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Sure to be a hit at the barbecue or alongside any summer meal, this Mexican Pasta Salad is loaded with black beans, corn, red peppers, and so much more. A creamy Southwestern Dressing gives it a kicked-up zesty flavor, but Greek yogurt keeps it light. Plus you can make it with gluten free noodles!
Mexican Pasta Salad with Creamy Southwestern Dressing
Macaroni salad or pasta salad are summertime staples. But sometimes you need to change things up a bit. Or, more specifically, kick them up with some Tex Mex-inspired ingredients. With bold flavors, a bit of spice, and a rainbow of ingredients, I’m sure you will love this dish as much as we do.
It’s a quick side or even cold lunch that you can make any day of the week. And it’s a great recipe to bring to a potluck. But if you bring it to a picnic or party, everyone will be begging for the recipe.
And this Mexican pasta salad recipe is so simple. Just cook the pasta, stir together the dressing, and toss everything together.
Speaking of the dressing, unlike your typical pasta salad recipes that can be very heavy with a mayo- or oil-based dressing, this one is super light but still ultra-creamy. It’s based on my Creamy Southwestern Dressing using the Greek yogurt option. So yes, that also means it is packed with protein.
Also, you can definitely use gluten free pasta, just as I did!
What You’ll Need
A short list of fresh ingredients and some pantry staples give this creamy pasta salad recipe all the Mexican flavors you love.
Pasta Salad Ingredients
- Uncooked pasta: I like to use rotini, but any short pasta will do, such as penne or elbow macaroni. And yes, gluten free pasta can also be used.
- Canned black beans: Make sure you drain and rinse them.
- Corn: This can be frozen (just be sure to thaw it), from a can (drain off the liquid), or cut right off the cob. You can even grill it or make Air Fryer Corn on the Cob if you want a little smoky flavor.
- Grape tomatoes: Or cherry tomatoes. Slice them in half.
- Red onion: Mince it nice and small.
- Red bell pepper: Chopped. You can use any color, but I recommend a sweet one, like red, yellow, or orange, versus the green ones that can be bitter.
Creamy Southwestern Dressing Ingredients
- Plain Greek yogurt: Nonfat, low fat, or whole will all work fine. You can even substitute sour cream or half mayo and half heavy cream.
- Salsa: Use your favorite, whether you like it hot or mild.
- Olive oil
- Apple cider vinegar: For some extra zing, feel free to substitute fresh lime juice.
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Chili powder: You can always add more if you like a little spice.
- Black pepper
- Fresh cilantro: Mince it and set a little aside to garnish your pasta salad when it’s done.
How to Make Southwestern Pasta Salad
It’s really so easy. The most time-consuming part is chopping the veggies, but you can do that while you wait for the water to boil!
Cook the pasta: Boil your pasta according to the package directions. Then run it under cold water to chill it down. You can even stick it in the fridge while you do other preparations.
Prep the Ingredients: Thaw the corn, drain and rinse the beans, and wash and chop the vegetables. Add the pasta, beans, corn, tomatoes, and onions to a large bowl.
Make the Dressing: Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir them together.
Finish the Mexican Pasta Salad: Pour the dressing over the top and stir everything together. Garnish with a little cilantro, if you like, then dig in!
Tips for Success
Make It Gluten Free: Yes, you can definitely make this a gluten free pasta salad. Because it might sit around for a few hours before you eat it, I recommend a heartier gluten free pasta like quinoa or chickpea pasta. I also recommend cooking the pasta slightly al dente so it doesn’t break apart.
Double It: This recipe is based on using 8 oz. of pasta which is the typical size box of gluten free pasta, or half a box of regular pasta. It makes about 6-8 servings. So if you want to bring it to a party, just double all of the ingredients.
Add Some Protein: Try mixing in some cooked chicken or shrimp to make it a little heartier if you want to enjoy your Mexican pasta salad as a meal.
Make it Your Own: Add some avocado, swap the red bell peppers for another color, mix in cheddar or cotija cheese, add some black olives or sliced green onions, or give it a little extra kick with jalapenos or hot sauce. The possibilities are endless.
Can I Make it Ahead?
You can enjoy it right away, but letting it sit for a few hours will really allow the flavors to develop and come together. If you want to make it more than just a few hours in advance, you can prepare the dressing the day before and even cook the pasta and leave it covered in the fridge. Then just mix it all up the day you want to serve it.
Covered tightly, this Southwestern Pasta Salad will keep in the refrigerator for up for 2-3 days if you use regular pasta. Gluten free pasta does tend to break down or get a little mushy, so I recommend enjoying it by the next day. If it has dried out a little, you can add a little more yogurt and oil or vinegar (or a little of both).
What to Serve with Mexican Pasta Salad
This easy Southwestern pasta salad can be a light meal on its own or if you mix in some chopped rotisserie chicken, grilled shrimp, or even Chili Lime Steak Bites. But of course, pasta salad is a classic side dish to serve with dinner or bring to a party!
- Dinner on the Grill: Serve this pasta salad whether you are grilling chicken, steak, or Mexican Black Bean Quinoa Burgers.
- Mexican Meatless Monday: Have some vegetarian pasta salad with Mexican Pineapple Black Bean Stuffed Sweet Potatoes or Breakfast Tostadas.
- Taco Tuesday: A new side dish idea whether you are making Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos or Instant Pot Beef Tacos.
- BBQ Dinner: The Southwestern flavors also pair well with Baked BBQ Chicken Breasts or Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Pork.
Things You’ll Need
- If you are making gluten free pasta salad, I recommend a quinoa or chickpea pasta, as these tend to hold up better than rice-based pasta.
- I love having plenty of silicone spatulas and bowls on hand for mixing everything together. You’ll need a couple to make this dish.
Mexican Pasta Salad
For the Pasta Salad
- 8 oz. uncooked rotini pasta or another short pasta, gluten free if needed
- 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup corn, from a can, thawed if frozen, or cut from the cob
- 1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
- 1/4 cup minced red onion
- half of a red bell pepper, chopped
- minced cilantro for garnish, if desired
- Prepare the pasta according to the package directions, cooking slightly al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water to chill the pasta. You can also put it in the refrigerator while preparing the other ingredients.
- Prepare the dressing by adding the Greek yogurt, salsa, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, and cilantro in a bowl. Stir together until smooth.
- Add the cooked and cooled pasta, black beans, corn, tomatoes, and red onion to a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and stir together to combine. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.
- Serve immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.
More side salads
Every picnic menu needs a good selection of salads. Here are some of my favorites.