Your search for the BEST macaroni salad ends here. This recipe ensures that you’ll avoid all the common pitfalls of a mediocre macaroni salad. Deliciously creamy, moist, packed with flavor, the right balance of ingredients, the perfect texture, and visually beautiful, this macaroni salad recipe is simply the best!
How to Make the BEST Macaroni Salad
I know I don’t have to tell you this one simple truth, that not all macaroni salads are created equal. Just go to any potluck and sample a dozen different macaroni salads, each a “secret family recipe passed down from Aunt or Granny [so-and-so]”, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Four Common Macaroni Salad Mistakes
Macaroni salads tend to be the victims of four cardinal sins: 1) Not enough mayo and too darn dry (you can’t be chintzy and expect good results). 2) Not enough flavor (it may be called “macaroni” salad, but that doesn’t mean it’s only about the macaroni). Flavor and color are needed to keep things interesting. 3) The noodles are too mushy (keep them al dente so they have a good, chewy texture). 4) Not enough salt. Carbs – potatoes, pasta, legumes, etc – soak up salt like nothing else. Keep in mind, the word salad comes from the Latin base word sal which means “salt.” So don’t be afraid to be generous with the shaker.
Another item to consider is that while macaroni salad tastes best a couple of hours later after the flavors have had time to meld, it doesn’t make the ideal leftover food the next day because those noodles are thirsty and they’ll continue to soak up liquid, leaving you with a dry salad. If you are going to have leftovers the next day I recommend adding a little more of the mayo sauce before serving.
We’re going to avoid all of these pitfalls and create a macaroni salad we can be showcase with pride!
Where Did Macaroni Salad Originate?
The terms “macaroni salad” and “pasta salad” have different meanings different places, but generally, at least in the U.S., creamy noodle salads are referred to as macaroni salads whereas oil/vinegar based ones are called pasta salads. Pasta salads really started taking off in the U.S. in the 1960’s but macaroni salads go back to the early 20th century with one of the first known published recipes being in 1916 in the book Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes by Marion Harris Neil. In that early version the author calls for horseradish and heavy cream as the base for the macaroni salad.
While pasta obviously didn’t originate in the U.S. and pasta salads are popular worldwide, the traditional creamy macaroni salad is very much an American classic.
Here is a macaroni salad you can proudly take to any picnic, potluck, or family gathering and you’ll undoubtedly be asked to share your secret recipe!
Deliciously creamy, moist, packed with flavor, the right balance of ingredients, the perfect texture, and visually beautiful, this macaroni salad is simply the BEST!
We’re enlisting the flavor-boosting help of black olives, roasted red peppers and capers.
The deep black of the olives add a nice color contrast to the salad along with a pleasant nutty flavor. The roasted red peppers add a bright, vibrant color while infusing the salad with a delicious smoky element. If you prefer more “crunch” to your salad than the celery alone provides, feel free to also add some chopped fresh red bell pepper in addition, but don’t leave out these wonderful roasted peppers. Capers have a deliciously pungent flavor and aroma all to their own and add some wonderful brininess to our salad.
You’re going to love the blend of flavors these ingredients, along with all the others, add this wonderful macaroni salad!
BEST Macaroni Salad Recipe
Let’s get started!
Place the cooked and thoroughly cooled macaroni noodles in a large mixing bowl along with the celery, green onions, olives, roasted red peppers, capers, relish and onions. Toss to combine.
Next combine the sauce ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
Pour the mayo sauce over the pasta salad and stir to thoroughly coat the pasta.
Add salt and pepper to taste. If it doesn’t taste excellent it needs more salt.
Transfer the salad to a non-reactive bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Don’t skip this wait time, it’s crucial to the flavor fo the salad.
Serve as a side the same way you’d serve coleslaw with your favorite barbecued foods (steaks, chicken, fish, sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc) and a green salad or, for a lighter alternative, serve with roasted vegetables, rolls and sliced fruit. Enjoy it at home, outside, at a potluck or on a picnic!
For more delicious salads be sure to also try our:
- BEST Chicken Salad
- Classic Potato Salad
- Perfect Creamy Coleslaw
- Freezer Slaw
- German Potato Salad
- Waldorf Salad
- Pepperoni Pizza Pasta Salad
- Watermelon Salad
- Crunchy Broccoli Salad
- Greek Wheat Berry Salad
- Italian Barley Salad
- Curried Couscous Salad
- Thai Quinoa Salad
BEST Macaroni Salad
- 4 cups cooked elbow macaroni (white or whole wheat) cooked al dente in lightly salted water and cooled (about 8 ounces or 2 cups uncooked macaroni)
- (Gluten-free: Use GF macaroni)
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped red roasted bell peppers
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives ,rinsed and drained
- 3 tablespoons capers ,rinsed and drained
- 3 green onions ,sliced
- For the Sauce:
- 2 cups good quality mayonnaise
- (vegans: use vegan mayonnaise)
- 1/4 cup sweet or dill pickle relish
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place the thoroughly cooled pasta in a large mixing bowl along with all remaining ingredients, except for the sauce. Stir to combine.
- To make the sauce, place all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir to combine.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta salad and stir to thoroughly coat the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste. (If it doesn't taste excellent it needs more salt.) Transfer to a non-reactive bowl. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving (don't skip this step, it's crucial for the optimal flavor of the salad).
Originally published on The Daring Gourmet June 21, 2016