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 often used in southwestern food and turned them into a salad that is easy to prepare, and can be served as the main dish for lunch or dinner. I hope you enjoy this as much as my family and I did.
- 16 ounces penne pasta
- 2-1/2 cups pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized (abt. 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 penne pasta until "al dente" according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, cut up chicken, drain and rinse black beans, and prepare corn (drain if canned, thaw if frozen).
- Once pasta is finished cooking, drain off cooking water and rinse pasta under cold water until it is at least room temperature. Dump drained pasta into a large bowl. Add the chicken, beans, and corn to the bowl and stir gently to combine.
- Drain 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. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
- 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 pre-cooked chicken on hand, you can easily prepare some for this recipe by broiling it. This will take you an extra thirty 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 fifteen to twenty 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. Pre-heat broiler. Place marinaded chicken on a broiler pan and set it about six or seven inches from the heat in the oven. Cook for five minutes, then turn the pieces over and cook for five more minutes. If the chicken is less than one inch thick, it should be done after ten 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.
- 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 half 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.