Southwestern Chicken and Pasta Salad
Pasta salad is a spring and summer dish that evokes thoughts of picnics, backyard barbecues, and holiday gatherings. Whether one wants to serve it as a side dish or as the star of a meal, pasta salad is simple to make, and can be adapted to please a wide range of tastes.
I have always been a fan of foods that fall under the label of "Southwestern". The flavors and ingredients in this category of cooking are perfect for a pasta salad. I took some of the ingredients that are often used in Southwestern-style food and turned them into a salad that is easy to prepare. This dish can be served as the main dish for lunch or dinner. I hope you enjoy this as much as my family and I do.
- 16 ounces penne pasta
- 2 1/2 cups pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized (about 1/2 inch) chunks
- 1 1/2 cups pre-cooked corn, (canned, frozen, or fresh)
- 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup sliced black olives
- 1 16-ounce jar chunky salsa
- 1 cup ranch dressing
- Cook the penne pasta until it is "al dente" according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, cut up the chicken, drain and rinse the black beans, and prepare the corn (drain if canned, thaw if frozen).
- Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain off the cooking water and rinse the pasta under cold water until it is at least room temperature. Dump the drained pasta into a large bowl. Add the chicken, beans, and corn to the bowl and stir gently to combine.
- Drain the black olives and add them to the pasta mixture. Add the shredded cheese next, making sure the cheese is evenly spread throughout the mixture. Set pasta mixture aside for a moment.
- In another bowl, stir together the salsa and ranch dressing. Once the salsa and dressing are thoroughly combined, pour this mixture over the pasta salad. Stir the salad until everything is coated by the dressing. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve.
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- This salad is good served over romaine or red leaf lettuce. Garnish the salad with sprigs of cilantro or some chopped green onion.
- If you do not have precooked chicken on hand, you can easily prepare some for this recipe by broiling it. This will take you an extra 30 minutes or so. Take three boneless, skinless chicken breasts and butterfly them (i.e., split them lengthwise so they are not too thick). Dunk them for 15 to 20 minutes in the following marinade: 1 cup of water, the juice of 1/2 a medium-sized lime, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of onion flakes, 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Preheat the broiler. Place marinaded chicken on a broiler pan and set it about 6 or 7 inches from the heat in the oven. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn the pieces over and cook for 5 more minutes. If the chicken is less than one inch thick, it should be done after 10 minutes total. If not, you may have to give it a couple more minutes. Just make sure the juices run clear when you cut into it. Allow the chicken to cool on a rack or plate while you start boiling the water for the noodles; you don't want the chicken to be hot when you put it into the salad.
- If you want to serve this salad as a side dish, simply omit the chicken, and reduce the ranch dressing to 3/4 cup, and the salsa to 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups). Do note, however, that this will lessen the yield of the recipe by 2 1/2 cups.
- Grilled tofu can be substituted for the chicken to make this dish suitable for vegetarians.
- This salad is best when eaten the same day it is made. If you want to prepare it in part a day in advance, then combine everything together in a bowl except the shredded cheese and 1/2 of the salsa/ranch dressing mixture. Right before you serve the salad, toss the cheese into the salad to evenly distribute it, then pour the reminder of the dressing mixture in and stir.
© 2013 Rhosynwen