This is a fresh take on classic macaroni salad, inspired by my dad. If you invite him to a picnic, barbecue, housewarming, or block party this time of year, odds are good he'll show up with a macaroni salad. He'll wheel it around in a cooler and when the time is right, he'll flip the top and pull a cornflower blue bowl from the ice. The bowl is what I notice first, ceramic with a flower detail on the inside rim, it's part of a set of three my grandma left when she died a few years back. The one he uses is medium-sized, and makes its appearance with plastic wrap across the top, secured with a rubber band.
Macaroni Salad Variations
I've had my dad's macaroni salad twice in the last ten days, and I'm sharing my take on the classic here, along with a couple of tricks I keep up my sleeve. I'll also offer up some variations to explore depending on who you might be sharing your salad with. For example, there's no reason you can't whip up a vegan version if needed. Or, let's say you have a gluten-free friend, you can make a quick swap using chickpea pasta elbows, no problem. I'll note tweaks down below and in the recipe headnotes!
A Few Nutritious Tweaks
The mayo: Most classic macaroni salads are not-very-good-for-you mayo bombs. I've tried to offer up a few alternative ideas here, ways you can maintain all the things you love about macaroni salad, and make it more healthful as well. For example, this recipe calls for mayo. You can use classic, commercial mayo, but I also link to a simple vegan mayo I like to use here instead, it brings the spirit of a mayo-based salad with a fraction of the calories, fat, and it's vegan.
The pasta: You can experiment with different elbow macaroni. I often use whole wheat elbow macaroni. I also really like chickpea based elbow macaroni (like this one), and I'm seeing it in an increasing number of stores. The later is a great option for mixed-crowd parties or households avoiding gluten.
Seasoning is Key
The last thing I'll add here is this. You really need to taste and adjust as you toss this salad. I've shared general amounts, but keep adding pepper, or lemon juice, or salt until the flavors really pop off the pasta. It'll happen. Under-season and you end up with a flat-tasting salad. :/
Classic Macaroni Salad
I like to use whole wheat elbow macaroni here, and it works beautifully if you can find it. I also like chickpea pasta elbows, and make this with Banza elbows sometimes. Mustard choice? I like to use Dijon-style mustard, or whole grain mustard - both work great. Lastly, leftovers! Leftover are great for a couple days, but the pasta continues to absorb the sauce, so you might want to moisten things up with a bit more mayo at this point, or creme fraiche, or some salted plain yogurt.
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1+ cup mayo (or vegan mayo)
- 2 cups celery, diced
- 3 tablespoons relish
- 1 cup chopped scallions
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- toppings: fresh dill, sliced scallions, watermelon radish, chickpeas (leftover from making this mayo), chive flowers
Cook the macaroni in a large pot of well-salted water per package instructions. Drain the pasta, run under cold water, and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the macaroni, mayo, celery, relish, scallions, mustard, lemon juice, and salt. Toss really well, and adjust the seasoning with more mustard, or lemon juice, or salt. When it tastes great, serve topped with fresh dill, and any other toppings you like.