Southwest Pasta Salad

“Can you bring a salad?” “Um…how about a salad?” “A salad would be great, any kind.” “Your assignment: salad”
Seriously, am I the only one who feels like they are constantly taking a salad to something? Parties, pot-lucks, church events, bridal showers- always need a good salad. I think for that reason, I’m always trying to think of new and interesting flavors to incorporate because it seems like you always see the same types of salads. This one is great for a party or gathering because it can sit around without wilting and it’s really unique. It’s also filling. But it’s not just for parties, I’ve actually never taken it to a party. Probably because I just made it up last week. Next party, this salad is invited.
I actually made it a few times, and we love it for lunch and dinner. This salad relies on pasta, but it has just as much, if not more additions so the veggie to pasta ratio is really high. Fresh veggies, black beans, sweet corn and more. It makes a great vegetarian meal, or you can add grilled chicken to make it more filling. I served it with some cheese quesadilla wedges and my whole family (even kiddos!) gobbled it up. This sits well in the fridge too, so you could make it one night for dinner and then take the leftovers to work the next day. Great one-dish meal. Definitely one of my new faves!
See all of the yummy {and healthy!} stuff I packed in there? Black beans, green onions, diced tomatoes, bell peppers, and corn.
I use Barilla Plus Pasta and I love it. (Not a sponsored comment, just my opinion!) If you have a hard time incorporating whole grain pastas (some can be hard and chewy) this one is awesome. You really can’t tell it’s any different than normal but it’s packed with all sorts of healthy stuff. Anyway…
One of my best tips for making a good pasta salad, or pasta in general is to SALT YOUR WATER. Yes I had to yell that because I think a lot of people skip that step. It does wonders for any pasta, but especially a pasta salad, which can often turn out bland.
As soon as your pasta is done, run it under cold water to cool it off.
Place it in a big mixing bowl (you can’t see because I’m so sneaky, but underneath all of that pasta is the zest of a few limes- limes you will be using in the dressing.)
and then dump on all the good stuff! Look at all of those gorgeous veggies- they sing to me. Not really. I’m not a crazy person who hears singing vegetables, but they look purdy, right? In the recipe I only call for one bell pepper, I had a variety so I used a third of a red, yellow, and orange, just for color.
Mix that all up. If you’re adding chicken, then add that here as well. I used Taco Chicken, which I cooked the day before and it was awesome. Any cooked chicken will do, but grilled pairs well with the Southwest flavors.
And then pour on the amazing dressing. You can make the dressing while the pasta is cooking, or even a day or two ahead of time. I started out with Kate’s awesome Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette. That dressing is fantastic on its own, but one problem with pasta salads is that they just suck up flavor. I’ve found I have to make dressings that are almost too strong for a regular salad and then they’ll be perfect for a pasta salad. Otherwise they just taste bland. So I started with the vinaigrette, decreased some of the oil, and replaced it with lime juice and additional spices. It’s a party in your mouth I tell ya!
Sprinkle on the cheese just before serving. I used queso fresco, which is a Mexican cheese you can buy at the grocery store. You could easily substitute Cotija (another Mexican cheese you can find at the grocery store) or use grated pepperjack, jack, or cheddar. Or leave the cheese out completely. Honestly, I added it because I think it looks pretty, don’t tell.