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Southwestern Style Pasta Salad


As I'm typing this post, I'm eating some of this delicious pasta salad. I made this salad for Mark on Saturday because he had a craving for a good pasta salad. He went on to say that he didn't want the same old Italian dressing version he's had 100 times and he didn't want a version with mayo in it since he would be working outside all day and wanted to keep it light.

He started listing off ingredients like fresh squeezed lime juice, cilantro, poblano peppers, olives... and then asked me to "wing it". So, I hit the internet for some direction first since I'm not that experienced yet with making vinaigrettes without a recipe. However, after about 15 minutes of surfing, I didn't find anything resembling what I was looking for. So, I decided to listen to Mark and "wing it".

Lucky for us both, the final product was a success and as I sit here and eat it now, I can tell you that it's tasty, refreshing, it has a little back-of-the-throat kick, it's a little creamy from the avocado and cotija cheese, and it's got lots of crunch from all the veggies. Mark said it was just what he was looking for, but that I shouldn't break my arm patting myself on the back. haha... Isn't he sweet?

So here it is folks, another FOODIE original:

Start by cooking your desired pasta shapes according to package directions. Be sure to shock the pasta in cold water when it's done to stop the cooking process so the pasta stays firm and doesn't get mushy when mixed with everything else. Then toss the pasta with some drizzled olive oil so it doesn't stick together. I decided to use farfalle (a.k.a. bow ties) from Barilla's new line of Piccolini pastas.


Now, it's time to chop away. I liked making this salad because I love chopping up ingredients. Seriously, I could do it all day. I would be happy as a clam working as a sous chef that just did food prep all day, I really would. My knife skills have got to be bangin' by now. haha... Anyway, I chopped up the following veggies: poblano peppers, orange bell pepper, red onion, celery, jalapeno, black olives, and cilantro. Here's just a few of those ingredients in all their colorful glory:


Shoot, even the garbage bowl was pretty for this dish:


Ok, then it was time to figure out the chili-lime vinaigrette. I wasn't sure how I was going to make it, and then I asked myself, "What would Bobby Flay do?" Seriously, I did. Then I remembered that he loves ancho chili powder and lime juice together and kind of went from there. I started by juicing two limes into a bowl, which produced 1/4 cup of juice. I then whisked in 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder, 1 large minced jalapeno, 2 large minced garlic cloves, a 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt and black pepper to taste. It produced the mixture you see here:


Now, let's just take a step back for a second and talk about what happens when I decide to create a recipe from my head. Well, this is what happens to my kitchen. This is just a small corner of my kitchen, but it's where I really like to do my chopping because I can chop along with Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, Guy Fieri, Giada, etc. and I just really enjoy it. I love the Food Network - guilty as charged. So anyway, this is what my creative culinary mind produces in the kitchen... a mess.


Ok, back to the pasta salad...

So the next step is to now dice up your avocado. You want to wait until now because avocado likes to turn brown as soon as it can, so you want to have the citrusy vinaigrette made and ready to mix it together with all the ingredients, including the avocado. The citrus will stop the oxidation of the avocado, preserving it's pretty green color and fresh taste. So dice up that beautiful avocado:


Then, grab your cotija cheese, 8 oz., and chop it all up into tiny crumbly cubes. This cheese is so good. It's crumbly and fresh with a light salty flavor. It's got the texture of feta, but a little drier and the flavor is just fresh. It's hard to describe, but Bobby Flay loves it, so I do too. :-)



Now, mix everything together and pour the vinaigrette all over everything. Make sure you vigorously whisk the vinaigrette right before you pour it onto the pasta salad so all the ingredients meld together. Now just toss your pasta salad, then season with more sea salt and pepper until it tastes good to you. Don't forget to throw in that chopped cilantro! Yum!


So whip this pasta salad up for your next cookout and hey, let me know if everyone liked it!

Southwestern Style Pasta Salad
by Tara


Salad ingredients:
1 lb. pasta of your choice (I suggest tiny farfalle pasta), cooked then shocked in cold water and tossed in olive oil
2 poblano peppers, seeded and finely diced
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 quarter of a red onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks from the middle of the bunch, finely diced
Handful of black olives, diced
8 oz. block of Cotija cheese, finely diced or crumbled
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and finely diced

Vinaigrette ingredients:
2 limes, juiced (or 1/4 cup lime juice)
2 tblsp rice vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tspn cumin
2 tspn ancho chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
large jalapeno (or 2 small ones), seeded and finely diced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is done, immediately shock it in cold water. Then, drain the pasta and, in a large bowl, toss it in some drizzled olive oil so it doesn't stick together.

Next, chop all the salad ingredients except for the avocado. Combine the salad ingredients with the pasta.

Now, make the vinaigrette. Simply combine all the vinaigrette ingredients together and whisk vigorously. Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta mixture and toss together.

Finally, peel, pit, and finely chop the avocado and add it to the pasta salad, tossing again. Season the pasta salad with salt and pepper to taste, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.


  1. This looks like such a great change from the overly mayonnaise-y pasta salads that are normally served. I can imagine myself filling up on this at a weekend barbecue before the meat has finished cooking :)


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