Filled with crisp vegetables, cubes of cheddar, and a delicious honey mustard dressing, this broccoli cheddar pasta salad is perfect as a side or main dish and it comes together in under 30 minutes!
Whether you're looking for a flavorful and nutritious lunch idea or just need a pasta salad recipe to share at a gathering, this broccoli cheddar pasta salad hits all the marks!
This broccoli pasta salad features a honey mustard tahini dressing that adds depth, zest, and a whole lot of flavor! It pairs well with the gentle bite from shallot, toasty sunflower seeds, and sharp cubes of cheddar.
I love using tahini so much as a dressing (ahem, Goddess-style tahini dressing) that I already have a classic picnic-style tahini broccoli salad on the blog. That's how you know this dressing is good!
Why you'll love this recipe
- Flavorful and a blend of textures: A touch of sweetness from honey blends with tangy mustard and toasty tahini in the tahini honey mustard dressing. Pair this with crisp broccoli and carrots, sunflower seeds, and soft sharp cheddar for a harmonious blend of ingredients.
- Can be a main or side dish: I include a can of white beans in this pasta salad to make it a well-rounded vegetarian meal. But it's also great as a side salad at gatherings, and the beans are optional.
- Salad in a jar option: I love turning pasta salads into mason jar salads, and this broccoli cheddar pasta salad is fantastic as one because it creates colorful layers and allows the pasta to marinate in the tahini dressing without making other ingredients soggy.
- The tahini dressing is a great standalone recipe. It's good as a dipping sauce with panko tofu or as a salad dressing on Chef's salads.
- Rotini: I use whole wheat rotini but regular also works. Feel free to use any type of medium pasta shape, like bowtie or macaroni.
- Broccoli: This recipe uses one medium head of broccoli, which is equal to about 2 heaping cups of chopped broccoli.
- Shallot: Like a more subtle and less pungent onion. Feel free to omit this ingredient if you don't like raw onions.
- Matchstick carrots: Adds a touch of sweetness and crunch.
- Tahini: This is just ground sesame seeds. You can buy tahini in the international aisle or by nut butter in most grocery stores.
- Sharp cheddar: I prefer very sharp cheddar, but regular sharp or mild cheddar also works. Buy a block of cheddar and dice it into ¼-inch cubes.
- Sunflower seeds: Choose toasted, salted sunflower seeds for the best flavor.
Start by cooking pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse under cool running water to quickly chill it. Transfer to a large bowl.
While the pasta is cooking, whisk together the tahini dressing in a small bowl or jar. I like to use mason jars for this.
Toss the cooled pasta with just half of the tahini dressing.
Stir in the finely chopped broccoli, sunflower seeds, cubed cheddar, matchstick carrots, and diced shallot.
Drizzle with the remaining dressing, tossing to combine. Cover and transfer to the fridge to chill for at least one hour. This also allows the flavors to develop. Toss again before serving.
Mason jar salad option
This broccoli cheddar pasta salad is fantastic as a mason jar salad. Divide the salad ingredients between four quart-sized mason jars. Here is how I recommend layering from the bottom layer to the top layer:
- Bottom layer: Honey mustard dressing
- White beans
- Cooked pasta
- Chopped broccoli
- Matchstick carrots
- Sunflower seeds
- Diced shallot
- Top layer: Cubed cheddar
I use raw broccoli in broccoli salad just based on preference, but this recipe does work with parboiled broccoli. To do this, heat a pot of water to boiling. Add the broccoli and boil for just one minute. Immediately drain in a colander. Once drained, transfer to a bowl on ice. This will stop the broccoli from cooking and cool it down quickly.
If you can't find tahini or just don't love the flavor, you can make this broccoli pasta salad with an equal amount of mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, or plain yogurt instead. Mayonnaise will give it a more classic deli-style feel, while Greek yogurt and plain yogurt add tang.
I know Walmart's popular broccoli cheddar salad uses shredded cheese, so by all means use shredded cheese instead of cubed if that's what you prefer.
I don't recommend using frozen broccoli in this recipe because it can make the salad soggy.
No, the pasta salad does not need to be chilled before serving.
- Storage: Keeps well for 3 to 4 days. Cover and refrigerate. Enjoy chilled. Note that the tahini dressing thickens as it chills, so the salad won't be as creamy when enjoyed as leftovers.
- Make ahead option: For best quality, make no more than 24 hours in advance. I recommend following steps 1-4 then covering and chilling. Just before serving, toss the salad with the remaining dressing.
- Dressing storage: The dressing keeps well for at least a week, so it can also be made up to a week in advance.
More pasta salads
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Broccoli Cheddar Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces rotini see note #1
- 1 medium head broccoli
- 1 ½ cups matchstick carrots
- 15 ounce can great northern beans drained and rinsed (small white beans or cannellini beans also work)
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar sliced into ¼-inch cubes
- ¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds
- 1 small shallot finely diced
- ½ cup tahini see note #2
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons honey
- pinch of salt adjust to taste
- 1 to 3 tablespoons water as needed
- Cook the rotini pasta until al dente in well-salted water, per package instructions. Once al dente, drain and rinse until cool running water to quickly chill the pasta.
- Roughly chop the broccoli florets into small pieces. One medium head typically yields about 2 heaping cups of chopped broccoli.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl or mason jar, whisk together the dressing ingredients: tahini, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, and salt. If needed, whisk in water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is a thick, pourable consistency.
- Transfer the cooked pasta to a large bowl. Toss with ½ of the tahini dressing. Stir in the chopped broccoli, matchstick carrots, white beans (optional), cubed cheddar, sunflower seeds, and diced shallot.
- Cover the pasta salad and transfer to the fridge to chill for an hour. Just before serving, toss with the remaining dressing. Enjoy!
- Pasta: Works with any type of medium pasta shape, including whole wheat, gluten-free, or protein pasta.
- Tahini: Find this in the international aisle or by the nut butter in most grocery stores. For a more traditional pasta salad, replace with an equal amount of mayonnaise (makes the salad more deli-style), plain yogurt, or Greek yogurt (makes it's tangier).
- For cooked broccoli: I use raw broccoli in broccoli salad just based on preference, but this recipe does work with parboiled broccoli. To do this, heat a pot of water to boiling. Add the broccoli and boil for just one minute. Immediately drain in a colander. Once drained, transfer to a bowl on ice. This will stop the broccoli from cooking and cool it down quickly.
- Mason jar salad option: Makes 4-6 mason jar salads, depending on your appetite. From bottom layer to top layer: Honey mustard tahini dressing, white beans cooked pasta, hopped broccoli, matchstick carrots, sunflower seeds, diced shallot, cubed cheddar.