Southwest Pasta Salad

This Fresh Southwest Pasta Salad is my go-to whenever I need to take a dish to a party, and also a favorite summer dinner at our house.  It’s great with grilled chicken (Grilled Taco Chicken is a perfect pairing) or by itself as a one-dish dinner.  It’s so good and flavorful, packed with veggies, and does well sitting out or in the fridge for while before or during serving. Leftovers are fantastic, too!

Southwest Pasta Salad in serving bowl

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pasta salad in bowl

Southwest Pasta Salad

  • Author: Sara Wells


A fresh and flavorful twist on a traditional pasta salad.  Filled with fresh veggies, black beans, and a zesty dressing!



1/2 lb bowtie pasta
1 14oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 roma tomatoes, diced or about 3/4 C or halved cherry tomatoes
1 large red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced small
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup frozen fresh corn
zest from 2 limes
optional: 8 oz diced cooked chicken (this is fantastic)
1/2 cup Queso Fresco or Cotija Cheese (or you could sub grated jack, cheddar or pepperjack)

6 Tbs fresh lime juice (about 3 juicy limes)
1/4 C white wine or rice vinegar
45 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
2 tsp sugar (add a touch more if your limes are extra sour/bitter)
3/4 C canola oil
1/2 C roughly chopped cilantro


Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions.  While it’s cooking, prepare dressing.

First zest your limes and place the zest in a large salad bowl.

Place the lime juice, vinegar, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt and sugar in a blender.  (Basically everything except the cilantro and oil)  Process until smooth.  With the motor running slowly, add the oil in a steady stream until incorporated.  Add the cilantro and pulse so it gets broken up, but some pieces still remain in tact.

When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse immediately with cold water to cool.  Place the pasta in the large salad bowl with the lime zest.  Add black beans, tomatoes, diced pepper, green onions, corn (no need to thaw the corn),  and chicken if desired.  Toss with dressing.  Taste, and add additional salt and pepper to taste.  For best results, chill for 1 hour before serving.  Right before serving, sprinkle cheese on top.  Serve with extra lime wedges if desired.

Makes about 4-6 dinner sized servings or 10-12 side servings


How to Make Southwest Pasta Salad

You can really use a variety of vegetables according to what you like- I’m using black beans, bell pepper, frozen corn, tomatoes, and green onions

chopped vegetables

Southwest Pasta Salad Dressing

This dressing is based off of our favorite Cilantro Vinaigrette.  All of the same flavors, but intensified, because pasta salads so easily soak up dressing and mellow out flavors. Simply mix all of your veggies with some cooked and cooled pasta and pour the dressing over.
salad ingredients in a bowl

Optional Ingredients

I like to sprinkle on the cheese just before serving.  Queso Fresco or Cotija is my favorite, or you can use grated pepperjack, jack, or cheddar.

Southwest pasta salad in a bowl


  1. Oh hooray! My husband came home with extra cilantro and I was just looking last night for something to use it up. This looks fantastic; I'm always happy for new vegetarian dishes. And I'll have to search out that pasta – I haven't seen it in Winco.

  2. ooh this looks yummy! can't wait to try it ive been looking for a new pasta salad. and that barilla pasta is awesome its the only good for you pasta my fam will eat!

  3. I'm SO making this for tonight's dinner! Scratch what was already on the menu; this is now front and center! I adore SW foods, and not just because I live in Phoenix.

  4. Great post. Great blog. I don't mean to be a brat, but I have a comment. If you go through the trouble of salting the pasta water, aren't you rinsing off any flavoring you may have added by cooling your pasta in cold water? I prefer to cook my pasta very al dente and then drain it and let it sit an cool off a little as I work on the other ingredients. That way the pasta will "cook" a little bit longer as it cools, but not get mushy. Plus, sometimes the flavors absorb a little better when there is still a little residual heat. Just wanted to add my two cents. I hope it didn't come off too snobbish.

  5. Okay, sorry, I take my comment back. Apparently for cold pasta salads, it's helpful to rinse away the extra starch, so the pasta doesn't get sticky, although I guess if it's dressed well, this wouldn't matter. Love to hear your opinion.

  6. oooh, I need to start reading this blog AFTER lunch though – because now I'm hungry 🙂 Looks like this is going on the menu soon!

  7. I usually avoid bringing salads to any party because I always think it's such a boring option. Now I have a fun one to bring and will surprise everyone by volunteering to bring salad next time!! 🙂

  8. Yum! My husband and I are about to start low carbing, and I'm thinking that if you removed the pasta and just served it as a southwestern-style chicken salad (or over lettuce) it would be pretty delicious.

    1. I made this tonite and it was extremely flavorful and delicious. Love the crunch from the veggies and the dressing was perfect. Will add to our list of yummy sides to bring to a friend’s bbq or to make at home.

  9. Barilla Plus Pasta is the best thing ever! My hubby won't *touch* whole wheat pasta, but he can't even tell the difference with the Barilla Plus.

    Thanks for the yummy vegetarian recipe. Sometimes it is hard to find vegetarian recipes that I know hubby (meat eater) will like as well, so I appreciate each one I can find!!

  10. Holy delicious, Batman! I can't wait to make this for a party! (-: I hate being asked to bring a salad, because like another reader, I always find them boring. This one is anything BUT boring!

    Also, if you make a lot of your own dressings, I have the perfect item for you! It's called the Measure, Mix, and Pour. Pampered Chef makes it. Of course, I would tell you this even if I wasn't a consultant! That item rocks my socks, seriously. If you have a PC consultant, definitely get one from him/her. If not, and you want to take a look at it, let me know.

  11. I love your blog and I couldn't not comment on your hilarious commentary on salads. I am a big girl (okay, I just had baby number 4 and I wasn't small to begin with…) and I just crack up when they ask me to bring salad to stuff. I ask (because I'm sort of a trouble maker): Do I LOOK LIKE I EAT SALAD? However, everyone knows I'm joking because I'm married to a vegetarian, so of course I eat salad. And I am SO making this one. You girls rock and and inspire me whenever I read. Thanks. Maybe I'll recover my culinary skills soon and try some of this out–having babies sort of leaches out my cooking abilities…:)

  12. I made this last night for my family for dinner with chicken. My kids had a hard time grasping the concept of salad for dinner, so we served some cheese quesadillas with it. Everyone loved this salad. It is really tasty. My husband said it would go over really well at a "girl" party.

  13. Did all the prep for this salad last night and put it all together along with the dressing this morning. It is delicious! Definitley a salad I will be bringing to parties, church functions etc. I didn't have any bow tie pasta on hand so I used whole wheat penne and it still tasted delicious and looked nice presentation wise. Thanks for all these delicious recipes, Im off to go prep to make the black bean soup with my leftover cilantro, garlic and cans of black beans!

  14. This salad is fantastic! I made it tonight and left out the chicken. Almost left out the cheese but then added Gorgonzola at the last minute – yum! Thank you! I just found out about your site last week and I want to try a gazillion recipes already!

  15. Two questions. One, the pic shows yellow, red AND orange peppers. The recipe says one of them. If I use all 3 is it too much pepper? Two, 1/2 tsp of coriander – is this dried?????

    As soon as I decide which cheese to use I am trying this! The dressing sounds amazing.

  16. Oops, I skipped through that to get to the recipe. Bought queso fresco and am making this tomorrow. I can't wait to go to sleep!

  17. I LOVE a good pasta salad–can't wait to try this one out! I have never heard of some of those cheeses, but was wondering if feta would work, since I'm kind of in love with the stuff.

  18. Oh my heavens! I tried this tonight for our family and it was absolutely delicious! Maybe not the best meal for toddlers because it has a bit of a bite to it, but WOW! I could not get enough of it. Followed the recipe to a “T”.

  19. I made this last night and it was delicious. My husband is normally not a fan of pasta salads, and was hesitant about this one, but he loved it and said it can stay on our menu rotation.

  20. WOW! So I’m pretty muh obsessed with this pasta salad AND with your site 🙂 I’m definitely going to make this soon! Thanks for the inspiration to better my site, I just started mine 🙂 Glad to be a follower!!

  21. Made this for a Cinco de Mayo party tonight and it was a hit! Thanks so much for the recipe. I left out the coriander and cilantro and it still tasted great!

  22. Heh, I was actually just looking for a way to print just the recipe, used my browser’s search feature for “print,” and only found your comment. Guess we’ll be copying and pasting this into Word. 🙂

    This looks like a tasty and gorgeous salad! I was assigned to bring a pasta salad to my sister-in-law’s housewarming party this weekend, and came straight to your site because I figured you’d have something Score!

  23. My usual rule of thumb is “don’t try a new recipe on a crowd of people” but I always break that rule when using one of yours. I just made this salad to take to a BBQ and you’re totally right…it’s a party in your mouth! No more boring pasta salads for me! Thanks!!

  24. I made this salad to take to a picnic…and it was a hit. I didn’t have tomatoes, so I used avocado and I put in small cubes of pepper-jack. Thanks for such awesome recipes!

  25. This salad is amazing! Loved It and so did my famiy. We took it to a picnic at the park and shared it. Everyone asked for the recipe. Love your site and your recipes. Thanks for all you do, it is greatly appreciated!

  26. Someone else found this recipe and printed it off for me to make for a party. Honestly, I didn’t think it sounded very good. Oops, I was wrong again. Just made it. Used tri-color spirals instead of bow-tie and no cheese. Pretty tasty and at least I know there will be at least one vegetarian dish at the party.

  27. I’ve been nominated to “bring a salad, any salad” to our next family gathering. I found your recipe and cannot wait to try it! Sounds delicious!

  28. I made this for an Open House and it was a hit with all our friends and family. The color really set it apart from all the other salads. I received your cookbook for Christmas and love it. I use your recipies everyweek. Thanks for making me look good 🙂

  29. I need simple, easy and cheap recipes thanks!! got 2 cans of canned white chicken and i wanna make a pasta salad with {macaroni pasta} for my boyfriends lunch to take to work…..

  30. I have now made this for the 3rd time and it is insane how excited I get to eat this. I make no changes…at all…(I usually do…to most recipes) Had to use olive oil once since I didn’t have canola and it is very good that way as well. Sometimes I add chicken, sometimes I don’t. Only if I have leftover chicken do I add it. Very good with or without.

  31. Made this yesterday and loved it. My hubby was extremely impressed. He said it is restaurant quality. (Some of my children weren’t impressed, but you don’t know picky until you know my kids). I used penne pasta (it’s what I had) and forgot the tomatoes. Thanks!

  32. This salad is so good! My husband said it’s so good, it’s like “crack”. He’s not a drug-addict! That’s just code for, “it’s really addicting.” 🙂 My two year old loved it to. It was amazing with the Taco Chicken from your cookbook. We didn’t think it was spicy at all. It’s actually really great for kids too!

  33. OH MY DELICOUSNESS. If you are reading these comments trying to see if you want to make this, PRINT IT OUT ALREADY AND MAKE THIS BABY. It’s that good and that’s all I have to say. Thanks for yet another “keeper”, girls. I seriously love you two, and if I ever see you two in real life, watch out because I’m going to hug you and then kiss you. and then never let go of you.

  34. I’m doubling this recipe for a party, however for most dressing recipes I only use half to 3/4 of the dressing, Is this a recipe I will use the whole dressing, or would a single batch of dressing cover a double batch of pasta?
    It probably depends on how much flavor I want, but I thought I’d ask anyway!!

    My mouth is already watering! Looks delish! Love your site and use it all the time 🙂

    1. Crystal, I wrote this recipe so one batch of dressing really is the amount you’ll need (or close to it) for one batch of salad. So if you’re doubling the salad, you’ll want to double the dressing too. If you don’t use all of it right away, you might want to add more once it sits for a bit because the pasta will absorb it. Hope you enjoy it!

  35. I’m making this for a teacher/staff luncheon at school for 100 people. I’m thinking I should prep all the ingredients, cook the pasta, and make the dressing the night before. Then early morning mix it all together with the dressing and chill until I serve it at lunch. I’m kind of worried about the pasta being cooked the night before. Should I wait and do that in the morning? Any tips or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks for a great recipe.

  36. Trying to see the answer to “can you make it the night before”; also, how many times the recipe for about 40 people?

  37. I tripled this for a large outdoor party and everyone loved it. Although it took some time to prepare, it will definitely be part of our meals. I plan to try it with chicken next time, just for dinner. Several people asked for the recipe. I didn’t use the entire triple amount of dressing, but I think it could have used it as it does get soaked up by the pasta. The hardest part of this recipe is actually the zesting and juicing of the limes.

  38. Love, love, love this salad! I made it for a family party and my sister said it was the best pasta salad she’s ever had! It is very unique and full of delicious flavors! It is now a new favorite! Thank you for sharing!

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