• Save
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Print

How to Make DIY Pasta Salad with Whatever’s On Hand

Updated May 23, 2019
How to Make DIY Pasta Salad Using Any Ingredients
Need a lazy-summer meal to fall back on? Memorize Betty’s DIY framework, and you’ll always have a cold dinner to beat the heat.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could skip the store and still whip up an all-in-one meal or hearty side to go with whatever’s on the grill? That was the idea that inspired this foolproof framework for making a DIY pasta salad using a box of Betty Crocker’s Suddenly Salad™ classic and the kitchen staples you’ve got around.

The framework

Making a DIY pasta salad is as simple as adding the right ratio of dressing seasonings (like dried herbs, condiments, sauces) to mix-ins (like cooked proteins, fruits and vegetables) to finishing touches (like cheeses, nuts, dried fruits). The Betty Crocker Test Kitchens designed the framework below to work with a wide variety of ingredients.

pasta salad framework

  1. Cook Suddenly Salad, per package directions. Drain pasta. Rinse with cold water; drain well.
  2. Make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine pasta salad seasoning packet and ¼ teaspoon to 3 tablespoons seasonings (herbs, condiments, sauces of your choice!) with 3 tablespoons of cold water and 2 tablespoons oil (canola, vegetable, olive) to make a vinaigrette-style dressing. Or for a creamy dressing, do the same but replace the oil with mayonnaise. Stir or whisk to combine.
  3. Mix the salad. Add pasta and 3 to 4 cups mix-ins (proteins, fruits and veggies of your choice) together with the ¼ to ½ cup finishing touches (cheeses, nuts and more); toss to combine.
  4. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The ingredients

So now that you know the framework, it’s time for the fun part: making your own version. To help you get started, here’s a list of dressing seasonings, mix-ins and finishing touches that taste great in pasta salad.

Dressing seasonings

  • These high-impact ingredients are most likely to be found in your spice cabinet or among your condiment collection.
  • You’ll only need ¼ teaspoon to 3 tablespoons of these types of seasonings—amount needed will depending on the intensity of the ingredient.
  • Think about using dry herbs and spices, like chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper.
  • Don’t overlook condiments, like Sriracha and mustard. Add sweetness with honey, brightness with lemon or lime juice and umami with soy or Worcestershire sauce.
  • Remember, you can mix and match flavors—think about flavor combinations you like in other dishes and riff on those.


These ingredients make up the heart of your salad and you’ll need 3 to 4 cups total. We think using 1 ½ to 2 cups cooked proteins and 1 ½ to 2 cups fruits and/or vegetables is just about perfect but you do you.

Cooked proteins

  • For a satisfying dish, you’ll want 1 ½ to 2 cups of protein. This will allow for even distribution throughout the salad.
  • This is a perfect way to use up leftover rotisserie chicken. Turkey, ham, bacon, salami, pepperoni, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs or beans (drained and rinsed, if they’re canned) are also great.
  • Mix and match proteins in combinations you enjoy and remember meats will integrate better if they are chopped, shredded or cut into strips.

Vegetables and/or fruits

  • To ensure you get a bit of fruit or veg in each bite, you’ll want 1 ½ to 2 cups of cubed or diced ingredients.
  • Rather than make a special trip to the store, this is a great opportunity to use up odds and ends from your crisper drawer.
  • Some great options to get you started, include: bell peppers, celery, greens (spinach, romaine, arugula and everything in between), cauliflower, green beans, carrots, green onion, corn, tomatoes and zucchini.

Finishing touches

  • Like the cherry on your ice cream sundae, these ingredients take your pasta salad to the next level.
  • You’ll need about ¼ to ½ cup of these ingredients and don’t be afraid to mix and match.
  • Think about cheeses (crumbled, shredded or cubed), chopped fresh herbs, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, croutons and tortilla strips.

The method

Want to give it a whirl? Follow the directions for Betty’s hit Hawaiian Ham and Bacon Pasta Salad, which was created using the DIY Pasta Salad framework.

Hawaiian Pasta Salad

What You’ll Need:

Hawaiian Pasta Salad ingredients

1.  Pour pasta into 3-quart saucepan 2/3 full of boiling water. Gently boil uncovered 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta. Rinse with cold water; drain well.

suddenly salad

2.  In large bowl, stir together seasoning packet, mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons reserved pineapple juice to make dressing.

whisking seasoning, mayo and pineapple juice

3.  Add pasta, ham, bacon, spinach, pineapple, green onions, jalapeño chile and cheese to dressing mixture in bowl; toss gently to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until serving.

ingredients for Hawaiian pasta salad

Need-to-know tips

Now that you see how this framework can be applied, use it as a starting point to create a salad tailored to your family’s tastes. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you create your own:

Substitution tips

  • Instead of oil and water, try replacing with your favorite Italian vinaigrette and mix with the seasoning packet for additional flavor in your salad.
  • If you’re not a fan of mayo, substitute whole-milk Greek yogurt. Or substitute up to half the mayo with sour cream. Since sour cream has less than half the calories of mayonnaise—2 tablespoons of sour cream equals 60 calories, versus 180 calories in the same amount of mayonnaise—this substitution will also lower calorie count and add a bit of tanginess. Similarly, Greek yogurt will add tangy flavor and reduce calorie count even further—2 tablespoons equals 24 calories.

Make-ahead tips

  • Prep your ingredients ahead, so it only takes a quick toss to assemble. Or, assemble the whole salad ahead and refrigerate. Letting the salad rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving will allow the flavors to develop.
  • If the salad seems dry after refrigerating, add milk to creamy salad dressings and oil to vinaigrette-style dressings. Add one teaspoon at a time stirring after each addition to ensure that you add just the right amount. Mix well before serving.
  • Some ingredients should be stirred into salad right before serving. For example, avocado will turn brown if added too early and croutons will become soggy.

Cooking tips

  • Some vegetables, like asparagus and green beans, taste better and have a more appealing texture after being blanched. To blanch, add vegetables to salted boiling water until they turn a more vibrant color—usually only a couple of minutes or less. Then, cool in an ice bath.
  • For food safety reasons, cook any frozen vegetables per package directions. Then cool before adding to the salad.
  • Toasting nuts brings out extra flavor and crunch. You can toast nuts in the oven or on your cooktop. For oven toasting, set heat to 350F. Spread the nuts in an ungreased, shallow pan. Bake uncovered for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Alternately, sprinkle nuts in an ungreased skillet and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until nuts just begin to brown. Nuts can burn easily so remain attentive while toasting.

Try it out

If you’re not sure about diving right in with your own ingredients, try the pasta salad recipes below. Both were developed using the DIY framework and are completely foolproof.