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A Better Macaroni Salad

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This macaroni salad has all the appeal of the old-fashioned, mayo-dressed version but with a few updates to make it taste brighter and better.

Macaroni salad is a staple at summer picnics, BBQs, and potlucks. I call this one “better” because it’s got all the appeal of the old-school, mayo-dressed version but with a few updates – namely, sour cream, Dijon mustard, fresh basil, and loads of crisp, crunchy veggies – to make it taste brighter. Cutting the traditional all-mayo dressing with sour cream and mustard makes the salad tangy and less mayonnaise-y, while the basil and veggies add fresh summer flavor. The key to the perfect creamy texture is thinning the dressing with a bit of water, so it coats the pasta without getting too clingy. However, keep in mind that the dressing thickens and gets absorbed by the noodles as the salad sits, so while all the components can be prepared ahead, it’s best to wait until right before serving to toss everything together. Macaroni salad pairs nicely with burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, BBQ ribs, or grilled or BBQ chicken.

What You’ll Need To Make Macaroni Salad

macaroni salad ingredientsYou don’t have to use elbow noodles to make macaroni salad. As you can see, I use cavatappi; farfalle or fusilli would also work well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until tender according to package instructions (about 1 minute past al dente).

boiling the pasta

While the pasta boils, prep all the add-ins.

prepping the vegetables and basil

Drain the pasta in a colander and let cool to room temperature.

drained pastaIn a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, mustard, vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and onion powder.

dressing ingredients in large bowlWhisk until combined.

whisked macaroni salad dressing
Add the cooked pasta, carrots, celery, bell pepper, scallions, and basil to the bowl.

adding pasta, vegetables and basil to dressing Stir until evenly combined.

tossed macaroni saladServe immediately or let sit for up to an hour at room temperature before serving. Keep in mind that the dressing will thicken a bit as it sits.

How To Make Macaroni Salad Ahead

The dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated; the pasta, vegetables, and basil can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Before serving, bring all of the components to room temperature. Add the dressing to a large bowl and whisk to loosen, then stir in the pasta, vegetables and herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve.

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A Better Macaroni Salad

This macaroni salad has all the appeal of the old-fashioned, mayo-dressed version but with a few updates to make it taste brighter and better.

Servings: 8 to 12
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound macaroni, cavatappi, farfalle, or fusilli pasta
  • 1 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3½ tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt, plus more for cooking the pasta
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ cup finely diced or grated carrots, from 1 to 2 carrots
  • ¾ cup finely diced celery, from 2 to 3 celery stalks
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, finely diced
  • 6 scallions, light and dark green parts, finely sliced
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until tender (about 1 minute past al dente). Drain and let cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, mustard, vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and onion powder.
  3. Add the cooked pasta, carrots, celery, bell pepper, scallions, and basil to the bowl and stir until evenly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve the salad immediately or let it sit for up to an hour at room temperature before serving. (Keep in mind that the dressing will thicken and get absorbed by the noodles as the salad sits.)
  4. Make-Ahead Instructions: The dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated; the pasta, vegetables, and basil can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Before serving, bring all of the components to room temperature. Add the dressing to a large bowl and whisk to loosen, then stir in the pasta, vegetables and herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary, and serve.
  5. Update Note: In response to feedback from readers, this recipe was retested and updated on &frac73;/22 to include less sugar.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (12 servings)
  • Calories: 336
  • Fat: 19 g
  • Saturated fat: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 35 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Sodium: 268 mg
  • Cholesterol: 17 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • I made this delicious recipe for a work potluck. Five people wanted the recipe! The only change I made was to mix it with half the dressing right away, then the other half right before serving. It was perfect! I also used Campanella pasta shape. Great recipe, Jen!

    • — Melanie on November 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • Big hit at our house! This is a great Mac salad. I did sub out the basil and used cilantro.
    Another 5 star recipe. Thank you.

    • — Ria Klein on October 18, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is now the only macaroni salad recipe I will ever use! It tastes so nice and balanced, not overly sweet and it still has a tang! Only think I omit is the basil because my husband isn’t the biggest fan of the herb. It stores well in the fridge and tastes just as fresh with each plating.

    Made a half batch tonight (twice within a month!) and I can’t wait to dig in at dinner.

    This is a great recipe to keep in your pocket for a potluck!

    • — Jessica B on October 2, 2022
    • Reply

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