My lightened-up classic macaroni salad recipe is perfect for a potluck or picnic, or any day of the week!
This version tastes just like the original, but is naturally dairy-free and vegetarian, and can easily be made vegan and/or gluten-free if you prefer.
I hadn't had macaroni salad in ages, but last week I was in a hurry at the local natural grocery store and bought some from the deli counter on a whim. We all loved it so much that I made it homemade the very next day.
This style of pasta salad is a classic American dish. Traditionally mayo-based, I used Veganaise (vegan mayo) instead to lighten it up a little, plus make it easier to sit out at a picnic for a few hours without worrying about egg-based mayo. Veganaise also has a slight tang to it that we love! However, you can use any mayo in this macaroni salad that suits your needs and it will turn out great.
How do you make vegan macaroni salad? Make your macaroni salad vegan by using Veganaise or another type of vegan mayonnaise instead of regular mayonnaise.
How do you make gluten-free macaroni salad? Make your macaroni salad gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta instead of wheat-based pasta.
How do you make the best macaroni salad? The key is to mince the veggies to be the same size or smaller than the elbow noodles. Also, be sure to not overcook the noodles. It's essential to run the cooked noodles under cold water immediately after cooking and be sure to drain all of the water out before adding to the bowl to prevent watery macaroni salad.
Macaroni Salad Ingredients:
- Elbow Macaroni Noodles
- (I like the De Cecco elbows made with Italian flour because I find it easier to digest, but any small pasta works. I like the Tinkyada brand for a gluten-free option. You can find both on Amazon or at Whole Foods, or at many other local grocers.)
- Minced Red Bell Pepper
- Minced Celery
- Minced Red Onion (green onions also work)
- Minced Black Olives
- Minced Sweet Pickles (or sweet pickle relish)
- Macaroni Salad Dressing: Veganaise (or mayo), apple cider vinegar, pickle juice (or more apple cider vinegar if you're using pickle relish), sugar (the amount is minuscule per serving, but you can also use honey if you prefer), yellow mustard, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
How to Make Classic Macaroni Salad:
- Prepare elbow noodles or another small pasta shape according to the package instructions. Elbow pasta noodles are classic, but any small pasta works. I find penne or fusilli (aka spirals) too big. Go with elbows, ditalini (extra small tubes), or extra small shells (small brown rice pasta shells make a great gluten-free option). See my recommendations in the ingredients section above if you need help choosing.
- Immediately drain and rinse the noodles under colder water and drain well to prevent the excess water from making the final dish too watery.
- Mince all of the veggies to be a little smaller than the noodles. A mince is smaller than a chop. Take time to mince the veggies for the best texture (see the photo above)—it really makes a difference!
- Make the dressing in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Add the cold drained noodles (again, be sure there isn't a lot of excess water to prevent your macaroni salad from becoming soggy), and veggies, then toss it all together until everything is coated in the dressing.
- Optional: Add a few tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley and/or chives for a pretty green color if you have some on hand.
- Allow the salad to chill in the refrigerator, covered, for a few hours before serving to let the flavors come together.
- Serve it up! See and print the full recipe below
More Picnic, Potluck & Summer Salad Ideas:
- Superfood Black Bean & Quinoa Salad
- Herby No-Mayo Potato Salad
- Sweet Potato & Black Bean Salad
- 5-Minute Broccoli Slaw
- Vegan Coleslaw
- Thai Peanut Superfood Slaw
- Mango, Avocado & Cucumber Salad
- Healthy Avocado Caprese
Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe Lightened Up
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: Serves 8-10 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Boil, Mince
- Cuisine: American
Macaroni salad is a classic American summer side dish. This delicious version is lightened up with tangy veganaise and comes together in about 20 minutes. Macaroni salad is best when it has a few hours to marinate in the refrigerator before serving, so make it a few hours ahead of time if possible. Enjoy!
For the salad:
- 1 pound elbow noodles (or small cut pasta like small shells or ditalini; see note*)
- ½ cup minced celery (about 3-4 ribs celery)
- 1 cup minced red bell pepper (about 1 small bell pepper)
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- ¼ cup minced sweet pickles (or 3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish)
- ¼ cup minced black olives
- Optional: 2 tablespoons minced parsley or chives for a little green color
- 1 cup Veganaise (or mayonnaise of your choice)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar + 2 tablespoons pickle juice from the sweet pickle jar (or 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar if you don’t have enough pickle juice)
- 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar (honey also works)
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt (I use Redmond's Real Salt)
- a few spins of freshly ground black pepper (about ⅛ teaspoon)
- Prepare the noodles according to the package instructions. Immediately drain and rinse them under cold water for a few minutes to cool them off. Drain well for 5-10 minutes until no excess water remains.
- While the noodles cook, prepare the dressing by whisking all of the dressing ingredients together in the bottom of a large mixing bowl (I do this in the bowl I plan to serve the macaroni salad in).
- Mince the veggies. Aim to make them all about the size of the noodles or smaller for the best macaroni salad texture.
- Add the cooled and drained noodles and veggies to the dressing. Toss to coat.
- Cover and refrigerate at least two hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld. Refrigerate until it's time to serve.
- Macaroni salad will keep in your refrigerator for up to three days, but it's best served within 24 hours of making it.
- Macaroni salad is best made with elbow macaroni noodles. Extra small shells or ditalini (small tubes) also work.
- Make this macaroni gluten-free by using gluten-free noodles.
- Make this macaroni salad vegan by using Veganaise.
Keywords: macaroni salad, healthy macaroni salad, pasta salad
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