This macaroni salad is a cool, creamy, tangy trip down memory lane.
When I think of the cookouts of my childhood, I remember burgers, hot dogs, watermelon slices, potato salad, and pasta salad.
This menu isn’t just nostalgic. It’s also full of quick and easy foods that will feed a whole crowd — or dozens of cousins — without blowing the whole grocery budget.
In that spirit, this macaroni salad is a solid choice for your summer cookouts, picnics, or meal prepping cool lunches for a hot week. It’s creamy, cool, tangy, and refreshing on a hot day, whether you serve it next to a vegan cheeseburger or a platter of grilled vegetables.
🥗 About this recipe
I think it’s safe to say that — in the US, at least — most vegans or other plant-based eaters spent their childhoods consuming meat and other animal products.
Some of us feel revulsion when we look at the foods of our omnivorous past. Anecdotally, though, I think it’s far more common to feel a deep nostalgia for specific items, especially those associated with holidays or other family gatherings.
And with that nostalgia comes a sense of loss, if a satisfactory vegan substitute isn’t available.
For Jacob, one of those cherished foods was the macaroni salad that his grandmother used to make. I never had the opportunity to meet Mommom, or to try her original macaroni salad.
Fortunately, the simplicity of this classic side dish made it easy for Jacob to create a plant-based version. All it took was a high quality vegan mayonnaise and a bit of tinkering with the proportions.
I stood and watched over his shoulder taking notes when he made his most recent batch, and this recipe is the result.
- Dry elbow macaroni
- Fresh cherry tomatoes
- 1 jar of roasted red peppers
- Vegan mayonnaise
- White vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the macaroni
Follow the instructions on the package to make the noodles. Strain, then rinse with cold water to quickly chill the noodles. Make sure the water has thoroughly drained off before adding the other ingredients.
Combine the ingredients
In a large bowl, combine the macaroni, tomatoes, red bell peppers, ¼ cup of mayonnaise, and vinegar. Stir well to combine, and add more mayo if desired. Add black pepper to taste and chill until you are ready to serve.
Taste and season
Just before serving, taste for seasoning and texture. If you made the salad ahead of time and the noodles have absorbed too much dressing, stir in a tablespoon of white vinegar. If desired, add salt and additional pepper to taste. Serve cold.
💡 Substitutions and modifications
If you’re like me, you’re almost incapable of following a recipe to the letter. And I respect your independent spirit.
Fortunately, the simplicity of this recipe makes it very flexible, so you can experiment and substitute to your heart’s content. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Make it gourmet
- Use the highest-quality pasta and choose your favorite shape.
- Roast your own red peppers.
- Make your own homemade mayonnaise.
Make it gluten free
- Use gluten-free noodles made of rice or chickpeas.
- Make sure that the mayo is gluten free (most vegan mayo brands seem to be gluten free, but it’s still wise to double check).
- If you are making two batches and only one is gluten free, an easy way to tell them apart is to use different noodle shapes. For example, we’ll use elbow macaroni for the basic batch, and shells for the gluten free batch.
Make it your own
- Add your favorite diced vegetables. These can be raw, steamed, or even grilled.
- Add fresh herbs like parsley or dill.
- Make it spicy by adding hot sauce like Sriracha or Tabasco. Or swap the vinegar in the recipe with a few tablespoons of the brine from a jar of pickled jalapeños.
🧰 What you’ll need
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- A large pot
- A colander
- Measuring cups and measuring spoons
- A large mixing bowl
I, too, feel the nostalgia of days past with family favorite recipes. They conjure thoughts, sounds and smells (most often) of my grandmother’s kitchen. And smiles. Oh, the laughter and smiles. And, yes, as we say “recipes are merely suggestions”.
Meg Kramer says
Thanks for commenting, Vickie! Do you have any favorite nostalgic recipes?
A lot of my favorite food memories aren’t recipes so much as experiences — things like sitting on the back porch and shelling peas from the garden, or grabbing gooseberries from the bushes that formed a hedge at the property line.