tender, colorful lettuce in dark greens and purples + baby spinach leaves. Feel free to swap in all baby spinach, or go for something crunchier, like Romaine (which will have less color).
- Cooked Cubed Chicken. For some protein, this is a great way to use up some leftover cooked chicken. Rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken works great. You can even use this sesame chicken marinade for extra flavor!
- Mandarin Oranges. Next up is some mandarin orange segments packed in juice. I prefer the juice-packed oranges because they’ve still got some of their natural tanginess and the sweetness isn’t cloying. It’s exactly the flavor we’re going for in this mandarin pasta salad!
- Toasted Almonds. I love the crunch of some toasted almonds! It only takes a few minutes to toast almonds, but it makes a HUGE impact in flavor!
- Cilantro. I like plenty of cilantro in this asian-inspired pasta salad, but if it’s not your jam, you can skip it.
- Green Onion. For a savory note, I use green onion. I love that it’s less sharp and biting than other kinds of raw onion, and the green adds even more beautiful color to this gluten-free pasta salad recipe.
- Our Easy Asian Dressing. Then, you’ll finish the salad with an asian-inspired dressing made from gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos, rice vinegar, ginger, toasted sesame oil, and a little pure maple syrup.
- Sesame Seeds. Then you’ll finish this sesame pasta salad off with some sesame seeds! I love that final little crunch, and a visual representation of the flavors of the salad.
How To Make Sesame Pasta Salad Step By Step:
- Start By Cooking The Pasta. Cook your pasta according to the package directions, making sure that the pasta is soft rather than al dente (with a little bite), since gluten-free pasta hardens up a bit when cold. Drain & cool the pasta a bit by rinsing with cold water.
- While The Pasta Cooks, Mix Up Your Dressing. In a mason jar or small mixing bowl, combine rice vinegar, tamari or coconut aminos, avocado oil, sesame oil, pure maple syrup, and ginger. Whisk or shake until totally combined. Set aside for later. (Dressing can be made in advance and will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.)
- Assemble The Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad. In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, spring mix, chicken, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, cilantro, green onion & avocado (if using).
- Add The Dressing. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and gently toss to combine & coat with dressing.
- Top With Sesame Seeds. Sprinkle with sesame seeds & serve.
Making This Salad In Advance? Wait To Add The Dressing! If you’d like to make our gluten-free mandarin pasta salad in advance, we recommend waiting to add the dressing until just a few minutes before serving for best results. Otherwise, the greens can begin to wilt and the almonds will soften somewhat.
FAQ + Tips And Tricks For The Best Mandarin Pasta Salad:
What Are The Best Gluten-Free Noodles For Pasta Salad? We’ve had good luck with corn & rice pastas and brown rice pasta. I don’t care for quinoa or bean pastas for pasta salad. We recommend Jovial brand farfalle or rotini (cooked an extra minute or two for softness), or Barilla corn & rice pastas. I like smaller shapes that are easy to eat with a fork, like spirals (rotini) or bowtie pasta (farfalle). If you can find it La Veneziene brand is delicious!
Make It Vegan & Vegetarian! Prefer to make this sesame pasta salad meatless? No problem! Just skip the chicken! It’s still fresh, light, and majorly satisfying.
Use LOW SODIUM tamari! Any recipe that uses tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) can easily get too salty for some folks. I recommend using low sodium tamari or coconut aminos (which is even lower in sodium) for best results. If you’re salt sensitive or tend to find foods saltier than others do, you can even start with less tamari & add more till you reach your perfect ratio.
Dress The Salad Right Before Serving For Best Results. One more plug here for waiting to dress this salad until right before serving—it’ll give the salad the best flavor and texture if you wait. (No soggy lettuce or almonds!)
More Mix-Ins To Try.
Feel free to play with our basic sesame chicken pasta salad recipe by adding more veggies, goodies & mix-ins:
- Red Bell Pepper
- Edamame or Sugar Snap Peas (cut into bite-sized pieces)
- Grated Carrots
- Swap the toasted almonds for cashews
- Add fresh garlic or ginger to the dressing with the other dressing ingredients