Best-Ever Macaroni Salad

My own special recipe for Macaroni Salad, full of crunch (thank you, six different chopped vegetables) and a light and bright savory dressing (thank you, less mayo punched up and seasoned with lemon, mustard and dill pickle juice). It's the classic summer salad, just recast and much improved, like store-bought except made from scratch and so much better.

Best-Ever Macaroni Salad, the summer classic, just better ♥ Great crunch, thanks to six different vegetables in a light and bright savory dressing. Budget Friendly. Potluck and Party Friendly. Weight Watchers Friendly.

Real Food, Fresh & Flexible. The Summer Classic, Just Better. Budget-Friendly. Weight Watchers Friendly. Great for Meal Prep. Potluck & Party Friendly.

I'll keep this short and sweet because hey, you've got a salad to make!

I've worked on this recipe for a couple of years, especially the dressing, which to my mind is now absolutely perfect. But, hmm, is it a case of Same Book, Different Plot?!

Start with Veggies. Lots of Veggies.

My other pasta salad recipes are also, yes, loaded up with vegetables. Just look at these descriptions.

  • From 2006, BLT Pasta Salad "It's a salad not a sandwich!"
  • From 2011, Greek Pasta Salad "Loaded with veggies, dressed with a creamy feta vinaigrette."
  • From 2014, Garden Pasta Salad with Mint Vinaigrette "Light on pasta, generous with summer's best fresh veggies."
  • From 2021, Italian Pasta Salad "Orzo tossed with sautéed tomato and garlic and cooked greens like collards, chard, kale."
  • And now, Best-Ever Macaroni Salad, "Full of crunch, thank you six different chopped vegetables."

So yeah, um, every single pasta salad, loaded with vegetables!

Play With the Dressings.

So all these pasta salads have vegetables in common. But the dressings are different, making for five very different salads.

  • BLT Pasta Salad, just mayo, mustard and vinegar.
  • Greek Pasta Salad, no mayo, just vinegar, garlic, olive oil, feta and seasonings.
  • Garden Pasta Salad, no mayo, just fresh mint, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, mustard and seasonings.
  • Italian Pasta Salad, no mayo, just sautéed tomato and garlic whose juices form a seductive tomato-y dressing.
  • And now, Best-Ever Macaroni Salad, mayo, buttermilk, lemon, pickle juice, mustard and seasonings.

What's In My Best-Ever Macaroni Salad? Pantry Ingredients!

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

  • Macaroni Elbow macaroni is traditional but another small or medium-size pasta shape will work just fine, including small shells, ditalini and more. De Cecco is our favorite brand, it seems to be in all my usual stores and frequently on sale.

  • Dressing Other macaroni salads get weighed down with mayonnaise and/or sour cream. In contrast, this dressing is full of flavor, a heady mix of lemon and dill pickle juice plus a tiny touch of sugar that somehow makes all the difference without making the salad sweet. I also use less mayo and lighten its usual heaviness with buttermilk.

  • Vegetable Add-Ins Other macaroni salads call for add-ins like bacon, cheese and olives ... all good and fine but also high in calories. My recipe calls for a full six cups of chopped vegetables, a mix of colorful bell pepper, celery, cucumber, dill pickles, frozen peas and fresh sweet corn. So good, these!

  • Optional Proteins I love the soft texture of hard-cooked eggs in Macaroni Salad, just like in my family's favorite potato salad, Mom's Potato Salad. But other proteins would work well too, especially if you're aiming for a great main dish macaroni salad. Think ham or tuna or cooked shrimp or even cooked rotisserie chicken, especially the sturdy breast meat. You'll want to increase the amount of dressing accordingly.

  • Signature Ingredients Dill pickles and dill pickle juice really add a punch of texture and flavor. We love the mini kosher dills that are easy to find and inexpensive in grocery stores, there's always a big jar in the fridge. If you have mini dill pickles, no need to "chop" them, just cut into rounds. Could you substitute a dill pickle relish? Yes, I think so except not a sugar-free dill relish, so so so salty! Could you substitute a sweet pickle relish? Yes, except your salad will be much sweeter and higher in calories.

  • No Onion! Some times a recipe is as notable for what's not on the ingredient list as for what is. I'm a firm believer that onion just doesn't belong in Macaroni Salad. It's just too harsh, too onion-y. Who wants summer onion breath?!

  • No Cheese! Cheese is good in Macaroni Salad but I don't use it, it adds too many calories without adding much in taste/texture.

What Makes This Recipe Special

  • So much more than just plain macaroni + mayonnaise
  • Great crunch, thanks to a full six cups of vegetables, bell pepper, celery, cucumber, corn, dill pickles and peas
  • No shortage of macaroni, it's definitely a "macaroni salad" not a vegetable salad with a few noodles
  • Great flavor in the light dressing, bright and airy
  • Makes a bunch but also easy to scale up for serving a crowd
  • Plenty of light dressing but without gloppy heavy mayonnaise

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If a vegetable-rich pasta salad hits the mark, go ahead, save and share! I'd be honored ...

Best-Ever Macaroni Salad, the summer classic, just better ♥ Great crunch, thanks to six different vegetables in a light and bright savory dressing. Budget Friendly. Potluck and Party Friendly. Weight Watchers Friendly.


Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time-to-table: 30 minutes but best after four hours in the fridge
Makes 9-1/2 cups

No hard-cooked eggs on hand? Cook the pasta first, then use the same pan for cooking the eggs, see Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs.
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces (225g) macaroni
  • 2/3 cup (150g) mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup (85g) buttermilk
  • Zest & juice (about 2 tablespoons) lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) mustard
  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup (100g, about 1 large) finely chopped bell pepper
  • 1 cup (100g) finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup (100g) finely chopped cucumber
  • 1 cup (75g) finely chopped dill pickle
  • 1 cup (about 1 ear) fresh corn kernels
  • 1 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)
  • Dressing
  • Hot Pasta
  • Chopped Veggies
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
  • Finely chopped fresh herbs, dill or cilantro, optional
  • Black pepper to taste

PASTA Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the macaroni and stir to separate the noodles once or twice, this prevents the pasta from sticking to the bottom or to one another. Bring the water back to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover the pot and cook for the time specified on package. Drain through a colander. The pasta should be drained but still hot when when it's stirred into the dressing.

DRESSING While the pasta cooks, whisk all the dressing ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold the entire salad.

VEGGIES While the pasta cooks, chop all the vegetables.

COMBINE Turn the Hot Pasta into the Dressing and stir well, distributing the Dressing evenly. Stir in the Chopped Veggies, cooked egg, herbs and black pepper.

TO SERVE Transfer salad to a covered container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Before serving, stir the salad, refreshing the dressing. Serve cold and promptly re-refrigerate what's left. Keeps for several days.

MEAL PREP SHORTCUTS The eggs can be cooked a day or two ahead of time. Don't want to mix a special dressing? A day or two ahead of time, mix a batch of My Everyday Creamy Herb Salad Dressing (use dill or cilantro for the herbs) and add some mustard and some dill pickle juice.

LEFTOVERS keep for several days, just be sure to refrigerate promptly.

VARIATIONS Aim for 6 cups of chopped vegetables but if you don't like or don't have one, no stress, just double up one of the others or substitute another. Good substitutes include radishes, fennel and jicama.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Half Cup: 123 Calories; 8g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 28mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium; 12g Carb; 1g Fiber; 1g Sugar; 3g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 3 & PointsPlus 3 & SmartPoints 4 & Freestyle 3 & myWW green 4 & blue 3 & purple 3

More Summery Salads

~ more Favorite Summer Salad Recipes ~
~ more pasta salad recipes ~
~ more salad recipes ~
Greek Pasta Salad with Creamy Feta Vinaigrette, another classic summer salad ♥, loaded with vegetables in a tangy-creamy feta vinaigrette.
BLT Pasta Salad ♥, a salad version of the summer classic BLT sandwich.
Garden Pasta Salad with Mint Vinaigrette ♥, light on the pasta, generous with the summer's best fresh veggies and all tossed in a g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s mint vinaigrette.

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ pasta recipes ~
~ buttermilk recipes ~
~ lemon recipes ~
~ bell pepper recipes ~
~ celery recipes ~
~ cucumber recipes ~
~ corn recipes ~
~ pea recipes ~
~ cooked eggs ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.