The BEST macaroni salad recipe! Filled with crisp veggies and fresh herbs, it's just as delicious as the classic version, but it's so much lighter.
This macaroni salad recipe is my fresher take on the kind I ate growing up. If you’re familiar with classic macaroni salad, you know that it’s usually coated in an ulta-creamy dressing made with mayo, sugar, and even sour cream. Though this kind of dressing is too rich for me these days, there’s still a lot that I do like about macaroni salad. Diced dill pickles, vinegar, and mustard give it a tangy, briny flavor, and crisp veggies like bell pepper, celery, and onions add plenty of crunch. So earlier this spring, I set out to make my own macaroni salad recipe, one that would be lighter than, but just as flavorful as, the classic version.
I’m so excited to share the results with all of you! In typical Love and Lemons fashion, this macaroni salad gets a punch of fresh flavor from herbs like parsley and dill. It features a lightly creamy dressing instead of a super rich one, and it’s chock-full of veggies. It comes together in under 30 minutes, and it keeps well if you make it ahead. Add it to your Father’s Day menu this weekend, or pack it for a picnic or a weekday lunch. However you serve it, I hope you love this recipe!
How to Make Macaroni Salad
This easy macaroni salad recipe starts with the dressing. A blend of mayo, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper, it’s lightly creamy, tangy, and super simple to whisk together. My favorite way to make it is with my homemade vegan mayo, but it works well with regular mayo or store bought vegan mayo too.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together at the bottom of a large bowl. Did I mention that this is a one-bowl recipe?
Then, toss in everything else! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Macaroni, of course!
- Red bell pepper, red onion, and celery – They amp up the savory flavor and add a nice crunch.
- Peas – For extra green and a little sweetness.
- Capers – I swap them in for the traditional dill pickles! They give this salad a delicious briny flavor, but if you don’t have them on hand, diced dill pickles will work here too.
- Fresh parsley and dill – They give the salad a fresh, savory finish. I like to make this recipe with 1/4 cup dill, but if you’re not a dill fan, feel free to start with 2 tablespoons and add more to taste.
Toss the noodles, veggies, capers, and herbs with the dressing, season to taste, and enjoy!
Find the complete recipe with measurements below.
Best Macaroni Salad Recipe Tips
- Cook your pasta a little longer than usual. It should be a tad past al dente (but not mushy) so that the pasta stays soft when it cools. I find that the higher time range listed on box instructions is usually just about right for macaroni salad.
- Rinse the pasta under cold water. If the pasta is still warm when you add it to the salad, it will start to cook and wilt the veggies. To keep them vibrant and crisp, run the pasta under cold water when you drain it. It should be completely cool before you mix it with the other salad ingredients.
- Taste and adjust. Like most salad recipes, this one is flexible, so taste and adjust it to your liking before you serve it! Squeeze on more lemon juice if you want it brighter, or add extra veggies or herbs. And of course, salt to taste.
Easy Macaroni Salad Serving Suggestions
This easy macaroni salad recipe is a perfect summer side dish! Serve it with veggie burgers, portobello mushroom burgers, cauliflower po’ boys, or BBQ jackfruit sandwiches at a backyard BBQ. You could also pack it for a picnic with Caprese sandwiches, chickpea salad sandwiches, or egg salad sandwiches. If you’re vegan, swap crumbled tofu for hard boiled eggs to make a tasty egg salad alternative.
If you’re looking for more side dishes to round out your meal, try one of the suggestions below. Any of them would be fantastic with this macaroni salad recipe:
- Fresh veggies and a flavorful dip like hummus, baba ganoush, or white bean dip
- Grilled veggies and creamy tzatziki sauce
- A simple salad made with your favorite greens and lemon vinaigrette
- An easy leafless salad like my Greek salad or cucumber salad
- Fruit salad, or a sweet and savory salad like my watermelon salad, strawberry salad, or shaved fennel salad
If you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Enjoy them at home, or pack them up for lunch!
More Favorite Picnic Salads
If you love this mac salad recipe, check out this post for more of my best picnic food ideas. Then, try one of these salad recipes next:
- Easy Pasta Salad
- Creamy Potato Salad
- Best Broccoli Salad
- Italian Chopped Salad
- Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
- Cherry Tomato Couscous Salad
- Or any of these 37 Best Salad Recipes!
Easy Macaroni Salad
- Heaping ½ cup mayo or vegan mayo
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
- ½ cup diced red onion
- ½ red bell pepper, diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- ¾ cup frozen peas, thawed
- 2 tablespoons capers or diced dill pickles
- ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- In a large bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook the macaroni in a pot of salted boiling water until just past al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- Add the macaroni to the bowl along with the red onion, red pepper, celery, peas, capers, dill, and parsley. Stir to combine and season to taste with more salt and pepper.