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

pasta salad in bowl

Southwest Pasta Salad

5 from 3 votes
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 14 oz 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
  • 4-5 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
Author: Sara Wells
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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

woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. 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.

  2. I tried this tonight for dinner. Delish!! We loved it, so refreshing and light, yet filling. Thanks for another great recipe 🙂

  3. 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…:)

  4. 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.

  5. looks yummy… anything with fresco cheese is a hit with me… first timer on your blog… lovin it !!

  6. 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!!

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!! 🙂

  9. Emily, as pasta cooks it absorbs the water, so by salting the water you are flavoring the actual pasta. Rinsing it in water won't wash away the flavor that's already inside!

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Usually I don't like pasta salads besides my mom's macaroni salad, but this sounds DELicious! Thanks for all the great recipes.

  14. 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.

  15. I've made something similar to this but used salsa for the dressing. It's absolutely delightful that way, too. 🙂

  16. This looks AMAZING! 🙂 I cannot wait to try it! 🙂

  17. I bet this is every bit as stinkin' yummy as every other recipe of yours I've tried.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.