taco pasta salad

My inclination to overthink was very clearly exhibited with this recipe. I’ve heard approximately eight thousand raving reviews of this pasta salad. And still, I doubted. Salsa mixed with pasta? Cheddar cheese in pasta salad? I wasn’t convinced.

I asked Cara for advice. Really? Salsa? She said she never thinks twice about it, because this dish is always a hit. Shredded yellow cheese? Yes, she said. Stop asking questions and just go make it, she probably wanted to say.

I started slowly, adding only a third of the salsa called for, thinking I’d just mix in extra fresh tomatoes and some red onions and a jalapeno separately if I didn’t like the salsa. And then I realized – yes, salsa mixed with pasta. And I stirred in the rest of the salsa.

Right after those two ingredients were mixed is when I started nibbling. And then I added black beans… cilantro… avocado… tomatoes… cheese… corn… dressing… and I just kept nibbling and nibbling as I went. And the salad just kept getting better and better.  Forget instincts. I should just trust the recipe.

One year ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Two years ago: Gazpacho

Printer Friendly Recipe
Taco Pasta Salad (adapted slightly from Cara’s Cravings)

Serves 8-12

Apparently there’s no wagon wheel pasta in my little town. Bowties worked just fine.

I toasted the spices before mixing them into the dressing. Just heat a small not-nonstick pan over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the spices and stir them around just until they start to smoke, no longer than a minute.

1 pound wagon wheel pasta
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn
1½ cups salsa
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese
3-4 tablespoons lime juice
1 large (or 2 small) avocado, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions. Drain; stir the frozen corn into the pasta to cool the pasta and defrost the corn. Stir the salsa into the pasta and corn, then add the beans, tomatoes, cilantro, and cheese.

2. Squeeze the lime juice into a small bowl and add the avocado; stir to coat the avocado. Remove the avocado from the lime juice and stir it into the pasta mixture. Add the spices, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt to the lime juice, then slowly whisk in the oil. Stir the dressing into the salad. Serve immediately or chill for up to 1 day (longer if you don’t add the avocado).


  1. treewhisperer says:

    i find that a some distrust of of recipe is very healthy…and beneficial most of the time. 🙂 they always seem to leave out the steps with the “tricks” to getting something to work out right…or tell you to do something a certain way that you know better (or think you do anyhow). nope, i think you were right to have distrust.

    with that being said, i kind of distrust your review of the recipe! 😉 actually, it sounds fantastic!

  2. I don’t doubt it at all:) It looks delicious!

  3. Mmm. This looks so amazing! I bet you could brown some ground pork or beef with some taco seasoning and toss it in as well. Glorious.

  4. I still have yet to try this salad. I’m glad Cara convinced you to just trust the recipe. I’m guilty of that sometimes too…

  5. Cara is very wise and that dish looks fantastic. All my favorite things.

  6. I agree, I have doubted the taco pasta salad too, but I do love mexican food. Glad it turns out that you like it, I have a little more faith now! Thanks!

  7. I have printed out this recipe and will give it a go. Sounds to me like it would be pretty good. I might even add some chicken breast to mine. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  8. What a fun dinner idea! I bet I could make good use of a lot of things I already have in my pantry by making this. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos and recipe, Bridget!

  9. Like everything else, intuition has a time and place 🙂

  10. Kim in MD says:

    I would be leary of salsa and cheese in pasta salad, too. That said, it looks amazing (your photos are gorgeous). If you say it’s incredible, then I will try it! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  11. I think the pasta sounds wonderful. All the flavors of a taco in a bowl!

  12. Word of this salad has reached me here in the Caribbean. My friend in Texas has been trying for ages to convince me to try it……i’m a doubting Thomas……somehow I feel my resolve weakening:-)

  13. That looks wonderful! Can’t wait to try it.

  14. I love how it looks so spicy and flavorful. I think it looks even prettier with the bowtie pasta.

  15. This looks and sounds delicious! Will definitely give this a try! Maybe for a tailgate item! Thanks for sharing

  16. i recently made this for the Hubs and i and we both loooved it. i took leftovers to work and was repeatedly asked for the recipe. i think i have given this recipe to 6 people in the past week. it was so good. thanks.

  17. Marcie says:

    I made this last night and it was amazing. I’m so glad I finally tried it. I’ve been looking at the recipe for months but couldn’t make myself go ahead and do it. So glad I finally did! Thanks!

  18. I made this for my family a couple of weeks ago and we absolutely loved it! Thank you for sharing it, I am going to post it on my blog and will link to you. Thanks!

  19. How much pepper and olive oil?? Thanks!!

  20. Sarah says:

    This recipe is AMAZING! Going in my “keep” recipe box. Yum, yum, yum!

  21. Sarah says:

    Found this on pinterest and just made it for my work potluck tomorrow. Will throw the avacado in first thing in the AM! Cant wait for everyone to try it! Thanks for this! Super easy!!!

  22. Michelle says:

    I just made this and it was delicious! I made it almost exactly as written, except that:

    1) I added some chicken for extra protein.
    2) I used taco seasoning rather than cumin and chili powder, b/c my cumin has mysteriously gone missing.
    3) I skipped the avocado (sadly) b/c I need this to last for about a week.
    4) I added the cheese AFTER dividing it into individual serving containers so that I could use Daiya non-dairy cheese on my daughter’s, b/c she is lactose intolerant.

    I also had one little stroke of genius addition that turned out to be delicious, but is totally unnecessary. You know how a lot of pasta salads have a creamy dressing? Well, earlier in the day, I’d whipped up some salsa ranch dip: 1 container of sour cream, 1 packet ranch mix, and 1 small jar of salsa, blended together. It’s for dipping veggies in, but I had the brilliant idea to throw a Tbsp or so onto one serving of the pasta salad, and it was DIVINE. So cool and refreshing, yet zesty. It’s still very good without this, too, but this is a fun and easy little addition if you like creamy pasta salads.