Middle Eastern Squash and Lentil Pasta Salad

You guys know how I like to take soup in my “brown bag” lunch, but in the summer, with so many fresh veggies, I was ready for a change-up. Pasta salad is pretty much a summertime staple.

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By way of vegetables, I had yellow squash, sweet peppers, swiss chard and onions to throw in. I wanted to add some fiber and protein so this pasta salad would be filling for lunch, so I decided to take this recipe to the Middle East and use lentils and feta cheese. Middle Eastern food is so full of fresh veggies and bold flavors, and although pasta salad isn’t a traditional dish, it made the perfect blank canvas for an easy Middle Eastern lunch.

Middle Eastern Squash and Lentil Pasta Salad (6 generous servings)

  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 small sweet peppers, diced
  • 1 medium squash, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard, leaves and stems cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 c. uncooked lentils
  • 8 oz. uncooked penne pasta
  • 6 oz. feta cheese
  • 1/3 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tb dijon mustard
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can of whole black olives, cut in half
  • 1/4 c. parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tb. za’taar

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper and garlic, and stir well. Cook until the onion begins to soften, stirring often to keep the garlic from burning. Add the squash and the stems from the swiss chard. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the squash and stems are a little soft. Add the swiss chard leaves and stir well. Turn off the heat. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce an and add the lentils. Cook about 15 minutes until tender. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar to a large bowl, then add the dijon mustard. Slowly drizzle in the 1/4 olive oil while whisking to emulsify the mixture. Add the pasta to the oil mixture, then add the rest of the ingredients except salt and pepper. Stir well. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Look at this gorgeous purple pepper!

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Za’taar is an Arabic spice blend made from oregano, thyme, sesame seeds and a bunch of other stuff. You can find it in international food stores, and well-stocked grocery stores. I got mine from a friend who ordered a huge amount from Amazon. It doesn’t look like it’s available right now.

This gets better after it sits for a few hours. With the lentils, vegetables and cheese, it’s pretty much a total package for lunch. You could even use whole wheat pasta to up the fiber if that’s you’re thing. Even without, it’s a healthy, filling and especially tasty lunch channeling the flavors of the Middle East.

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