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a large white bowl with Southwest Pasta Salad resting on a gauzy green cloth with wooden salad servers

Southwest Pasta Salad

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  • Author: Jenni
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x
  • Category: Mains
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American


This Southwest Pasta Salad with Avocado Lime Ranch Dressing is a delicious meatless meal that is just as perfect at summer BBQs as it is enjoyed throughout the colder months of fall and winter. It can be made in 30-minutes and is just as delicious when made in advance and enjoyed the following day.



Avocado Lime Ranch:

  • 150 g (about 3/4 cup) avocado, pitted and peeled
  • 84 g (6 tbsp) mayonnaise
  • 113 g (1/2 cup) Greek yogurt (may sub for sour cream)
  • 2 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil (may sub for 2 tbsp olive oil + 2 cloves fresh garlic)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (from about 1 large or 2 small limes)
  • 1 tsp lime zest (from about 1 large or 2 small limes)
  • 1/2 oz (about 1/4 cup tightly packed) cilantro
  • 1/2 oz (about 1/4 cup tightly packed) green onions
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

For the rest of the pasta salad:

  • 16 oz penne pasta (or your preferred pasta, gluten-free if needed)
  • 3 oz (about one average bundle) Lacinato kale, destemmed and chopped
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 4 oz (about 2 peppers) roasted red bell peppers, drained and sliced
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 128 g (3/4 cup) fire-roasted frozen corn, defrosted (may sub for fresh grilled)
  • 6 oz (1 cup) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 oz (about 1/2 cup) Cotija cheese, crumbled
  • Optional: 40 g (about 4 slices) red onion, thinly sliced


For the avocado lime ranch dressing:

  1. In a food processor (or good blender), add the avocado, mayonnaise, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), garlic-infused olive oil (or olive oil + garlic cloves), lime juice and zest, cilantro, green onion, cumin, Kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  2. Blend until creamy and smooth. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. Reserve to the side.

For the rest of the pasta salad.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat with a generous pinch of salt. Cook pasta to al dente, according to package directions (generally about 8-10 minutes). Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta in a colander and give it a good rinse under cold water to remove excess starch and help cool the pasta down quicker. Reserve drained pasta to the side to finish .
  2. While the pasta cooks, tenderize the kale. In the large bowl you plan to mix the pasta salad in, add the chopped kale, olive oil, and Kosher salt. Massage by hand (kneading and gently squeezing the kale) for about 2 minutes. The kale should shrink in volume substantially as it tenderizes and the leaves will darken. Reserve to the side until you're ready to assemble the pasta salad.
  3. Once the cooked pasta has cooled, add it to the bowl along with the kale, the roasted red bell peppers, black beans, corn, tomatoes, red onion.
  4. When adding the avocado lime ranch dressing, I suggest starting out by adding about 3/4 of the batch and gently tossing to combine fully before adding the rest. This allows you to have more control over how saucy you prefer your pasta salad to be. If you'd like it to be saucier, add the rest. If you prefer a less saucy pasta salad, the leftover dressing is wonderful tossed in other salads or used as a dip for fresh veggies.
  5. Add the Cotija cheese crumbles last and toss gently to combine.
  6. Serve this pasta salad immediately or chill overnight to allow the flavors to marry. I personally think this recipe is best when enjoyed within the first three days or so.


Nutritional information on Whip & Wander is provided as a courtesy and is approximate only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the nutritional information given for any recipe on this site.


  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 443
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Sodium: 439 mg
  • Fat: 28 g
  • Saturated Fat: 2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 58 g
  • Fiber: 8 g
  • Protein: 14 g
  • Cholesterol: 6 mg