Southwest Pasta Salad

There’s a reason why pasta salad can be found in almost every grocery store. Popular with everyone from kids to adults, a good pasta salad is a true crowd pleaser. The beauty of it is that it can have so many variations. Pasta is a great blank canvas – it can be tossed with anything from tangy Italian vinaigrettes to spicy Asian dressings. That’s just the beginning, as so many great fresh vegetables, herbs, beans and grilled lean meats can be added to make any pasta salad a satisfying dish.

Of course the best pasta salads are the ones you make yourself. This gives you total control of how much dressing and other ingredients end up in the salad. Because even though it’s called a “salad,” it can still be loaded with calories. So go easy on the dressing, but use a heavy hand with fresh vegetables and herbs. And swap out high-calorie, high-sodium meats like salami or ham with tofu or beans.

This recipe is inspired by flavors of the Southwest and also happens to be vegetarian. The dressing is yogurt-based, making it creamy without the extra calories or fat found in mayonnaise-based salads. Plus, it’s loaded with fresh vegetables that not only provide fiber, but also vitamins and minerals! Pile this pasta salad on a bed of mixed greens and you’ve got a dinner that will impress your entire family.

Food Safety Tip: This pasta salad will be a hit at your next picnic or potluck; just remember to keep food safety in mind. After being unrefrigerated for two hours, it needs to either be tossed or put back in the fridge. Or, if it’s a really hot day, above 90 degrees, it should be tossed or put back in the fridge after only one hour.

Southwest Pasta Salad

Recipe by Sara Haas, RDN, LDN


  • 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chile in adobo sauce
  • 1 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 lime, washed, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, washed
  • 12 ounces whole-wheat penne pasta
  • Vegetable oil, as needed to coat grill grates
  • 2 ears fresh corn, husked and silks removed
  • 1 red bell pepper, washed, stem and seeds removed, then quartered
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
  • 1/4 cup green onions, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1, 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 avocado, washed, seeded, peeled and cubed


  1. In a blender or food processor, add the chilies, yogurt, lime juice, lime zest and cilantro. Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender/processor as needed.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain pasta and hold.
  3. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the grates or pan with vegetable oil. Once the grill is hot, add the corn and cook, turning frequently. After about 8 minutes, add the peppers to the grill. Grill the corn and peppers an additional 8 minutes, turning the peppers over halfway through the cooking time, then remove from the grill.
  4. Once the corn is cool enough to handle, carefully remove the kernels from the the cob, by cutting them downward into a large bowl. Dice the grilled peppers and add them to the bowl along with the cherry tomatoes, green onions, cheese, black beans and cooked pasta. Pour dressing over the top and toss gently to coat.
  5. Garnish each portion with avocado just before serving.

Cooking Note

  • Grilling the corn and peppers isn't necessary, but is a nice way to add additional flavor to the dish. If you don’t have access to a grill, use a grill pan or roast them. Heat the oven to 425°F and place the corn and peppers on a sheet pan covered with foil, spray lightly with cooking spray then roast, turning often until browned, about 30 minutes.
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Sara Haas
Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, is a Chicago-based dietitian and co-author of the Fertility Foods Cookbook. Read her blog, The Cooking RD, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.