My parents visited this past weekend and for lunch I put out a make-your-own-sandwich bar. I had the requisite condiments and sides, pickles and chips. I figured I had everything covered until my father went to the deli and picked up some macaroni salad. I was perplexed. Who still eats macaroni salad?
So for my lunch there sat a sentimental pile of mayo-laden macaroni. It had that nondescript crunchy element and slippery mouthfeel that only pasta and mayo can create. After tasting a forkful, I was reminded how I both love and loathe this salad. I think the love comes from the memories of childhood summer picnics it conjures rather than how appetizing it is. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pasta salad, but macaroni salad in all of its a-mayo-zing glory is better paired with barbecue or fried chicken. The warm saltiness of the meal can counteract the cold, tangy and unmistakable flavor.
This tasted like everything I remember but it’s just a bland mess on the plate. I went about researching menus at my favorite local restaurants in Leavenworth in search of macaroni salad so I could then try it with its intended meal. Unfortunately, everywhere I looked only had coleslaw or potato salad. This revelation paired with my flip-flopping opinion and the stronger more vocal opinion of my food confidants who said things like “It’s gross” and “Ewww, do people still eat that?” It made me think perhaps, outside of the occasional potluck and Hawaiian lunch plate, macaroni salad is a thing of the past.
I sensed a challenge and despite my thoughts of its mediocrity, I took it head-on. Perhaps a macaroni salad renaissance is due despite being pushed aside by gourmet pasta salads replete with feta, vegetables and light vinaigrettes. I set about searching for the best macaroni salads in cookbooks, online and from friends. I discovered recipes that featured sour cream in place of mayo, mustard, pickle juice and onions and even one flavored with Catalina salad dressing. Additions like celery, peppers, green onions were common and others included shrimp or tuna.
I thought what is it that I’m not 100% happy with when it comes to macaroni salad? Partially it’s the texture, or lack thereof, and the other part is the full-on flavor of too much mayonnaise. After my exhaustive search I took what I felt were the best ideas and decided not to rely on a gooey dressing, but instead showcase the macaroni with some fun additions.
So here’s my experimental macaroni salad – version May 2019.
First boil the macaroni (it has to be elbow-shaped otherwise it becomes pasta salad) in salted water for base flavor. Then use a mixture of mayo and Miracle Whip (about 3:1). Season with garlic salt and pepper, some pickle juice and Dijon mustard. Then to the macaroni add shredded cheddar cheese for some color along with finely diced celery and red onion for crunch and green peas because I love peas. Finally, the most important aspect of the entire recipe is to put on just enough dressing to cover. This makes it more about the ingredients than the dressing. This recipe is a great update to a classic and is the perfect canvas for adding things like corn, hard boiled eggs, potatoes (wow a potato salad-macaroni salad hybrid) and more.
What do you think? Do you love macaroni salad? Do you have a no-fail family favorite? If so, please email me. I would love to try it.
Lisa Sweet writes about food for the Leavenworth Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org