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Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad

Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad with grilled corn and poblanos, has definitely changed my mind on pasta salad. I’ve never been a fan of cold pasta salads, but this Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad did the trick!

Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad

Cold pasta salad has never been my thing. Of course, the only pasta salad that I remember from my formative years was the standard macaroni salad.

I am not a macaroni fan even if it comes as mac and cheese. I remember macaroni salad being full of mayonnaise and awfully sweet. It was never my thing, which is maybe why I’ve avoided pasta salad all these years.

A few years ago I discovered a Caesar style pasta salad that was so good that I finally decided  I’d try pasta salad again. This pasta salad with pesto is one I made while my brother was here and we all agreed that it was great.

I was careful to not overcook the pasta, (follow package directions) and I used a hearty pasta shape that could handle the pesto without making the pasta soggy and soft.

Cilantro Pesto cold Pasta Salad

The roasted corn and poblanos helped set the mood for our trip down to New Mexico. Mark and Diane had never been to Northern New Mexico so we decided to make a quick escape together. 

And the cilantro pesto? That tops the pasta salad?

is easily made using lots of cilantro, some lime zest and a handful of  pistachios. Throw this in a food processor and within seconds you will have a glorious green pesto. 

No cheese in this pesto, but salty cheese is crumbled on top of the cold pasta salad before serving. However if you want to make this into a pesto with cheese, merely add some grated Parmesan, or Manchego, and drizzle a bit more olive oil into the pesto until you reach the consistency you prefer.

Pasta Salads like this are super picnic fare. This simple pasta salad has no mayo and the cheese can easily be added at the last minute.

Cilantro Pasta Salad

Though this pasta salad can be served cold out of the refrigerator, I think room temperature is the way to go. The flavors of this pasta salad seem to liven up at room temperature.

It was so hot in Denver before we left that I decided to grill chicken which made it super easy to grill the veggies that went into this salad. Toss the chicken with a little of the cilantro pesto before placing on the grill. Serve on top of this Mexican style pasta salad if you’d like.

Looking for a shortcut? If you don’t want to turn the grill on Trader Joe’s sells roasted corn in their freezer section and a can of green chilies could be substituted for the poblanos. It won’t be quite the same but I ‘m sure you will still be happy.

Without a doubt this cilantro pesto combined with pasta, roasted poblanos and corn is a winner in my book. 

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And a few more fun salads for summer:

Grilled Halloumi and Peach Salad

Grilled Peach and Halloumi Salad

Spinach Salad with Za’atar, Dates and Almonds

Spinach Salad with Za'atar, Fried Bread and Dates

Blueberry Chicken Pesto Salad

Blueberry Basil Pesto Chicken Salad


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Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad

Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 5 reviews
  • Author: Abbe Odenwalder
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 Minutes
  • Total Time: 30 Minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 Servings 1x
  • Category: Salads
  • Method: Grill/Boil
  • Cuisine: Mexican/American


Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad with grilled corn and poblanos has definitely changed my mind on pasta salad. I’ve never been a fan of pasta salads, but this Cilantro Pesto Pasta Salad did the trick!


Units Scale

2 c packed fresh cilantro

1/2 c olive oil

1/3 c roasted salted pistachios

1 t finely grated lime zest

2 T fresh lime juice

1 medium clove garlic

2 large poblanos or 12 cans green chilies, drained

4 large ears corn, or about 3 c kernels

1 large red onion, cut into 4 wedges (I used a white onion)

A few red tomatoes sliced for color (optional)

12 oz fusilli pasta, cooked to package directions

1 1/2 c crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese


Combine cilantro, oil, pistachios, lime zest and juice, garlic and 3/4 t salt in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge but bring to room temperature before serving. If you want to make just the pesto, you may want to add more oil to the mixture because this made a very thick pesto.)

Preheat the grill to medium high. Grill poblanos, turning occasionally, until well charred and tender, about 14-16 minutes.

Grill the corn, turning as needed until slightly charred.

Brush each onion wedge with oil and grill until tender and has some grill marks, about 8 minutes.

Place poblanos in a plastic bag and let steam. This makes them easier to peel. Cool and then slice off the top. Make a slit in the side to flatten poblano. Skin should scrape right off from the top of the stem. A little bit of char doesn’t hurt the taste. Turn over and remove seeds. Chop into 3/4″ pieces. Place in a large bowl.

Slice corn off of cob.  Reserve half of corn for garnish and place the rest in  bowl with poblanos.

Slice onions into thinner slices and place in bowl.

Cook pasta according to directions on package. Drain and transfer to bowl with vegetables.

Add pesto, half of the cheese and toss well. (You may not need to use all of the pesto. It is up to you how much you want on there.)

Serve topped with remaining corn, cheese and some cilantro leaves.


Thank you, Fine Cooking!


Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

Healthy World Cuisine

Thursday 20th of August 2020

Oh this is a fun one Abbie. A twist on a tex mex style pesto. I like in in 2018 and love it in 2020!! Pinned

Chef Mimi

Thursday 20th of August 2020

Fantastic. I can think of so many ways to utilize this pesto! I’m so glad i love cilantro!


Thursday 20th of August 2020

I love a dairy free pesto and think the addition of pistachios sound perfect.


Thursday 20th of August 2020

Pesto made with cilantro and pistachios must have tasted amazing!

John / Kitchen Riffs

Thursday 20th of August 2020

Totally agree room temperature is the way to go with pasta salads. This dish screams out for a chunky pasta shape. You obviously listened. :-) Good stuff -- thanks.