This vegan Southwest pasta salad is delicious anytime but especially during the warm summer months. It’s light, refreshing, full of flavor, and perfect as a main dish, side dish or appetizer!
Why Make this Recipe
If you’re in need of a fantastic side dish for a party, picnic, barbecue, or just for dinner at home, this creamy southwestern pasta salad with chipotle dressing is hard to beat.
With its mixture of spices, lime juice, corn, black beans, and more, it’s an amazing twist on your standard pasta salad recipe.
This salad has bell peppers, onion, beans and tomato, so it’s a great way to get more plant-based foods into your diet. Not to mention – it’s packed with flavour thanks to the chipotle dressing!
For something so simple to make, this cold pasta salad will certainly end up on rotation at your house for summers to come!
- Vegetarian and vegan (dairy-free), as well as easily made gluten-free.
- Quick & easy! You can put this together in about a half hour.
- Great for entertaining.
- Provides 18 grams of plant-based protein and 11 g of fiber per serving – or more if you use whole wheat pasta!
- Versatile! It can work as a side dish, appetizer, or light lunch or dinner.
- Full of flavor thanks to Tex-Mex/Southwestern favorites like chipotle powder, lime, and roasted corn.
- It’s wonderful for meal prep as the flavours get even better after storing.
Pasta Salad Ingredients
A complete list of ingredients with amounts and full instructions is located in the printable recipe card below. This section covers ingredient and substitution considerations.
- Pasta: This recipe calls for about 375 g of rotini pasta. However, you can substitute it for your favourite kind, including gluten-free or whole wheat varieties. Small pasta shapes like bows, mini shells, macaroni, fusilli and penne work best.
- Black Beans: Canned black beans work or you can use chickpeas, kidney beans or pinto beans. I like black beans best for this recipe though.
- Corn kernels: Use fresh, thawed and drained frozen, or canned corn, depending on what’s available to you. Fresh is best during the late summer months when corn is in season!
- Olive oil: You’ll need 2 tsp to roast the corn. Avocado oil and canola oil are good substitutes. It’s best not to omit the oil since it prevents the corn from drying out!
- Smoked Paprika: If you don’t have smoked paprika you can add regular paprika but the smoked paprika does add a nice hint of smoky flavour to the salad.
- Chipotle Powder: If you don’t have the chipotle powder you can use 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce or 2-3 tsp of the adobo sauce from the can.
- Other Spices: You’ll need cumin, salt and pepper. Feel free to adjust these as necessary to your preference. If you’d like a little more heat you can add a pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.
- Roasted cashews: You can use roasted or raw cashews for the dressing but roasted cashews add a nice layer of flavour. We’ll cover some options for making this recipe nut-free below.
- Garlic: A fresh clove of garlic is best but you can use 1 tsp of garlic powder as a substitute if that’s what you have.
- Tomato: You can use grape tomato, cherry tomato or Roma tomato.
- Bell Peppers: The recipe calls for red bell pepper but you can use any colour of bell pepper such as green or yellow bell pepper.
- Jalapeno: Be sure to de-seed the jalapeno and wash well (and wash hands well after handling!). Poblano pepper would work as a substitute.
- Cilantro: Skip it if you’re not a fan!
- Limes: You’ll need 2-3 fresh limes to make the lime juice and lime zest.
How To Make Southwest Pasta Salad
Before You Start: Place the cashews in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Soak them for at least 15 minutes or until the water is cool. You can leave them up to 8 hours so this can be done in advance.
Step 1: Cook Your Pasta
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook your pasta according to package instructions. Once cooked, drain and rinse well under cold water. This will stop the cooking and help prevent the pasta from sticking together once cooled.
Step 2: Roast the Corn & Jalapeno
While the pasta is cooking, mix together the corn kernels, diced jalapeno, and olive oil in a medium-sized bowl (or just mix on the baking tray). Place this mixture evenly on a baking sheet and roast in the oven on broil for 2 minutes.
Give it a stir and then place it back in the oven for an additional 2 minutes or until the corn is golden brown. Remove it from the oven and let cool.
Step 3: Make The Chipotle Dressing
Once the cashews have soaked, add the cashews and water to a blender along with the spices, garlic, lime juice, and zest. Blend until completely smooth.
If needed, you may need a little water to adjust the consistency. It should be thick and creamy but able to be poured from the blender.
Quick Tip: When preparing the lime zest, make sure you’re using the green peel only and not the bitter white pith underneath. A citrus zester works best for this!
Step 4: Combine the Pasta, Veggies & Dressing
Once the pasta is cooked and the corn has cooled, place it all in a large bowl with the onion, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and black beans. Pour in your dressing and mix thoroughly.
You can serve it immediately, but like many pasta salads, it’s best to let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour. That way, all the flavours really come together!
Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and serve your pasta salad topped with cilantro and fresh lime wedges on the side.
Quick Tip: If you’re not serving the salad right away, consider adding half of the dressing now and reserving the other half for just before serving. The pasta soaks up the sauce as it sits so the salad will dry out a bit over time.
Notes & Tips
- Timing: Start a pot of boiling water for the pasta and get the cashews soaking right away. While you wait, chop up the fresh ingredients so you’re ready to go.
- Serving Size: This recipe can easily be cut in half or doubled as needed.
- No-Cook: You can skip the roasted corn and just fresh, canned or thawed frozen to make this even easier with cooking involved.
- Spiciness: For more heat, add up to 1/2 tsp cayenne or red chili flakes. You can also add more chipotle powder or 1-2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.
Yes. To make this recipe without cashews, substitute 3/4 cup vegan or regular mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt (not vegan).
You could also use a store-bought chipotle ranch, Southwest or other bottled salad dressing you enjoy.
The recipe is not gluten-free as written but can easily be made gluten-free by using your choice of gluten-free pasta such as brown rice pasta, chickpea pasta or quinoa pasta.
Variations & Additions
- Add diced avocado as a topping upon serving.
- Add up to 1 cup of sliced black olives.
- Add up to 1 cup of finely chopped scallions (green onion).
- Sprinkle with feta cheese, cotija cheese, queso fresco or grated cheddar for serving.
- Southwest Macaroni Salad: Use macaroni noodles instead of rotini.
- The salad can be served on its own for a light and refreshing meal.
- As a side salad, it’s great for BBQs, picnics, grilling and potlucks.
- Serve with any protein on the side or mixed into the salad.
- Serve with this quinoa beet burger or chickpea burger.
Storing & Making Ahead
- If you’re not serving the salad right away, consider adding half of the dressing and reserving half for just before serving. The pasta continues to soak up the sauce so the salad will dry out a bit after storing.
- Fridge: Keep it in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Use a sealed container.
- Freezing: This recipe is not suitable for freezing.
- Making Ahead: You can make the whole salad ahead of time or do a partial prep to speed things up by chopping up the veggies and make the dressing a day ahead of time. If the dressing is very thick after storing, you can thin it out with a little water.
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This vegan Southwestern pasta salad is delicious any time but especially during the warm summer months. Serve as a main dish, side dish or appetizer!
For the Pasta Salad
For the Southwest Dressing
- Soak the Cashews: In a small bowl, cover the roasted cashews with 1 cup of boiling water. Let cashews soak for at least 15 minutes or until the water is no longer hot. This can be done up to 8 hours in advance.
- Cook Pasta: In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook your pasta according to package instructions. Once cooked, drain and rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking and prevent sticking.
- Roast Corn & Jalapeno: While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to Broil. Add the corn and jalapeno to a baking tray along with the oil and toss to coat. Spread in an even layer. roast in the oven on broil for 2 minutes, remove and stir around with a spoon. Place back in the oven for an additional 2 minutes or until the corn is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Blend the Southwest Dressing: Once the cashews are done soaking, place the cashews and water into a blender along with the other spices, garlic, lime juice and zest.
- Assemble the Pasta Salad: Once pasta is ready and corn has cooled, place in a large bowl with the onions, peppers, cherry tomato and black beans. Pour in the cashew dressing and mix thoroughly. Note: If you’re not serving right away, consider adding half the dressing and reserving half to add just before serving so the pasta doesn’t absorb all the sauce.
- Garnish & Serve: Season with salt and pepper if needed and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with a wedge of lime and enjoy!
If you don’t have chipotle powder, you can use 1-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
- Serving Size: 1/6th of recipe
- Calories: 505
- Sugar: 12 g
- Sodium: 471 mg
- Fat: 14 g
- Carbohydrates: 81 g
- Fiber: 11 g
- Protein: 19 g
Keywords: southwest pasta salad, vegan pasta salad