Chicken and Spinach Pasta Salad Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep/Total Time: 25 min.
Chicken pasta salad can be a light, healthy lunch in its own right, not just a side dish. This one is especially healthy, thanks to its use of whole wheat pasta and especially its hummus-based dressing.

Updated: Jun. 10, 2024

There’s more than one way to make a chicken pasta salad, but this particular recipe offers a few interesting wrinkles. It uses whole wheat rotini, instead of the common elbow macaroni, but the big difference is its choice of hummus (rather than the usual mayonnaise or vinaigrette) as a base for the dressing.

That unusual dressing provides an added hit of fiber and protein, two welcome additions to this salad’s nutritional profile. It’s just one of the many pasta salads with chicken in our collection, but it’s among the most distinctive and delicious.

Chicken Pasta Salad Ingredients

  • Whole wheat rotini: Rotini is a good bite-sized option for pasta salads, and its spiral ridges help trap the tasty dressing. Opting for the whole wheat version adds some fiber and nutrients, making for a healthier salad.
  • Hummus: Most pasta salads use a mayonnaise- or vinaigrette-type dressing, but in this case it’s hummus that serves as the main ingredient. The dip is flavorful and packed with protein, so it’s a great option.
  • Italian salad dressing: The splash of salad dressing tweaks the flavor profile of the hummus to make it more salad-friendly. It also thins the dip just enough to help it coat the other ingredients evenly.
  • Baby spinach: Spinach adds to the salad’s appeal with its bright color, and also adds nutrition and a contrasting texture.
  • Chicken breast: Chicken adds protein to the salad and helps make it a satisfying light meal on its own.
  • Cherry tomatoes: The bite-sized tomatoes bring color, a fresh, sweet flavor and some juiciness to the salad.
  • Olives: The pungent, briny flavor of olives complements the fresh sweetness of the tomatoes, and they also add visual appeal.
  • Feta cheese: The clean white of the crumbled feta makes a pleasing contrast with the black olives, red tomatoes and green spinach. Its pungent saltiness also enhances the other flavors.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the pasta

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Cook the pasta, uncovered, according to the instructions on the package, until the rotini are just al dente (tender, but still slightly firm). Drain the pasta and rinse it immediately with cold water. Drain it thoroughly, a second time.

Editor’s Tip: Whole wheat pasta tends to soften quickly once it goes past al dente, so start checking it a minute or two before it’s supposed to be ready. The moment it’s al dente, drain it and rinse it; the cold-water rinse keeps it from cooking further in your colander.

Step 2: Assemble the salad

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the hummus, salad dressing, salt and pepper until the dressing mixture is smooth. Add the pasta and toss it until it’s evenly coated. Stir in the spinach, chicken, tomatoes and olives. Sprinkle the top with crumbled feta, and serve immediately.

Chicken Pasta Salad Variations

  • Add some bacon: If you want to give this salad a bit of a flavor boost, add some crumbled bacon. It’s a slam-dunk pairing with spinach or tomatoes, and it also plays nicely with the chicken, cheese and olives.
  • Change up the pasta: Rotini’s an excellent shape for pasta salads, because of its ridges, but there are plenty of other options. Fusilli, bowties and plain old elbow macaroni are all good choices, and small filled pastas (think ricotta and spinach tortellini) are an often-overlooked alternative.
  • Lean in to the hummus: Standard-issue hummus is the default here, with its garlic and lemon flavors, but most supermarkets sell plenty of alternative versions as well. Consider swapping out the plain kind for a roasted red pepper hummus, a beet-infused hummus (the color is pretty spectacular) or a spicy hummus for a bit of added kick.

How to Store Chicken Pasta Salad

If you’re making the salad ahead of time, you can cover it in its serving bowl. If you’re packing away leftovers, you can either transfer it to a smaller bowl and cover it, or use a food-safe storage container with a tight-fitting lid.

Can I make this chicken pasta salad ahead of time?

Yes, it can be made up to a day ahead if necessary. It’s best to keep back the tomatoes and spinach, then add those just before you garnish the salad and serve it. The salad will be slightly drier (the pasta absorbs moisture as it sits), so it’s a good idea to make a little bit of extra dressing to stir into the salad before you add the tomatoes and spinach.

How long will this chicken pasta salad last?

The completed salad is best eaten within a day, or two at most. Spinach wilts quickly, and the tomatoes will start to soften if you try to keep it longer than that.

Chicken Pasta Salad Tips

Why did my pasta salad get mushy?

It’s really important to catch the pasta just when it hits the al dente stage (and then rinse it in cold water to stop it from cooking further). It’ll absorb more moisture from the dressing, so if it’s already slightly soft, it gets softer pretty quickly. That’s especially true if you make it ahead of time. Some brands of whole wheat pasta are also more prone to this, so experiment until you find one that keeps its texture.

I’m no fan of hummus, can I use a different dressing?

Sure, go with what you like! Most pasta salads use either a mayonnaise- or vinaigrette-based dressing, but those two broad categories include a lot of variation. For inspiration, you might want to check out some of our other favorite pasta salad recipes.

Can I use a different cheese?

If you haven’t got feta or just don’t like it, you can use other cheeses. They won’t necessarily give the same visual effect, or pair as logically with the olives, but that’s not a deal breaker. Cotija is the closest visual equivalent, but soft goat cheese, blue cheeses or hard grating cheeses like Parmesan and Asiago could all work in this salad. Anything with some funk and a bit of saltiness is a good choice.

Chicken Pasta Salad

Prep Time 25 min
Yield 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces uncooked whole wheat rotini
  • 1/2 cup hummus
  • 3 tablespoons Italian salad dressing
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup cubed cooked chicken breast
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can (2-1/4 ounces) sliced ripe olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Combine hummus, salad dressing, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add pasta; toss to coat. Stir in spinach, chicken, tomatoes and olives. Sprinkle with feta. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts

1-1/2 cups: 263 calories, 6g fat (1g saturated fat), 20mg cholesterol, 405mg sodium, 35g carbohydrate (3g sugars, 7g fiber), 16g protein. Diabetic exchanges: 2 starch, 1 lean meat, 1 fat.

My family loves pasta salads, but usually they have too much mayonnaise or oily dressing. Using hummus gives this dish a great taste and texture, while also increasing its nutritional profile. Adding chicken (store-bought rotisserie chicken works well), makes this pasta salad a complete meal. —Jenny Lynch, Rock Island, Illinois
Recipe Creator