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
  • ⅓ cup 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.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (12 servings)
  • Calories: 343
  • Fat: 19 g
  • Saturated fat: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 37 g
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Sodium: 273 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

  • Like this but thought dressing was way too sweet. I will reduce sugar next time as 1/3 c seems too much

    • — Stacey Goldfarb on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Delicious! The combination of tasty dressing, crunchy vegetables, and fresh basil really take this macaroni salad to the next level. It’s a perfect complement to grilled summer dinners. Thanks for another great recipe!

    • — Lauren on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was wonderful! Neither my husband nor myself were originally big fans of macaroni salad, but this has changed our minds! The dressing is a little tart, and not as heavy as all-mayo versions. We especially liked all the vegetables in this recipe. Nice!

    • — AliceK on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Great recipe! I only cooked the pasta to al dente, should have done the extra minute. Dressing is the best.

    • — Linda on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Thank you, it’s a perfect side ,quick and easy and most important: delicious!

    • — Gita on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn,
    Thank you for the “Better Macaroni Salad” recipe. My husband, when I told him I was making macaroni salad, he said ” Oh, ok.” I ‘m sure he was thinking of macaroni with mayonaise and sweet pickle relish – he’s not a fan.
    Vegetables are his thing. He loved the salad witht the carrots, pepper, and onion. And the dressing with the mustard – he was SOLD. He volunteered this salad for a potluck emergency radio event he is involved in.
    THIS IS A COMPLIMENT TO YOU!!
    I am putting this on as my premanent Potluck salad for the rest of the summer.
    Thank you for such a delicious recipe.

    • — Candace on June 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Finally a macaroni salad with great flavor other than bland mayo & peppers. Thanks much!

    • — Sheryl Forster on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is similar to a recipe from “The Store”, a posh caterer in the Hamptons. However, instead of salt added to the dressing, they add beef bullion which adds a deeper flavor to the dish.

    Also, low-fat Greek plain yogurt is a good sub for sour cream. I make the substitution at 50/50 in every mayo-heavy dish, including tuna salad.

    • — Lorra on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, How about adding a can or two of tuna to make it an entree salad?
    Thanks. Chuck Klemballa

    • — Chuck Klemballa on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Chuck, that would work!

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thank you, it’s a perfect side ,quick and easy and most important: delicious!

        • — Gita on June 25, 2022
        • Reply
    • I think would work well!

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • do you salt the cabbage first so the cabbage does not get soggy?

    • — Patrick Miller on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Patrick, Are you referring to my coleslaw recipe? If so, I do not salt the cabbage (and it doesn’t get soggy).

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • When I make my macaroni salad, I marinate the pasta with an Italian vinaigrete the night before. Gives it zest!

    • — Connie Manuel on June 23, 2022
    • Reply

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