Tired of the same ol’ pasta salads? Look no further than this delicious Thai Chicken Pasta Salad starring the best homemade peanut dressing. Not only is it packed with flavor, but it’s also versatile enough to suit any occasion. Best of all, this recipe will be on your table in 25 minutes or less!
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This Thai-inspired pasta salad will make you the star of any gathering! It’s easy to make, loaded with flavor and is sure to please even the pickiest eaters. But what takes it to another level is the homemade peanut dressing. It brings together the creaminess of peanut butter, the tropical flavors of coconut milk, the savory saltiness of soy sauce, the subtle sweetness of brown sugar, the tanginess of lime juice and a hint of spiciness from crushed red pepper flakes (totally optional!). Add in tender chicken, crunchy vegetables, and al dente pasta for one seriously irresistible combination of tastes and textures.
But perhaps the best part about this recipe is its versatility. Whether you’re looking for a light lunch or a hearty dinner, this pasta salad can be adapted to suit your needs. Plus, it makes for a great dish to bring to potlucks or serve at family gatherings. It will become a staple in your house, no matter the season!
Why It Works
- Stars the best homemade Thai peanut dressing that can be spiced up or down depending on your personal preference.
- Incredibly easy. Grab a store-bought rotisserie chicken to save time (hello, quick weeknight meal!) and bypass the oven.
- Each bite is an explosion of savory, sweet and slightly spicy notes that will leave you craving more.
- Just like my go-to Greek pasta salad, it can be served warm, room temp or cold, making it perfect for any season.
- Noodles: Rice noodles are traditional in Thai cuisine, but if you prefer, you can substitute them with your favorite long pasta, such as linguine or spaghetti.
- Peanut butter: You can use either creamy or crunchy peanut butter based on your personal preference.
- Crushed red pepper flakes: Add a touch of spiciness to the dressing. If you prefer a milder version, reduce the amount or omit it altogether. Conversely, if you enjoy extra spice, feel free to increase the quantity according to your taste.
- Low-sodium soy sauce: Soy sauce contributes a savory umami flavor, balancing out the sweetness and enhancing the overall depth of the dressing. Just like my go-to spicy garlic sauce, low-sodium soy sauce is essential. Using regular soy sauce will result in a dressing that’s too salty.
- Cooked chicken: I love using store-bought rotisserie chicken, it’s my shortcut secret for everything from enchiladas to stromboli, but you can also use grilled chicken or leftover turkey.
- Veggies: I’ve opted for crisp cucumbers and scallions, but shredded carrots, edamame, or finely shredded purple cabbage would all be delicious additions.
- Garnishes: I prefer fresh cilantro leaves and chopped peanuts, but you can experiment with other fresh herbs like Thai basil or mint. These herbs provide an aromatic element and enhance the authentic Thai flavors of the salad.
- Cook the noodles. Cook the rice noodles or long pasta according to the package instructions until they are al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water then drain the noodles and set them aside.
- Make the peanut dressing. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter with the reserved pasta water. To make the peanut butter easier to whisk, the pasta water needs to still be warm. Whisk in the coconut milk, lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce and crushed red pepper flakes. Taste and season the sauce with salt and adjust the flavors to your liking. If you prefer it sweeter, add more brown sugar. For extra tanginess, increase the lime juice. Adjust the crushed red pepper flakes based on your desired level of spiciness.
- Combine everything together. Add the drained pasta, cooked chicken, cucumber and scallions to the bowl and toss until well combined.
- Garnish and serve. Transfer the pasta salad to a serving dish. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and chopped peanuts just before serving.
- Cook Pasta Al Dente: Whether you choose rice noodles or long pasta, be sure to cook them al dente. Overcooking can lead to mushy noodles, affecting the texture of the salad.
- Adjust the Spice Level: Crushed red pepper flakes bring a hint of spiciness to the dressing. They add a mild kick without overpowering the other flavors. Adjust the amount according to your spice preference, or omit them entirely if you prefer a milder dressing.
- Get Creative: Swap in your favorite veggies or whatever leftover odds and ends you find in your fridge!
The pasta salad is best enjoyed immediately after assembly to preserve the freshness of the ingredients. However, if you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days. Note that the pasta may absorb some of the dressing, so you may need to add a little extra dressing before serving any leftovers.
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- 12 oz. uncooked rice noodles or long pasta (See Kelly’s Notes)
- 3/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
- 3/4 cup (1 13-oz. can) unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 cups diced cooked chicken (See Kelly’s Notes)
- 1 medium cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and quartered
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, for garnishing
- Chopped peanuts, for garnishing
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. (If using rice noodles, do not salt the water.) Add the noodles and cook according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water then drain the noodles and set them aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter with the reserved pasta water. (It must be warm to make the peanut butter easier to whisk.) Whisk in the coconut milk, lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce and crushed red pepper flakes. Taste and season the sauce with salt.
- Add the drained pasta, cooked chicken, cucumber and scallions to the bowl and toss until well-combined.
- Serve the pasta salad warm, at room temp or chilled and topped with cilantro leaves and chopped peanuts.
- You can use rice noodles or any long pasta of choice, simply adjust the cook time as needed to ensure the noodles are cooked to your desired doneness.
- I love using store-bought rotisserie chicken but you can also use leftover turkey.
- Crushed red pepper flakes bring a hint of spiciness to the dressing. They add a mild kick without overpowering the other flavors. Adjust the amount according to your spice preference, or omit them entirely if you prefer a milder dressing.
- The pasta salad is best enjoyed immediately after assembly to preserve the freshness of the ingredients. However, if you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days. Note that the pasta may absorb some of the dressing, so you may need to add a little extra dressing before serving any leftovers.
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