This macaroni salad is creamy, fresh, and full of flavor. Chopped veggies add great texture and the zesty sauce adds surprising brightness. Pasta salad is perfect for family gatherings, potlucks, or as a side to any easy weeknight meal!
Right off the bat, I want to tell you that this isn’t the old fashioned pasta salad you used to avoid at family get togethers… Because, unfortunately, that’s what many of us think of when we hear about a macaroni salad recipe. Instead of gloopy mayo with no flavor, think of a bright tangy dressing that’s full of flavor. Instead of mushy overcooked pasta, think of perfectly cooked macaroni accented by the great texture of fresh veggies. What’s not to love?
Why You’ll Love This Macaroni Salad Recipe
- Tons of flavor. While there is mayo in the dressing of this pasta salad, it doesn’t taste like mayo… Instead, the flavor is amped up considerably with melted cheese, mustard, apple cider vinegar, yogurt, and spices. It’s truly craveable.
- Easy and budget friendly. I’m a big fan of easy and inexpensive when it comes to food in our house as long as it tastes great! This macaroni salad doesn’t disappoint on either front. That’s a big win win in our book.
- Versatile. Although traditionally thought of as just one of many side dishes or potluck recipes, I think this dish is good enough to stand on its own. You could easily add a little tuna or chicken to make it a one-pot meal. Or make it a great side with some family BBQ!
Ingredients You’ll Need
- For the add-ins – Celery, cabbage, red bell pepper, onions, and cheddar cheese.
- For the dressing – Yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, dijon mustard, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
This macaroni salad recipe comes together quickly and easily, even with a little bit of chopping. Scroll down to the recipe card for detailed instructions.
- Cook and rinse the pasta. Get started by making the macaroni according to package instructions. Once it’s done, drain and immediately run it under cold water. There’s a lot of debate about this. But, I do it because it rinses off the extra starch and it stops the cooking process.
- Prep the add-ins. Transfer the macaroni to a salad bowl and prep all your add-ins if you didn’t do it while the pasta was cooking. Stir the cheese and veggies directly into the warm pasta.
- Make the dressing. Mix together mayonnaise, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Taste the dressing and adjust any seasoning until it’s exactly as you like it.
- Combine and refrigerate. Pour the dressing over your salad and toss until everything is combined. I like to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so all the flavors meld together. This also allows the macaroni salad to chill. Serve and enjoy!
- Add-in ideas. Feel free to make this pasta salad exactly as you like it. Some other ideas for add-ins are roasted red peppers, bacon, pickle relish, red onion, or peas. Get creative!
- Don’t skip the rinse. When I’m in a hurry, I love to find ways to cut time in a recipe. But don’t skip the step of rinsing your cooked pasta. Doing this stops the cooking process and removes excess starch in the pasta. If you skip this, your pasta might get gummy or too soft.
- Flavor over time. Just like with soups and sauces, pasta salad tends to get more flavorful with time. I like to give it at least 30 minutes to meld together after cooking, but it’ll be even better after an hour.
What to Serve With Pasta Salad
This easy recipe works really well as a side with anything grilled or smoked. Any kind of BBQ grilled chicken, ribs or pulled pork would be awesome. If you’re looking for some specific recommendations, try out my slow cooker barbecue beef brisket, slow cooker shredded BBQ chicken, or pineapple barbecue chicken thighs. If you’d like to make this a one-dish meal, just add a little chicken or tuna!
- To store. Macaroni salad is best enjoyed the same day. If you want to make it the night before or during weekend meal prep, you can store it in your fridge for up to 3 days as long as it’s well covered. Just be sure to give it a good stir before serving. If the dish has sat out for more than 2 hours, it will need to be tossed out.
Other Easy Side Dishes
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 4 ounces cheddar cheese, cubed
- 3 ribs celery, diced
- 2 cups shredded cabbage (you can use packaged coleslaw mix)
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- ½ cup Mayonnaise
- ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp honey
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cook macaroni according to instructions on the package. Drain and rinse in cold water, Drain well.
- Transfer macaroni to a salad bowl and stir in cubed cheddar cheese, celery, cabbage, bell peppers, and green onions.
- In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Whisk until combined.
- Taste test the dressing and adjust accordingly.
- Pour dressing over salad and toss until everything is combined.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
- Stir before serving.
- Best enjoyed the same day but macaroni salad will stay good refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.