Pasta salads aren't usually very exciting. Cubes of cheese, a few olives, a drizzle of olive oil and maybe some diced red onions make for a perfectly acceptable lunch, but there are lots of ways to make that meal even more nutritious and, to be frank, interesting.

This pasta salad from Bettina Campolucci-Bordi's "The 7 Day Vegan Challenge" (Hardie Grant Books, $20.99) includes canned garbanzo beans, arugula, spinach and a pesto made with sun-dried tomatoes. It's more like a salad mixed with pasta, and it's infinitely adjustable.

You could use a traditional basil pesto instead of the tomato pesto if you don't have a jar of the sun-dried tomatoes on hand, and if you wanted a little extra protein, you could chop up pieces of salami, pepperoni or leftover chicken to add to the mix. If you want to make this so that it will last all week, keep the leafy greens separate from the pasta-bean-onion-pesto mixture. Salad greens, even the hearty ones, don't last for long once they have been coated in a dressing, or pesto, in this case.

Lunch Box Pasta Salad

You can't beat a pasta salad, especially one that is boosted with plant power to get you through a long day. Also, it is time we shine a light on sun-dried tomato pesto, less well known than green pesto but equally tasty. Switch up your pasta by using chickpea, buckwheat or other types of pasta.

- Bettina Campolucci-Bordi

• 5 ounces dried penne pasta (gluten-free or regular)

• 1/4 red onion, sliced

• 1 cup drained canned garbanzos

• 2 ounces arugula leaves

• 2 ounces baby spinach leaves

• Olive oil, for drizzling

For the red pesto:

• 1 (5-ounce) jar of sun-dried tomatoes (save the oil for blending)

• 2 tablespoons hazelnuts

• 1 garlic clove

• Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For garnish:

• Hemp hearts (optional)

• Extra herbs, such as basil or parsley

Start off by boiling the pasta as per the packet instructions. Make sure you have plenty of water if you are using gluten-free pasta and that you keep an eye on it so as to not overcook! Once boiled (about 8 minutes), drain, drizzle with a little olive oil and set aside.

Prepare the pesto by putting all the ingredients into a blender and blitzing until smooth, then set aside. Prepare all the veggies, including the garbanzos, and put everything in a bowl with generous tablespoons of pesto so that it covers the pasta properly. No one likes a dry pasta salad. Give it a taste and if needs extra salt and pepper, go ahead and add some. Serves 2.

- From "The 7 Day Vegan Challenge" by Bettina Campolucci-Bordi (Hardie Grant Books, $20.99)

Addie Broyles writes about food for the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at abroyles@statesman.com, or follow her on Twitter at @broylesa.

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