Asian Pasta Salad

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The ultimate BEST EVER Asian Pasta Salad! Mandarin, chicken, almond pasta salad with the BEST sesame dressing! via chelseasmessyapron.com

 This Asian Pasta Salad is loaded with tender pasta, fresh baby spinach, crisp red peppers, toasted sliced almonds, sweet and juicy mandarin oranges, crunchy carrots, and fresh herbs. The salad is tossed with an addictive sesame-soy sauce dressing that is the perfect complement to all the ingredients. We like to add in some rotisserie chicken for added protein, but it’s optional, so this salad can be made vegetarian!

We love this pasta salad on the side of these Asian chicken tacos — it’s a match made in heaven!

Overhead image of Asian Pasta Salad.

This is a step away from mayo-laden pasta salads (hi, still love you guys too!) to a fresh and light Asian-inspired dish. We love the crisp textures, the fresh flavors, and the dressing is insanely good.

While pasta salads can often feel heavy and one-note, this salad is anything but that. It’s got plenty of fresh veggies (and fruit — thanks to the mandarins!) and the dressing has plenty of components — soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, and sesame oil to give it depth of flavor and textural components.

Asian Pasta Salad recipe tips

  • Make sure the pasta is well-salted as it cooks, since salting is the only chance you have to season the actual pasta. As a rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon salt to 4 cups of water, so about 1 tablespoon of salt when cooking the rotini noodles for this salad.
  • Get a small textured pasta. Choose pasta that has plenty of nooks and crannies to hold the delicious sesame-soy sauce dressing. If you can’t find rotini, I recommend miniature shells, miniature farfalle, or fusilli.
  • Cook the pasta to al dente. Since the pasta sits in dressing, it has a tendency to get soggy if it has been overcooked. On the flip side, pasta becomes a little firmer when served cold, so don’t under-cook it! I cook it right to the package directions of what al dente is (for rotini, that is 7-8 minutes).
  • Make the dressing in advance. This dressing benefits from being made in advance and chilling in the fridge; the flavors meld together and intensify, plus it does taste better chilled.

Process shots--images of the pasta being cooked and cooled; all the salad ingredients being added on top of a bed of spinach, and the dressing being made; dressing being poured over the salad.

Rotisserie chicken

Rotisserie chicken adds protein and filling power to this salad, but it can be left out for a quicker prep or if this salad is planned to be more of a side dish than main course. It can also be left out to make a vegetarian salad. 

I like using rotisserie chicken for a quick prep time. And since the rotisserie chicken is seasoned, it lends more flavor to this salad.

If you aren’t purchasing a rotisserie chicken, you can make your own rotisserie chicken and use the leftover meat in this salad. Alternatively, you can use leftover grilled chicken or any other leftover chicken; just make sure to chop it into bite-sized pieces. 

I’ll usually buy (or make) a rotisserie chicken and use it in one meal (like these rotisserie chicken tacos or peanut chicken lettuce wraps) and set aside 1 and 1/2 cups of the chicken to use in Asian Pasta Salad later in the week.

Image of the dish being tossed together.

Variations

  • Add a creamy element. My favorite creamy element is avocado. Since avocados don’t hold up well in the salad, if you add them, add to individual plates right before serving. 
  • Use a roasted red pepper. While a raw red pepper is great in this salad and it’s what I typically use, you can try roasted red peppers for a softer, smokier flavor. You can buy jars of roasted red peppers at the store; they are usually near things like pickles, capers, and artichoke hearts.
  • Use fresh clementines. In place of the canned mandarins, peel some clementines, segment them, and use those.
  • Replace the spinach with chopped baby kale. (read about how to prepare it in this kale couscous salad!)

How to toast sliced almonds

Spread the sliced almonds into an even layer in a small, dry (no need to add oil) skillet over medium-heat and stir them around a bit until they are fragrant and toasted to your liking.

Watch the almonds carefully; they can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in an instant! I like to remove them as soon as they begin to smell fragrant. They make the perfect crunchy topping for this Asian Pasta Salad.

Image of the dressing being poured over the Asian Pasta Salad.

Storing Asian Pasta Salad 

  • This salad doesn’t sit or store well once dressed. The dressing will wilt the spinach, the veggies soften, and the almonds get soggy. 
  • The salad can be made in advance if everything is stored separately and tossed together right before serving. 
  • Asian Pasta Salad does not freeze or thaw well.

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Asian Pasta Salad

5 from 2 votes
 Asian Pasta Salad is loaded with tender pasta, fresh baby spinach, crisp red peppers, toasted sliced almonds, sweet and juicy mandarin oranges, crunchy carrots, and fresh herbs. The salad is tossed with an addictive sesame-soy sauce dressing that is the perfect complement to all the ingredients. We like to add in some rotisserie chicken for added protein, but it's optional, so this salad can be made to be vegetarian!
Print Recipe

Asian Pasta Salad

5 from 2 votes
 Asian Pasta Salad is loaded with tender pasta, fresh baby spinach, crisp red peppers, toasted sliced almonds, sweet and juicy mandarin oranges, crunchy carrots, and fresh herbs. The salad is tossed with an addictive sesame-soy sauce dressing that is the perfect complement to all the ingredients. We like to add in some rotisserie chicken for added protein, but it's optional, so this salad can be made to be vegetarian!
Course Salad
Cuisine Chinese
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 452kcal
Cost $6.23

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) rotini pasta
  • 4.5 cups (5 ounces 147g) fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (202g) shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 1/2 cup (65g) red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) mandarin oranges
  • 1/2 cup (45g) shredded carrots
  • 1/3 cup (15g) fresh green onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (9g) fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Optional: 1/3 cup sliced almonds (32g) (toasted if desired)

Dressing

  • 1/2 cup (97g) vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup (88g) soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup (73g) rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

  • PASTA: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook according to package directions. Drain pasta, and rinse under cold water until cool. Transfer to a large bowl and immediately toss with 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing (see next step).
  • DRESSING: While the pasta is cooking, prepare the dressing. Combine vegetable oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, pepper, and sesame seeds in a mason jar. Place the lid on and shake until combined.
  • ASSEMBLE SALAD: Add the coarsely chopped spinach, shredded rotisserie chicken, chopped red pepper, drained mandarin oranges, shredded carrots, chopped green onions, and fresh cilantro to the large bowl with the cooled pasta,.
  • DRESS SALAD: Toss all the ingredients together gently and then coat with the dressing to desired amount. Enjoy immediately. (This salad doesn't store well with the dressing, so only dress what will be eaten right away). If desired, top with sliced toasted almonds (Note 1).

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: If desired, toast the almonds. Spread the sliced almonds into an even layer in a small, dry (no need to add oil ) skillet over medium-heat and stir them around a bit until they are fragrant and toasted to your liking. Watch the almonds carefully; they can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in an instant! I like to remove them as soon as they begin to smell fragrant.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 8servings | Calories: 452kcal | Carbohydrates: 20.2g | Protein: 26.4g | Fat: 29.3g | Sodium: 500.8mg | Fiber: 1.3g | Sugar: 9.4g

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21 Comments

    1. You would LOVE the mandarin with the pasta Gayle! 🙂 Thanks so much for the comment and the pin!

  1. What a colorful and lovely pasta salad! The almonds and oranges are such a nice touch – little bits of crunchy and sweet. I’m looking forward to trying this!

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