The only pasta salad recipe you'll ever need

Tribune News ServiceThai-inspired ingredients, including pork jerky, fish sauce vinaigrette and Thai lime leaves, elevate this pasta salad.

Onions may seem a perennial ingredient since they’re available all year, but red onions taste especially fresh and crisp now. We’re nearing the end of the harvest, but these purple bulbs are still coming straight out of the ground and into our kitchens. That means they don’t have the harsh bite, dry petals or papery skins that older onions develop.

To highlight red onions’ mild sweetness and crunch, I toss thin slivers raw into pasta salad. They turn it into a dish I actually like.

Normally, I have a love-hate relationship with pasta salad. It’s everything I need — fast, easy, make-ahead, portable, big-batch — and not what I want. At least not in its usual form. The cold noodles are too hard or too soft, too bland, or too gloppy.

Here, they’re just right. When tossed warm with a Thai-inspired fish sauce vinaigrette, the pasta stays tender and soaks up the sauce’s spicy, savory tang. Red onion and crinkles of red cabbage brighten the mix, while pork jerky, a snack that is quickly becoming a pantry staple, adds heft and saves you the hassle of cooking meat.

This salad is delicious with any pork or beef jerky, especially Asian-flavored varieties. For the tastiest version, seek out freshly made, deep-fried pork jerky at your local Thai market. While you’re there, get fresh Thai lime leaves. They deliver an herbaceous bite without the risk of wilting like most leafy herbs. If you can’t find them, substitute the freshly grated zest of a lime or two very thinly sliced fresh bay leaves.

 

THAI PORK JERKY PASTA SALAD

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 6-8

Kosher salt

1 pound fusilli or other short pasta

3 Thai bird or other small hot chiles, seeded, if desired, and minced

5 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

3 tablespoons fish sauce

11/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces pork jerky, preferably Thai, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1/2 small red cabbage, diced

8 fresh Thai lime leaves, veins removed and very thinly sliced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package’s directions.

While the pasta cooks, whisk the chiles, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and olive oil in a large bowl. Drain the pasta in a colander, and rinse under cold water until just warm. Shake dry in the colander, then immediately transfer to the sauce. Toss until well-coated.

Add the jerky, onion, cabbage and lime leaves. Mix well, and serve.

The pasta salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature to serve.

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