Recipe: James’ Junk Salad

Today’s recipe is brought to you by James, one of Dinners With Dan‘s new featured contributors!  He is sharing one of his go-to meals and it looks absolutely delicious, so keep reading!

James' Junk Salad

The following recipe is my twist on a pasta salad resulting from far too many leftovers, a desire for something simple yet delicious and a love of pasta. It’s a recipe that came from my own taste buds and those of my friends and family.

This recipe originally came about from my need of a food source that would get me through engineering exams I had 24 hours to complete and that usually took between 12 and 18 hours of solid work. There were therefore a few requirements that had to be met:

1)    It had to be something simple, containable and not messy. I wanted something I could snack on without it getting all over my books, notes or computer, yet was easy to make and versatile enough that I could substitute a variety of ingredients, without compromising taste. I was terrified I would finish a design, only to see it covered with pasta sauce, so I had to think of an alternative.

2)    There had to be a steady supply. Although taking a break during a long exam period is highly suggested, you don’t want to be forced to take a break and perhaps spend 20-30 minutes cooking a meal. You should have the flexibility to take a break when your BRAIN needs one, not when your stomach needs filling!

3)    It had to be something I wouldn’t tire of. Obviously I would have other snacks and meals planned, but when I got a hankering for food, I wanted to be able to turn to something that I knew I would enjoy time in and time out. As you will find out, I am a huge fan of pasta.

In the end pasta salad seemed like the only reasonable choice.


James’ Junk Salad

This salad can be split into 4 simple sections: pasta, cooked ingredients, raw ingredients and dressing. I’ll go through each of these sections and have some suggestions as to when they should be done. I will occasionally refer to a ‘large mixing bowl’ – this is merely the container I use to store the pasta salad in.

The ingredients listed here came from mixing and matching leftovers until a delicious balance was found. Personally, I enjoy having a substantial amount of different flavors, so there are quite a few ingredients to add.  Remember, these are only suggestions and I strongly suggest that you tweak it for your individual taste and experiment as often as possible. If you come up with anything good, please let me know!


Step 1: Pasta

I tend to prefer bowtie pasta as it not only catches the dressing nicely, but it’s also easy to eat and compliments the other goodies well in terms of its size and ease of which you can spear it with your fork. I have also used penne, small shells and elbow macaroni on occasion.

What You’ll Need:

  • Pasta (500g)

How to Make It:

1)     Heat up some salted water and throw the pasta in once it’s boiling. I tend to let the pasta cook for about 8-9 minutes (assuming it’s not fresh!) so it is still a little al dente, but feel free to cook it longer or shorter as you desire.
2)    Drain the water via a colander and let the pasta cool.
3)    Place into the large mixing bowl.

Seasoning the Chicken for James' Junk Salad


Step 2: Cooked Ingredients

This is the other part of the salad that requires cooking; the rest of the salad only requires slicing, dicing and mixing. I tend to do this as the water for the pasta is heating up since it doesn’t require much attention.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Medium-sized yellow Onion
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 50g Pine Nuts

How to Make It:

1)    Put a slosh of olive oil into a pan and begin heating to mid-high/high.
2)    Chop chicken and onions into bite size pieces. I suggest 1 inch/2 cm. Then season the chicken with salt and pepper.
3)    Mince a garlic clove. An easy trick to removing the husk is to use the flat side of your knife and smash the clove so that it cracks slightly. This serves to remove the flesh from the husk enough that you can easily peel them apart.
4)    Once the pan is hot, toss the garlic, onion and chicken in.
5)    How long this cooks is up to you, but I tend to like my chicken crispy and my onions starting to caramelize, which usually takes up to 10 minutes. Put the cooked ingredients into the large mixing bowl. Keep in mind by now your pasta water may be boiling and the pasta may need to be added.
6)    Wipe the pan down quickly and return to the heat.
7)    Spread the pine nuts evenly and stir constantly until they are slightly browned: 2-4 minutes.
8)    Place the pine nuts in the large mixing bowl.

Cooking Chicken for James' Junk Salad


Step 3: Raw Ingredients

As soon as you have completed the cooked section, clean off the chopping board and get chopping on these ingredients. Any other ingredients you decide to add that don’t require cooking can be chopped/added at this point in time. During this section it is likely that the pasta will be finished cooking, so don’t forget to keep an eye on it.

 What You’ll Need:

  • ~150g/1 Cup Artichoke hearts
  • ~150g/1 Cup Sundried tomatoes in oil (save the oil)
  • ~150g/1 Cup Sweet peppers in oil (save the oil)
  • ~150g/1 Cup Feta cheese
  • 1/2 Large Cucumber
  • 3 Scallions/Green Onions

How to Make It:

1)    Sharpen knife and clean chopping board.
2)    Chop veggies into bite-sized pieces. I generally dice the scallions quite small so that I don’t get a mouthful of onion. Put this into the large mixing bowl.
3)    Crumble the feta cheese to desired size over the bowl. I tend to take half of the feta and crumble it very finely while leaving the other half for larger chunks.

Cutting peppers for James' Junk Salad


Step 4: Dressing

First thing, the oil in the list of the ingredients is left vague on purpose. You are encouraged to try different types of oils. I usually do 1/3 olive oil (as a base), 1/3 oil from the sundried tomatoes, 1/3 oil from the sweet peppers, making sure to get all that good sediment from the bottom of the jar. It is possible to use only olive oil, but I have found that adding different types of oils adds a lot of character to the dressing.

 What You’ll Need:

  • 1/3 Cup Red wine vinegar
  • 1 Cup Oil (read description for details)
  • 3-4 pinches of seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano/herbs de province
  • 1 teaspoon pepper flakes
  • Black pepper

How to Make It:

1)    Mix oils and vinegar together in a small bowl.
2)    Taste the mixture so that the desired tartness and taste is achieved.
3)    Add seasoned salt, garlic powder, oregano, pepper flakes.
4)    Taste and add spices as desired.
5)    Season with a few cranks of pepper.
6)    Pour over ingredients and pasta

James' Junk Salad - Closeup


Some Notes:

So there you have it! You are now the proud owner of James’ Junk Salad! Feel free to change the recipe as you will and leave suggestions! Below are some other ingredients I have added over my time making this dish:

Red/Yellow Onion (Cooked/Uncooked Ingredients)
Olives (Uncooked Ingredients)
Smoked Gouda (Uncooked Ingredients)
Tomatoes (Uncooked Ingredients)


Thanks so much for this recipe, James!

As always, if you feel inspired to make this delicious recipe, let me know how it goes!  Tweet me, comment below, or post on the Dinners With Dan Facebook page!

Until next time, happy cooking!

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