Want a Vegan Version of TikTok’s Popular Feta Pasta Recipe? Try This
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Registered dietitian and plant-based diet specialist Cynthia Sass shares her vegan and gluten-free version of the viral TikTok feta pasta recipe.
TikTok’s feta pasta recipe
Even if you’ve never seen a TikTok video, you may have heard about the feta pasta recipe featured on the app that went viral in the United States and around the world this year.
Suddenly the dish was everywhere: in the New York Times, on the Rachael Ray Show, and as the inspiration for hundreds of online recreations. (Learn the truth about whether pasta is healthy.)
Why so much fanfare? Well, the dish has all the makings of a social media standout. It’s colorful, simple, unique, and looks mouthwateringly delicious. It’s also comfort food, which two in three people are eating more of since the pandemic began, according to a July 2020 consumer survey by OnePoll, done in conjunction with frozen food brand Farm Rich.
(Got diabetes? Here are some diabetic-friendly comfort food recipes.)
Where did the feta pasta recipe come from?
Credit for the original feta pasta recipe goes to a food blogger and artist in Finland named Jenni Häyrinen. She created the recipe—its original name was uunifetapasta, or oven-baked feta pasta—in 2019.
Häyrinen’s recipe called for nine ingredients: durum wheat pasta, feta cheese, olive oil, chili pepper, cherry tomatoes, garlic, black pepper, salt, and basil.
The dish became so popular in Finland that feta cheese sales soared by 300 percent and shops ran low on the necessary ingredients, according to Häyrinen. And then her recipe went global.
(Love cheese? Try these lighter options for cheese lovers.)
How did feta pasta go viral?
In 2021, a Florida-based blogger and cookbook author named MacKenzie Smith, who goes by the handle GrilledCheeseSocial, posted a video of the recipe on TikTok.
It took off across the United States and inspired dozens, if not hundreds, of feta pasta TikTok posts, with millions more total views.
How to make feta pasta vegan (and gluten free)
Modified versions of feta pasta abound online. Variations include recipes that use gluten-free pasta, different types of tomatoes, and additional ingredients and seasonings.
I love the simplicity and flavor combinations in the original recipe, so I didn’t want to change it much. But, I opted to switch up a few of the core ingredients to make a dish that’s both vegan and gluten free.
My variation also adds more veggies and balances out the macros (nutrients you need in large quantities) a bit by slightly bumping up the entrée’s protein content and reducing the total carbs.
It’s still simple and a feast for the senses, and I think vegan feta is a superb stand-in for its animal-based counterpart.
Swap feta for vegan feta
I’ve tried plant-based feta made by local vegan cheese shops. But a brand that’s widely available in U.S. markets (and internationally) is Violife ($6). It’s sold in a block, rather than crumbled, so it’s perfect for this recipe.
Made primarily from coconut oil and potato starch, this vegan feta has a similar texture to dairy-based feta and a comparable tangy, salty taste.
When cooked, it’s a bit soupier than traditional feta but still results in a rich, creamy, delectable, cheese-like sauce.
(Substitute real cheese with this vegan cashew “cheese” sauce recipe.)
Swap durum wheat pasta for pulse pasta
The other ingredient in the original recipe that may or may not be vegan is pasta, as some types are made with egg. For a pasta that’s vegan and also provides plant-based protein, I recommend using a pulse pasta.
This type of pasta is made from beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, or a combination of these foods, which are collectively referred to as pulses.
Apart from providing plant protein, fiber, and nutrients, pulses have been shown to support healthy weight management, and reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, according to a 2020 report, published in the journal Nutrients.
Pulses are also eco-friendly because they require less water compared with other protein sources. They also enrich the soil in which they’re grown, which reduces dependence on synthetic fertilizers, and produce fewer greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations.
One of my favorite pulse pasta options is ZENB ($30 for a box of six), made from a single ingredient: whole yellow peas with the skin, which adds fiber and reduces food waste.
One cup cooked provides 12 grams of plant protein, and of the 36 grams of total carbohydrate, 7 grams are filling fiber—that’s a quarter of the daily recommended fiber goal. This portion also provides 15 percent of the Daily Value for iron and 8 percent for potassium.
Add raw zucchini noodles
To lower the total carbohydrate content of the recipe per serving, I included just one cup of cooked pasta. However, you can add more, based on your body’s fuel needs.
For volume, color, and additional nutrients, I supplemented the pulse pasta with two cups of raw zucchini noodles. You can spiralize them yourself from fresh zucchini or buy ready-to-eat packages, like those from Cece’s Veggie Co.
Use remaining original ingredients
The recipe’s remaining original ingredients are already vegan, gluten free, and healthful.
According to a 2019 study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, extra-virgin olive oil is tied to protection against heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which is linked to improvements in blood lipids and cancer protection, according to a review study in Clinical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
And as 2019 research from the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines points out, garlic has also been shown to protect heart health by reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, and preventing artery hardening.
(Here are more surprising benefits of garlic.)
Courtesy Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
Vegan Gluten-Free Feta Pasta
I enjoy this recipe straight from the oven or as chilled or heated leftovers. It’s become a staple in my household.
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 (9-ounce) containers cherry tomatoes, whole, washed, stems removed
1 (8.1-ounce) block Violife vegan feta
Cracked black pepper
1 cup cooked pulse pasta
1 large or 2 small/medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
A few pinches crushed red pepper
2 cups raw zucchini noodles
1 handful fresh basil leaves, whole or torn
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Add olive oil to a baking dish. Toss with cherry tomatoes until well coated, and season with salt.
- Add the feta block in the middle of the dish. Drizzle with more olive oil and add a few cranks of fresh black pepper over entire dish. Bake for 30 minutes.
- While the dish is baking, prepare the pasta according to directions. Strain.
- After 30 minutes, increase the oven temperature to 450° F. Bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the feta and tomatoes brown. (Note: the feta will melt across the baking dish and bubble up.)
- Remove the baking dish from the oven, add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir in the pasta and zucchini, then toss in the fresh basil. Season again with salt and pepper, if desired.
Next, try this high protein vegan recipe.
- New York Times: "The TikTok Feta Effect"
- Rachael Ray Show: "We Tried The Baked Feta Pasta Trend From TikTok"
- Farm Rich: "2020: The Year of the Comfort Food Comeback"
- Liemessa: "Baked Feta Pasta - Original Recipe"
- Grilled Cheese Social: "Baked Feta Pasta - Tiktok Original"
- USA Pulses: "About Pulses"
- Nutrients: "Motivating Pulse-Centric Eating Patterns to Benefit Human and Environmental Well-Being"
- United Nations: "World Pulses Day"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Extra virgin olive oil: More than a healthy fat"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Tomato and tomato byproducts. Human health benefits of lycopene and its application to meat products: a review"
- Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines: "Therapeutic effects of garlic in cardiovascular atherosclerotic disease"
- TikTok: Baked feta pasta with cherry tomatoes