01 May 2012

Sombrero Pasta Salad

In food terms, Summertime signifies fruit salad, grilling burgers, picnics, and most of all... pasta salad. I love pasta salads because they don't require an oven, are easy to time manage (chop all the veggies while the pasta boils), and the recipes are always crowd-size.

This excellent and flavorful pasta salad comes from Taste of Home, though I found the recipe on Pinterest. However, I know this carb-filled dish doesn't scream "HEALTHY!!!" but there are plenty of ways to improve the recipe.  Look for tips underneath recipe.

So, if you need to bring a side dish to this weekend's Cinco de Mayo celebration or want a main dish that's different from the usual tacos and quesadillas, the Sombrero Pasta Salad is a great option. Not mention attractive:


1 pound spiral pasta, cooked as directed
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup water
1 packet taco seasoning 
16oz bottle Catalina or Western salad dressing
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 - 15oz cans sliced black olives, drained
8oz (2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese

Make pasta according to package directions. Heat a large skillet and crumble & cook meat until browned. Drain. Add water and taco seasoning, simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Once pasta and meat are cooked, toss in a bowl with all the other ingredients, add dressing and mix well. Serve immediately... or let flavors marinate over night-- your choice :)

Cooking Tips:

1. To lower fat content, buy sirloin/ super lean ground beef OR ground turkey. I used 90% lean, 7% fat ground beef.

2. Organic whole wheat pasta is a great choice when wanting to avoid overly processed carbs, as well as fiber to your diet. Plus it's much more filling.  Look for store (generic) brand option and make sure it's the full 16oz, not 12 or 14 (companies are tricky like that).

3. Use low sodium dressing and canned olive options.

4. To really drop sodium, sugars, and preservatives, I made homemade Catalina Dressing from ingredients I already had around the house. As a way to boost this recipe, try using organic ketchup and a more natural sweetener than sugar. I've replaced the sugar in our house with unrefined Zulka Azucar Morena-- crystallized cane juice.

5. Another sodium/chemical decreaser (new word!) is making homemade taco seasoning. This recipe makes extra so be sure to put the rest in a sealed container like these great Pampered Chef Prep Bowls. Use 2 Tbsp.

6. The recipe has you add raw onion but I sautéed mine because I didn't want to taste onion for the rest of the day. You might also consider substituting a bunch of green onions. Same with the tomato-- you could definitely substitute a half to a whole container of cherry tomatoes.

7. The cheese seems optional in my opinion-- next time I make the salad I'll omit the cheese and see if it makes a difference. Or you could use shredded Manchenga or crumbled Queso Fresco for a more Mexican flavor.

8. And finally... for added flavor, toss in half a bunch of chopped cilantro!!! You were waiting for my cilantro reference, weren't you?

Happy Cooking and Eat Well.

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