This cilantro corn pasta salad quickly became a favorite dinner in my house over the summer! It's definitely one you want to make.
It's bursting with fresh flavors, textures, and tons of nutritious veggies. The kids and M all love this dish so much that the entire bowl (8 servings—almost 3 pounds of food!) disappeared in one evening.
Don't like cilantro? No problem.
If you're in the approximately 10% of people who hate cilantro, not to worry! I use a combo of basil and cilantro here for the herby green dressing, so you can sub the cilantro with more basil or another herb for an equally amazing corn pasta salad.
This pasta salad is especially wonderful with fresh corn cut off the cob and then sautéed with a little chili powder and extra virgin olive oil, however, frozen corn works too if fresh corn isn't available.
Cilantro Corn Pasta Salad Ingredients
Prep for this corn pasta salad is pretty easy, and even easier if you use leftover chicken. I often roast chicken breasts for dinner a day or two before and make a few extra to save for this dish.
- Short-cut Pasta: I like bowties (farfalle, which actually means butterflies but also looks like bowties) here, but any short-cut pasta works. Fusilli or penne would also be great.
- Chicken: Chop up some cooked chicken to make this a complete meal. I usually use boneless, skinless chicken breasts roasted with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and I've also used smoked chicken off the Traeger grill and it was awesome here. Here's my recipe for roasted chicken breasts if you need it.
- Fresh or Frozen Corn: Fresh corn, sliced off the cobb seasoned with chili powder and sautéed makes this dish out of this world. In a pinch frozen corn works, too. Simply defrost it by adding it to pasta in the last minute of cooking and strain it all together.
- Red Bell Pepper: Diced red bell pepper adds great crunch, flavor and color to this corn pasta salad.
- Green Onions: More color and flavor with green onions is essential. Diced red onion would also work here, soak your diced red onions in ice water for 10 minutes if you want to mellow out the flavor a bit.
- Avocado: Who doesn't love avocado with corn?! You can leave it out if you don't have one, but the creaminess and flavor are a great addition here.
- Feta cheese crumbles: Feta adds a nice salty bite and contributes to the great texture. Leave it out to make this dish dairy-free.
- Cilantro Basil Dressing: Fresh cilantro, fresh basil, garlic, fresh lemon, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper are what make this dish pop. This dressing is pesto-esque and perfect with the corn and other ingredients here. Plus, fresh herbs are incredibly nutritious, they are greens after all.
See recipe card below for quantities and detailed instructions.
Step 1: Roast 2 chicken breasts if you're not using leftover chicken.
Step 2: Bring a big pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons of salt, then cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Be careful not to overcook the pasta. If the package says 9-11 minutes, I generally cook it for 9, maybe 10 minutes. You'll drain and rinse it after cooking to stop the cooking process.
Step 3: While the pasta water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, sauté the corn, make the dressing, and chop the veggies.
Step 4: Drain & rinse the pasta to stop the cooking process, then toss all of the ingredients in a large bowl with the dressing.
Note: Sautéeing fresh corn adds a little more time and effort than using frozen corn. It's worth it for the incredible caramelized flavor of sautéeing the corn right off the cobb, but if you're short on time simply use frozen corn.
Substitutions & Variations
It's easy to make this cilantro corn pasta salad your own, here's how to customize it:
- Vegetarian - Substitute the chicken with a (14-ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed.
- Dairy-Free - Omit the feta cheese.
- Gluten-free - Use any gluten-free pasta of your choice.
- Spicy - Add a chopped jalapeno for a nice kick of heat. I often chop a jalapeno for the side for M because he loves the heat. Remove the seeds and ribs of the jalapeno for a reasonable heat level.
- Bulk it up - Serving a crowd or a hungry family? Add both the chicken and (14-ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed. If you add both, add extra salt (about ½ teaspoon) and an extra drizzle of lemon juice and or extra virgin olive oil at the end, to taste.
See more awesome healthy salad recipes for even more ideas.
- Get out your biggest bowl to serve; you could also use the big pot that you made the pasta in
- Pasta pot, cutting board, sharp knife
- To sauté the fresh corn: Bowl to catch the corn, knife, sauté pan, and a wooden or silicone spoon
Cilantro corn pasta salad keeps in the fridge, covered, for up to 3 days. If you make the vegetarian version it will keep up to 5 days in the fridge. I wouldn't freeze this one.
Top Recipe Tip
This pasta salad is great once assembled and is even better if you allow it to sit for 30-60 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to come together. Put it in the fridge if left out for more than an hour. It's great hot, room temp, or cold.
This Cilantro Corn Pasta Salad is a summer favorite in our house—both kids and adults alike love it! I like to make it with leftover chicken to make prep even easier, but add more time if you need to roast or grill chicken. Sub the cilantro with more basil if you don't love cilantro. Enjoy!
Pasta Salad Ingredients:
- 1 (16-ounce) package farfalle (bowtie) pasta (or any short-cut pasta)
- 1 pound cooked chicken breast, chopped (this is great to use leftover roasted chicken, about 2 chicken breasts total)
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 ears fresh corn, sliced off the cobb, OR or 1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 red bell pepper, minced
- 4-5 green onions, finely sliced (use both white and green parts, about ½ cup total)
- 1 avocado, diced
- ½ cup feta cheese crumbles
- sea salt or Kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups loosely packed cilantro (about 1 bunch)
- 2 cups loosely packed basil
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
- 1 large clove of fresh garlic
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons water to thin out after processing with the oil
(If not using leftover chicken, roast 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts for serving.)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and cook the pasta according to the package instructions; you'll drain and rinse it to stop the cooking process when it's done. Set out a large serving bowl to make the pasta salad.
- While the pasta water comes up to a boil and cooks:
- Sauté the fresh corn: Remove the husk, then slice the corn off the cobb over a bowl. Heat 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Add the fresh corn with 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and a few spins of freshly ground black pepper and sauté for 5-6 minutes until it starts to brown but remains crunchy. Add the sautéed corn to the large serving bowl. (If using frozen corn, skip this step and simply defrost it by adding it to the pasta for the last minute the pasta cooks, then drain it with the pasta. Omit the chili powder.)
- Chop the chicken and mince the red bell pepper, and slice the green onions. Add all to the large serving bowl.
- Make the dressing: Add all dressing ingredients except the water to a food processor or blender. Pulse until a sauce is made, leaving chunks of herbs if desired. Quickly blend or pulse in the water if needed to thin it out a little so it pours evenly over the pasta salad.
- Drain the pasta and run it under cold water to stop the cooking process. Add the drained and rinsed pasta to the serving bowl.
- Pour the dressing over the pasta, chicken, bell pepper, and corn and toss to coat. Add the diced avocado and feta cheese and gently toss again to combine. Serve right away warm or chill to serve cold.
Keywords: Corn Pasta Salad, Corn in Pasta Salad
Yes! Make this recipe exactly as written and you won't be disappointed.
Yes, this pasta salad is great with or without the chicken. Add a can of drained and rinsed black beans in place of the chicken to make it vegetarian.