This is a flavor packed, non-mayo pasta salad that is going to knock your socks off. Chicken, cheese, bacon, and jalapeños. This is guaranteed to be the favorite dish at every summer pot-luck you attend.
This salad comes together easily. There are several shortcuts you can take to make it even quicker. We included a quick recipe for marinated grilled chicken in case you want/need it, but with the great prepared options out there like rotisserie chickens and packaged grilled chicken strips, it’s not totally necessary. See below the pasta salad recipe for those directions.
With that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk add-ins. We opted for Pepper Jack cheese because it adds an extra layer of spice. Jalapeños can vary greatly in spiciness. If you’re not a fan of heat, remove the ribs and seeds. And if you love the heat, add as many as you can handle! Try to use a thick cut bacon for texture and because the strips won’t shrink away to nothing as they cook. (Pro-tip: The oven is seriously the best for cooking up a big batch of bacon. But if you don’t want to turn on the oven, the stovetop is fine, of course.) We already mentioned the chicken. Use whatever kind you like best. Cherry or grape tomatoes are little juicy bursts of sweetness in every bite, and the avocado adds that creamy, buttery flavor and texture. Green onions are a must. And you can’t beat the tangy lime vinaigrette.
This chicken pasta salad can be a side, but it’s substantial enough to eat as a main dish with some fruit on the side. Pasta salads tend to be served chilled or at room temperature, but we tried this both chilled and piping hot… and it was delicious both ways. So even if you’re not looking for a new pasta salad recipe, this could be worth your time as a new dinner to have on rotation.
Now to decide what to have for dessert… (Here’s an easy no-churn ice cream that’s perfect for summer!)
Chicken Pasta Salad with Bacon and Jalapeños
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley
16 ounce package pasta (bowties, rotini, or another short pasta)
1 pound chicken breasts, grilled and cut into strips, or shredded (see recipe notes)
8 ounces Pepper Jack, cut into small cubes (can also use Monterey Jack, cheddar, or queso fresco)
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, diced
1 cup cooked bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced or minced
1. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small mixing bowl or place in a jar with tight-fitting lid and shake until combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, slightly undercooking pasta. It will soften a bit more when combined with the other ingredients and this prevents the pasta from falling apart. Rinse under cool water and drain well.
3. Place cooked and cooled pasta, chicken, and other ingredients into a large serving bowl. Pour dressing over the top. Toss to coat. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Yields: 6-8 large servings
– Gluten-free or another type of pasta can be used, if needed
– To make this vegetarian, omit the chicken and bacon, and substitute grilled zucchini, corn, and black beans
– Other types of hot chiles, such as serrano, can be used in place of jalapeños
– To make it really loaded with toppings, add in corn, diced red bell pepper, and sliced black olives
– If a creamy dressing is preferred, use a base of 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, sour cream, or mayo (if you must…), omit the olive oil, and whisk in the remaining ingredients.
Quick Chicken Marinade
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried dill (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients and pour over chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably several hours. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Cook chicken as desired.
How about you? Are you a pasta salad fan? For potlucks, what is your go-to dish to bring?
Credits: Recipe and photos by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom.