This zesty Southwestern Pasta Salad features all the best and boldest fixings. Bacon, jalapeños, black beans, corn, and more are dressed in a creamy chipotle ranch dressing that will have your whole party lining up for second helpings.
Since I saw real, live humans that I don’t live with for the first time in months recently (only two of ’em, outdoors, with what were probably over-the-top precautions, mind you) I did the only logical thing and made enough pasta salad for an entire block party.
We’re talking the I-Made-Six-Varieties-Because-I-Couldn’t-Choose-Just-One type of overboard.
And let me just jump to the moral of the story here: If you’re having trouble choosing what kind of pasta salad to make, the answer is this southwest version. Because out of six varieties, this Southwestern Pasta Salad was the first to go. My two guests + the three of us who live here DEVOURED this pasta salad like we hadn’t just spent 4 months doing nothing but eating.
WHAT MAKES THIS SOUTHWEST PASTA SALAD SO GREAT?
Why was this version a hit? It was probably the fact that this pasta salad boasts the perfect combination of smoky, creamy, and fresh flavors, or that it pairs so well with cookout staples like burgers and hot dogs.
I think the real secret lies in the homemade chipotle ranch dressing, though. It’s made with mayo, buttermilk, chipotles in adobo, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, dill, and salt and pepper, and maybe a little bit of pure amazingness because– trust me when I say this– you’re going to want to put it on ev-er-y-thing.
That chipotle ranch is about to be your new best friend. It’s about to be your biggest obsession.
And it’s about to make this pasta salad unforgettable, obviously.
But that’s not the only great thing we’ve got going on here. There’s also the mix-in ingredients:
- Black beans
- Crumbled bacon
- Minced jalapeños (plus some slices to garnish)
- Halved cherry tomatoes
- Chunks of colby-jack cheese
- Green onion
- Juicy corn kernels
…which are all tossed in with spirally rotini (and of course that dressing that I keep talking about).
All together, its a pasta salad recipe that not only slays at potlucks, but also makes for the perfect meal prep solution. It’s filling, flavorful, and fast to make– the ultimate combo!
BUT IT’S VERSATILE, TOO
Listen, I love this pasta salad exactly as I made it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. If you want a meatless version, skip the bacon. Want to swap out the jalapeno for some less-spicy hatch green chiles? Be my guest! Want to toss some shredded chicken in there and call it dinner? Great idea. Feel free to use this recipe as a springboard if you’d like.
While you’re at it, you might want to check out a similar pasta salad recipe of mine, Smoky Shrimp Pasta Salad with Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette. Everything in that recipe would also taste great here, so feel free to mix-and-match ingredients!
MORE MIX-IN INSPIRATION
- Switch Up the Pasta: Swirly rotini captures the perfect amount of dressing and looks fun in this zesty and vibrant salad. However, you can opt for any pasta your heart desires– use whatever you have hanging out in the pantry!
- Want More Meat?: If you and your guests consider yourselves carnivores (or if you want extra protein in this recipe to serve it as a main course), you might want to consider adding in some extra meat. Shredded chicken, as I mentioned above, is a great option. Ground beef would be great for a taco pasta salad vibe. Smoky chorizo sausage would add an extra kick for those who love spice. Or, go with shrimp like I do in the Smoky Shrimp Pasta Salad I linked above!
- Add Avocado: Many pasta salads with southwest ingredients also use avocado, and I think it would be great here. Just keep in mind that avocado browns quickly, so if you’re adding it, add it right before serving (and toss with lime juice to slow the oxidation!)
- Up the Spice: The chipotles in adobo pack in some heat. Feel free to add more (or even some extra chili powder) if your group likes their side dishes to come with a side of fire-breathing.
- Add Some Crunch: If you like a little something crunchy in your salads, why not add in some tortilla strips right before serving for added interest?
MAKING PASTA SALAD IS AS EASY AS 1-2-3
I say this all the time, but pasta salads have to be some of the easiest side dishes –or full-on meals, if you’re so inclined to eat it for lunch and dinner for several days in a row like I do– ever created.
All you have to do is:
- Prepare your pasta. Cook your pasta according to the package directions until it’s “al dente”. Then rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking process and prevent the pasta from sticking together.
- Make the dressing. Whisk together all of the chipotle ranch dressing ingredients and season to taste.
- Toss everything together. Add the pasta and mix-in ingredients to a large bowl and drizzle over the dressing. Toss until everything is coated and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.
CAN I MAKE MY PASTA SALAD AHEAD OF TIME?
Yes! Time is your friend when it comes to pasta salad– letting it sit in the fridge for at least a few hours before serving allows the flavors to meld and deepen, so you’ll wind up with an even better pasta salad if you think ahead and prepare in advance. And who doesn’t love a recipe that you can make the day before so you don’t have to race to throw everything together as guests arrive?
MORE DELICIOUS SUMMER SIDES
- Antipasto Tortellini Pasta Salad
- Warm Chorizo Potato Salad
- Smoky Shrimp Pasta Salad with Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette
- German Potato Salad (Kartoffelsalat)
- Charred Broccoli Salad with Hot Honey Dressing
- Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad
- 16 ounces swirly short cut pasta such as rotini, cooked to al dente
- 1 (15 ounce) can whole corn kernels, drained
- 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1–2 jalapeno peppers, minced, plus slices to garnish
- 6 ounces colby jack cheese, cubed
- 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
- Fresh cilantro leaves, to garnish
For the Chipotle Ranch Dressing:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 chipotle chiles from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely minced to a paste, or to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- Juice of 1 lime
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- Prepare the chipotle ranch dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, chipotles in adobo, garlic, cilantro, dill, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Slowly pour in the buttermilk, while whisking, until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the pasta, corn, colby jack, black beans, cherry tomatoes, green onions, jalapeno, and bacon. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to combine. Add dressing as needed.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least one hour. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and sliced jalapeno, if desired.