This Mexican street corn pasta salad has all of the delicious flavors of Mexican street corn combined with pasta for one creamy and delicious pasta salad. It makes a great addition to a summer party, Cinco de Mayo fiesta, or Taco Tuesday celebration!
With Memorial Day right around the corner – one of the biggest days for backyard bbqs – I thought it was about time to start sharing some of my favorite side dishes for summer parties.
One of the traditional side dishes is a classic pasta salad. I typically don’t love pasta salad (unless it’s something like this strawberry spinach salad with bowtie pasta) because they tend to have a strong mayo flavor and most of the time, onions.
And if you’ve read my blog for long, you know that onions (especially red onions) are not my friend.
I thought it would be fun to try out a different type of pasta salad this year, one inspired by another one of my favorite snacks – Mexican street corn.
I just love the flavors of the roasted corn, Mexican crema, cilantro, and Mexican spices together. I’ve made it into a dip in the past and this time I’m adding those flavors to pasta to create a pasta salad.
It may sound like an odd combination, but it’s delicious together. This Mexican street corn pasta salad recipe is creamy, flavorful, and such a good alternative to traditional pasta salad.
So whether you’re looking for new side dishes to eat with weeknight dinners, something to enjoy for Cinco De Mayo or Taco Tuesdays, or just something to take to summer picnics, this is a great option! It really is kind of the perfect side dish!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Unique – if you want something unique to bring to your next summer bbq or party, try this one. It’s different than the traditional summer salads, and oh so yummy!
- Better the next day – this is a great salad to make ahead of time! You can make everything the day before and let the flavors mingle overnight then just add to the pasta the day of for some amazing flavors!
- Filling side dish – if you want a side dish that is a bit more filling than a regular salad, this Mexican corn pasta salad is a great option for that. The pasta, corn, and creamy dressing make it feel almost like you could eat it as a full meal.
- Sour cream – I have sour cream listed here because it’s readily available in your local grocery store. If you don’t have sour cream or would just prefer something different, you can substitute this with Mexican crema as well. Both will give you a really nice creamy and a little tangy taste. You could also use plain Greek yogurt if neither of those are options, similar to how I use it in my spinach artichoke dip.
- Corn – I recommend using fresh corn, ideally fresh sweet corn, that you take off the cob. If that’s not an option or if it’s totally out of season, you can also used canned or frozen corn. It won’t be as good as fresh ears of corn, but it’ll still be good enough. The corn is the most important part of the classic Mexican street food so focus on getting the best ear of corn you can find!
- Rotini pasta – I really like the rotini pasta because it really soaks in the flavor of the dressing but if you don’t have rotini, you can use other short pasta noodle options like fusilli, gemelli, torchio, rigatoni, or penne, or even shells. Those will all do a good job of soaking in the creamy street corn flavors.
- Cilantro – if you are one of those people who hate fresh cilantro, you can omit this. It won’t have quite the same flavor, but it should be fine. I know some people like to sprinkle green onions, parsley, or other fresh herbs on it if they don’t like cilantro.
- Cotija cheese – if you don’t have or can’t find cotija cheese, you can use crumbled feta cheese. It’s going to give you a slightly different, more tangy, flavor, but it’ll be a good enough substitute. You could also use queso fresco cheese but that’s even harder to find than cotija or feta.
- Lime – the recipe calls for lime juice, but I put a lime in the picture because I highly recommend using fresh lime juice compared to canned. Fresh lime juice just gives this the pop of acidity it needs and canned lime juice doesn’t quite cut it. If you want even more lime flavor, you could add a little lime zest as well but I feel like the lime juice really gets the job done.
How to make Mexican Street Corn salad
Similar to the best pasta salads out there, this salad is made quickly in just a few steps. If eating chilled, you will want time to let it chill before enjoying so keep that in mind. It may be super easy to make but does need to be made ahead of time for the best flavors.
1 – Cook Pasta and Corn
Cook the uncooked pasta according to package instructions for al dente (you want tender pasta but still with a little bit of texture to it), then drain pasta and set aside to cool. I typically like to use salted water when I cook pasta to give it a bit of flavor before it ever even gets dressed.
If you’re making the pasta but not adding it to the dressing and corn until later, you can add a little olive oil to the cooked pasta to keep it from sticking together. It shouldn’t impact the traditional Mexican street corn flavor at all.
While the pasta is cooling, cook the corn to get that nice sweet corn flavor.
I typically roast the corn on the stove, but you could also make grilled corn if you prefer that taste.
To roast the corn, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the corn kernels into the pan and shake it around until they’re laying in a single layer. You want every corn kernel to get good access to the heat from the pan.
Cook the corn until it starts to get dark brown spots and looks “roasted.” This typically only takes a few minutes if you put the corn in while the pan is already hot, so make sure you watch the corn closely so you get roasted corn, not burnt corn.
Once the corn and pasta are cooked, you can set them aside while you make the dressing.
2 – Make the Dressing
In a small bowl, you’re going to combine all of the dressing ingredients – mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic salt – together. This will give you a street corn inspired pasta salad dressing.
3 – Combine the Ingredients
Now add the cooled corn, cooled pasta, 1/2 cup cotija cheese, and cilantro to the bottom of a large bowl. Stir them together gently to get the three main ingredients mixed around well.
Once mixed, top with the dressing and mix it again until the pasta salad is completely combined and there are flavors of street corn on every bite! Top with more cotija cheese crumbles and chopped up fresh cilantro if desired.
You can eat it right away, but I recommend chilling and serving cold for a more authentic pasta salad flavor. It’s also yummy at room temperature so pretty much you can eat it however you want, and it’ll still be delicious!
The fresh flavor in this pasta salad give it the perfect fun twist for a summer barbecue, and I hope you love this delicious side dish as much as I do!
What to Eat with Pasta Salad
While pasta salad is typically found at picnics and barbecues, it can be served with really any main course. It could also be a fun addition to a Mexican charcuterie board on along with any of these Mexican appetizers.
Since the pasta salad is full of starches and dairy, I typically recommend staying away from any main dish that has a lot of either of those. This pasta salad would be a great side dish for any of these easy recipes:
- Instant pot chicken tacos
- Pulled pork sliders
- Shredded pork tacos
- Tacos made with this homemade taco meat
- Sopapilla cheesecake (had to throw one of my favorite Mexican desserts in there)
Add a spicy kick by adding some diced jalapenos or diced green chiles to the mixture. Alternately, you could drizzle individual servings with a little hot space to take the heat up a notch. You’ll still enjoy the flavors of elote but with a little more heat.
Store leftovers in the fridge for up to three days in a covered airtight container. If the pasta starts to stick together, you can drizzle a little olive oil or add just a little bit of cold water to the mixture then mix it up until it’s nice and creamy again.
Make it a gluten free pasta salad by simply using gluten free pasta instead of regular pasta.
Pasta salad will last up to three days covered in the refrigerator. You can either store in an airtight container or in a bowl wrapped with plastic wrap.
For this Mexican street corn pasta salad, you can substitute the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt if you would prefer to not use mayo.
If you must use canned corn, you can, it just won’t be as good. Make sure to thoroughly drain corn before adding it to the pan to grill!
More Easy Side Dish Recipe Ideas
If you’re looking for side dishes, you’ve come to the right place! These are some of my favorite things to serve as sides!
- Bacon wrapped green beans – these are a little fancy but as simple as can be!
- Old fashioned macaroni and cheese – if you like pasta based side dishes, you have to try this baked version!
- Roasted root vegetables – root veggies coated with a delicious glaze and baked to perfection.
- Strawberry fluff recipe – this simple strawberry fluff salad combines fruit, cream cheese, and more in a yummy summer salad!
- Cauliflower puree – a quick and easy way to really enjoy cauliflower, not just substitute it for something else!
Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad
- 16 ounces rotini pasta
- 2 cups corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup sour cream
- 1 lime, juiced (about 2 TBS lime juice)
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp garlic salt
- pepper (to taste)
- ½ cup cotija cheese (crumbled)
- ¼ cup cilantro
- Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente, then drain and set aside to cool.16 ounces rotini pasta
- While the pasta is cooling, cook corn in a non-stick skillet on medium heat until it starts to get dark brown spots and looks "roasted."2 cups corn kernels
- In a large mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic salt.1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup sour cream, 1 lime, juiced, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- Add the cooled corn, cooled pasta, cotija cheese, and cilantro then mix to combine well. Pepper to taste.pepper, 1/2 cup cotija cheese, 1/4 cup cilantro
- Chill for at least 1-2 hours before serving.
Tips & Notes:
- Sour cream – you can substitute with Greek yogurt if necessary
- Corn – fresh, frozen, or canned can be use (fresh is best)
- Rotini pasta – any short curled pasta is best but penne or shells work too
- Cilantro – can substitute with parsley
- Cotija cheese – can use crumbled feta if can’t find cotija