Creamy Macaroni Salad Recipe

Macaroni salad is a typical picnic dish, though it's one you need to be careful not to leave out in the hot sun for too long! Unrefrigerated mayo is a no-go, you know. Still, with the proper precautions (like maybe keeping it in the fridge until serving time), this dish can be something recipe developer Hayley MacLean describes as "absolutely perfect for spring and summer."

As you scroll through the list of ingredients, you might find something unexpected on the list — celery seeds, which MacLean says are "definitely the secret ingredient here." As she explains, they are "aromatic and earthy and ... bring out the flavor of the celery inside the salad," as well as enhancing the taste of the pickles. She does say, though, that if you have no celery seed on hand, "caraway seed will give the same concentrated, earthy flavor [and] fennel seed will work as well, but give a licorice/anise quality."

Assemble the ingredients for creamy macaroni salad

To make her macaroni salad, MacLean uses elbow macaroni, although she does say other small, chunky pastas could work, too. Small shells, wheel-shaped pasta, even novelty shapes — as she tells us, "Anything that will really combine with the vegetables and hold onto the sauce will work well."

The sauce is made from mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, honey, celery seeds, and vinegar. MacLean prefers using apple cider vinegar, but if you don't care for the taste, she suggests using white wine or champagne vinegar instead. As she says, "They will all add the level of acidity needed to round out this dish." This salad also contains a large amount of vegetables. Here MacLean is going with celery, onions, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and dill pickles, but says "You can really use any type of vegetables you like in a macaroni salad." Among the possible substitutes she suggests are cucumbers, zucchini, and olives.

Cook the pasta

Cook your pasta, whatever type you're going with, according to the package directions. As the salad is served cold, you don't need to cut the cooking time short, but allow it to cook to your preferred degree of doneness, whether that be al dente or otherwise. After the pasta is cooked, drain it and rinse it with cold water. There's no need to save any of the pasta water as you won't be using it here.

Make the salad dressing

Stir together the mayo, sour cream, vinegar, Dijon, honey, and celery seeds. If you've had similar salads before that were made with mayo only, and you're wondering what the sour cream's doing here, MacLean explains: "Combining sour cream with the mayonnaise in the dressing for this pasta salad ... not only lighten[s] it up, but also helps bring in a little bit of extra tang."

Put the salad together

Put the pasta in a serving bowl, then stir in the vegetables, including the pickles. (Cucumbers are still vegetables, no matter how long they've bathed in brine.) Add the salad dressing, then stir it up so all of the salad ingredients are evenly coated. Season the salad with salt and pepper, to taste. If you want to add a little more color, you can sprinkle the finished product with chopped scallions, green onions, chives, or anything of that sort. Parsley would also work, too.

Creamy Macaroni Salad Recipe
5 from 61 ratings
The next time you're planning a picnic, whip up this creamy macaroni salad as a tasty side dish. The sour cream and celery seed make this classic special.
Prep Time
Cook Time
pasta salad with elbow macaroni
Total time: 25 minutes
  • 16 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ½ tablespoon celery seed
  • ½ cup celery, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup red onion, diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup chopped dill pickles
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
Optional Ingredients
  • ¼ cup thin-sliced scallions
  1. Cook the macaroni according to the package directions.
  2. Drain and rinse the pasta with cool water.
  3. Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, Dijon, honey, and celery seed in a small bowl.
  4. Combine the cooked macaroni with the vegetables, pickles, and mayonnaise mix.
  5. Season the salad with salt and pepper, to taste.
  6. Garnished with sliced scallions, if desired.
Calories per Serving 615
Total Fat 35.0 g
Saturated Fat 6.9 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 25.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 63.6 g
Dietary Fiber 4.0 g
Total Sugars 7.0 g
Sodium 523.9 mg
Protein 11.2 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Rate this recipe