Healthy Taco Pasta Salad – Taco salad meets pasta salad in this fresh dish! A yummy take on a summer favorite. (Gluten free & vegan!)
For the last few months, I’ve been rotating through different theme nights during the week to make meal planning easier on myself. It helps me narrow down my options so it’s easier to come up with menu ideas, but leaves me enough flexibility to not eat the same few dinners night after night.
For Taco/Tex-Mex Tuesday, for instance, I can switch between things like Fish Tacos or Chicken Tacos, giant veggie-friendly Black Bean Taco Salads, Taco Soup, Tostadas, big lovely Burrito Bowls, and more.
It leaves me plenty of room to get creative, and this Taco Pasta Salad is one of our favorites to mix in when we need something fresh on taco night.
It’s a pasta salad + taco salad blend that’s absolutely delicious. It’s loaded with bright colors and fresh flavors. Plus, there are some shortcuts that can make it even faster to prepare, and lots of different ways to change it up.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started…
HERE’S WHAT GOES INTO OUR HEALTHY GLUTEN-FREE TACO PASTA SALAD RECIPE:
- (Gluten-Free) Pasta. Our taco pasta salad starts with rotini (spiral) pasta. We’re gluten-free, so I use gluten-free rotini, but feel free to use traditional pasta if it works for your dietary needs.
- Black Beans. For some plant-based protein, I add some black beans. They’re delicious with the dressing!
- Baby Tomatoes. I love using colorful tomatoes for our healthy taco pasta salad. They make every bite so bright and happy!
- Corn. Next up is some corn. Feel free to use cooked fresh corn or frozen corn in this taco pasta salad. I’ve been really into the charred/grilled frozen corn at Trader Joe’s. You can also grill it yourself to add more flavor!
- Roasted Bell Peppers. Similarly, I love the flavor of using roasted bell peppers. They’re more tender than fresh, and they add a lovely smoky note that’s great with the Tex-Mex flavors of our taco pasta salad. I usually use jarred peppers packed in water, or you can make your own. (Prefer to use fresh? No problem!)
- Cilantro. I love the bright, fresh flavor of a little cilantro. If you’re not a fan, you can skip it or swap for parsley.
- Green Onion (If You Want). For a subtle onion flavor, I add a sliced green onion to the salad. It’s *just enough* flavor!
- A Fresh Chili-Lime Dressing. Lastly, you’ll finish our healthy taco pasta salad recipe with a chili lime dressing made from simple ingredients–fresh lime juice (not bottled!), rice vinegar (or cider vinegar), olive oil, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Easy, fresh, delicious!
MIX IT UP! TRY ONE OF THESE VARIATIONS ON OUR HEALTHY TACO PASTA SALAD:
- SWAP IN DIFFERENT VEGGIES. What other veggies can I use in taco pasta salad? Whatever you like! Feel free to add some shredded carrot, cucumber, chickpeas, diced red onion, or even some black olives.
- ADD CHICKEN OR CHEESE! If you’re not vegan, adding in some cooked grilled chicken or a little cheese can be a tasty way to fill this taco pasta salad out even more. We love this honey lime chicken!
- MIX IN SOME GREENS. You can easily add in a few handfuls of chopped spinach or arugula for some extra color and nutrients. I love this variation on healthy taco pasta salad!
FAQ + TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST TACO PASTA SALAD:
SHORTCUTS FOR OUR HEALTHY TACO PASTA SALAD: If you prefer, you can use 1 1/2 tsp. of your favorite taco seasoning (like this homemade version!) in place of the cumin and chili powder for the vinaigrette. It’ll taste amazing either way! I also really like the jarred roasted bell peppers which cut down on prep time a bit.
WHAT’S THE BEST PASTA FOR GLUTEN-FREE PASTA SALAD? We almost always use brown rice pasta for warm dishes, but it can sometimes be a little chewy when cold. I’ve had the best luck for pasta salad with other pasta blends, like corn and white rice or quinoa. It’s less nutritious, but the texture is far superior for a cold salad.
CAN I MAKE TACO PASTA SALAD AHEAD OF TIME? Yes, and I recommend it! Pasta salads get better with a little time, in my opinion. The pasta has more time to absorb the dressing, which makes every bite feel a little more flavorful. If you’re worried about your avocado browning, you can wait and do that *right* before serving, but I’ve found that with the lime and vinegar in the dressing, it stays pretty green for several hours ahead of time.
WANT AN EXTRA FLAVOR BOOST? Try using a flavored olive oil! I love the ones from Queen Creek Olive Mill. The Mexican lime is fantastic here, or you can add a few drops of their chile or jalapeño olive oil for some serious kick.
MORE SUMMER SALADS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH:
- Honey Lime Fruit Salad
- Black Bean Taco Salad
- My Big Fat Greek Quinoa Salad
- Confetti Quinoa Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
- Mixed Berry Green Salad
- Thai Quinoa Crunch Salad