Skip to Content

Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad (No Mayo!)

This quick and easy Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad with a vinaigrette-style dressing can be served for lunch, as a light dinner or as a side dish. And you can make it in just 30 minutes!

Pasta shells, tuna, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and kalamata olives are tossed with a simple garlicky olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing and topped with fresh basil for a super delicious salad that’s perfect for summer!

Creamy pasta salads are great, but I also really enjoy a pasta salad without mayonnaise. And I especially love any salad that includes some protein so I can make it a meal.

Canned tuna is a staple in my pantry. It’s delicious, relatively inexpensive, and you can turn it into lots of yummy dishes like this one!

So far this summer, we’ve been eating the heck out of this fantastic no-mayo pasta salad with tuna. Inspired by the ingredients often used in Mediterranean cuisine, it’s been so refreshing as lunch or dinner on these hot and humid days.

The only cooking that needs to be done is boiling the pasta, which is quick, so you won’t be slaving over a hot stove.

Then you just chop up some veggies, drain a couple of cans of tuna, whisk up the dressing, toss everything together, and it’s done. Serve it immediately at room temperature or chill it and serve it cold, whichever you prefer.

The vinaigrette dressing really makes the salad nice and light. It adds flavor without being overwhelming, so the taste of the tuna and all those fresh veggies really shines through!

close-up of Mediterranean tuna pasta salad in a bowl

Ingredients You Need

  • Medium pasta shells
  • Canned tuna (use your favorite; I use solid white albacore tuna in water)
  • Cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes)
  • Cucumber (I use English/seedless cucumber)
  • Red onion
  • Kalamata olives (pitted)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Fresh basil

Note: Ingredient amounts are in the recipe card at the end of the post.

For those of you who would rather photos instead of a video, here’s a quick look at the steps:

Step 1: Boil the pasta shells in salted water according to the package directions.

Step 2: Drain the pasta and immediately rinse it with cold water.

Step 3: Drain the pasta well.

3 numbered images, number 1 is of pasta cooking in a pot, number 2 is of a faucet running water, and number 3 is of cooked pasta draining in a colander

Step 4: While waiting for the pasta to drain, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper; set aside.

Step 5: Place the drained pasta in a large bowl.

Step 6: Add the tuna, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and kalamata olives to the bowl with the pasta.

Step 7: Pour the dressing over the salad in the bowl.

Step 8: Toss gently until well-combined and everything is coated with the dressing. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Step 9: Top each serving with chopped fresh basil and enjoy!

Note: The above video and photos are just a brief overview of the steps. For the full printable recipe with ingredient amounts and detailed instructions, scroll down to the recipe card at the end of the post.

Recipe Tips & Tidbits:

  • To use your time most efficiently and to get this salad made in 30 minutes, prep your veggies and tuna while you are waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the pasta to cook.
  • Be sure to add salt to that pasta cooking water! The pasta will be so much more flavorful, and it will really make a difference in how your finished salad tastes.
  • Don’t skip the step of rinsing the pasta with cold water. It stops the cooking process so the pasta won’t become overcooked and mushy, and it rinses off the excess starch from the pasta so it doesn’t stick together.
  • I prefer to use solid white albacore tuna in this salad because it tends to stay in larger chunks after mixing. You can use whatever type of canned tuna you prefer, either in water or oil (drain before using).
  • Feel free to adjust the amount of any ingredient to suit your own personal tastes.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil adds another layer of flavor to this salad that you won’t get from regular or light-tasting olive oil.
  • Toss the salad gently to avoid breaking up the tuna into very small pieces (unless, of course, you don’t mind very small pieces).
  • This salad can be served immediately at room temperature or you can put it in the refrigerator for a few hours and serve it cold (this will also give it some time to let all those flavors meld).
Mediterranean tuna pasta salad in a serving bowl with a serving spoon on the side

Substitutions & Variations:

  • You can use any smaller-sized pasta shape in this salad, such as rotini, farfalle, penne, elbow macaroni, ditalini, or even orzo.
  • Not a fan of tuna? Try this salad with chicken instead (either drained canned chicken or chopped cooked chicken), or try cooked shrimp, salmon or even chickpeas or cannellini beans as your protein.
  • Regular black olives can be used instead of kalamata olives.
  • White, yellow or sweet onions can be used instead of red.
  • White wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar could be used instead of red wine vinegar.
  • Want some heat? Add some crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Other possible additions: artichokes, capers, pepperoncini, celery, fresh bell peppers or roasted red peppers.
  • You could even add some greens, such as fresh spinach or arugula.
  • And although some people might say you should never pair cheese and fish, I think some fresh mozzarella or feta cheese would be delicious in this salad.
close-up of a spoonful of Mediterranean tuna pasta salad being lifted out of the serving bowl

Make Ahead & Leftover Storage

Make Ahead

You can make this tuna pasta salad ahead of time. But for the best results, I recommend making it only a few hours ahead. Those veggies will start to lose their freshness/crispness the longer the salad sits.

Store the prepared salad in the refrigerator, covered or in an airtight container, until ready to serve.

Wait to add the basil until you serve the salad. Otherwise, it will wilt and could start to lose that nice green color.

The pasta will soak up the dressing as the salad sits in the refrigerator. You may want to make and add some extra dressing at serving time to moisten things up a bit.

Leftover Storage

Store leftover tuna pasta salad in the refrigerator, covered or in an airtight container, for up to 2 to 3 days.

The sooner you enjoy your leftovers, the better (I prefer to eat mine the next day). The longer the salad sits, the less fresh the veggies become.

And just like when making the salad ahead, the pasta will soak up the dressing, so you may want to make and add some extra when you are ready to eat the leftovers.

Mediterranean tuna pasta salad on a white plate with a fork

What to Serve with Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad

Since this salad has protein, carbs and veggies all in one bowl, you really don’t need a side dish. But I do like to pair it with some kind of bread, such as Italian bread, garlic bread, dinner rolls, breadsticks, or garlic knots.

A Note on Servings

This recipe makes about 10 cups of salad. The number of servings you get will depend on whether you are serving it as a main course or side dish and whether you are serving it alone or with other dishes.

We can easily get 4 lunches (served alone) or light dinners (served with garlic knots or other bread) out of one batch. If you’ve got some really hungry big-eaters, you might get 2 or 3. As a side dish, I think you could get at least 10.

Honestly, though, I think this salad is too good to serve as just a side dish. A spoonful or two isn’t nearly enough. You’ll definitely want a plate or bowl all to yourself!

I hope you try this Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad recipe and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

michelle signature

More Tuna Recipes to Try

More Pasta Salad Recipes to Try

If you make this recipe, I’d love to know how it went! Please leave a star rating and comment below. Thanks!

Mediterranean tuna pasta salad on a white plate with a fork

Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad

This quick and easy Mediterranean Tuna Pasta Salad with a vinaigrette-style dressing can be served for lunch, as a light dinner or as a side dish. And you can make it in just 30 minutes!
Print Pin Save Rate & Comment
Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 (for lunch or as a light dinner)
Estimated Calories: 548

Ingredients

For the Salad

  • 8 ounces medium pasta shells
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans solid white albacore tuna in water, drained well and lightly flaked (or your favorite tuna)
  • 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cups quarter-circle sliced cucumbers, peeled or partially peeled (I use English cucumber and partially peel it)
  • 1 cup chopped red onions
  • ½ cup halved pitted kalamata olives
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, for topping the salads

For the Dressing

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I use kosher salt; if using regular table salt, you may want to use half the amount)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste (freshly cracked recommended)

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta shells in boiling salted water as per the package instructions to al dente.
    To use your time most efficiently, prepare the tuna and veggies while waiting for the pasta water to boil and while the pasta cooks.
  • Drain the pasta and immediately rinse it with cold water until the pasta is no longer hot. Then drain the rinsed pasta very well so that your salad isn't watery (I give it a good shake it in the colander right after rinsing, let it sit in the colander and drain for about 5 minutes, and then give it one final shake).
    Rinsing the pasta with cold water stops the cooking process so the pasta doesn't overcook and become mushy, and it rinses away the excess starch so that the pasta doesn't stick together.
  • While waiting for the pasta to drain, make the dressing.
    In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper until well-combined; set aside.
  • Place the drained pasta in a large bowl and add the tuna, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and olives; set aside.
  • Pour the dressing over the salad in the bowl; gently toss until well-combined and everything is evenly coated with the dressing, being careful not to break up the tuna too much so you are left with some bigger pieces.
  • Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
  • Serve immediately.
    Alternately, if you'd like to serve the salad chilled, you can put it in the refrigerator for an hour or two.
  • Top each serving with chopped fresh basil and enjoy!

Notes

  • If not serving immediately, keep in mind that the pasta will soak up some or all of the dressing as the salad sits in the refrigerator. You may want to make and add some extra dressing at serving time to help moisten things up a bit. 
  • Store leftover salad covered or in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days. The sooner you enjoy the leftovers, the better, as the veggies will lose their freshness and crispness the longer they sit (I like to eat mine the next day).
  • Although the prep time is 20 minutes and the cook time is 20 minutes, the total time for the recipe is only 30 minutes because about 10 minutes of the prep time is done during the cooking time. 
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to see it!Share it on Instagram, tag @nowcookthis and use the hashtag #nowcookthisrecipes. Thanks!
Recipe Rating