I am a big fan of macaroni salad.  But I am particular – I don’t like it gloppy and overly mayo-d or sweet. And of course no one really needs a recipe for this iconic summer dish, just make it like your mother made it before you, right? Well, maybe I don’t need a ‘recipe’, but I do need some way to shake it up a bit, get away from the mayonnaise pickle relish rut. And finally I have found a recipe that works for me, which I am going to share now with you so you too can have life-changing MacSal any time you want.

The original recipe came from the NYT recipe section, which isn’t accessible without a subscription to that service, separate from the newspaper.  Luckily I had printed it out when it first appeared, and so we don’t have to suffer the frustration of trying to share it without being able to link to it.

Macaroni Salad with Lemon and Herbs:

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ⅔ cup minced bread-and-butter pickles
  • 2 large stalks celery, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill, plus small sprigs for garnish
  • ¼ cup drained jarred capers, chopped, plus 3 tablespoons caper brine
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest and 4 teaspoons juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (optionalI didn’t use any)
  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni

Here’s what you do: the beauty of this recipe, to me, it that you pretty much do what you want to do.  The only important guideline is the use of equal parts mayonnaise and buttermilk for the dressing: this is key.  But basically, the procedure is something like this:

  • Cook your pasta – I personally am a big fan of either cavatappi or even better, ditalini.  But elbows will do.
  • Mix together the buttermilk, mayo and mustard, lemon zest and juice.
  • To that, add everything else except the chopped herbs.
  • If you don’t have bread and butter pickles, obviously you can use any pickle you like – I’ve made it with cornichons as well as the b&b: both good.  Also, if you like pickles like I do, add more!
  • I’ve also substituted finely chopped red onion for the scallions, as much as I thought it needed.
  • As far as the herbs go, here’s where you can just do what you want to do.  Don’t have dill? Use cilantro.  Hate cilantro?  Use more parsley and maybe a little basil or tarragon.  Or equal parts parsley and tarragon.  Or all parsley.  Or, and this is where you can really go crazy – add shredded butter lettuce or chopped steamed spinach.  Add avocado – especially if you use cilantro as part of your herb mix.  Asparagus is great in it, and so would be fresh peas.  Monday I added steamed lambs quarter to it.  There’s no end to the madness!!  The only thing to consider is make sure the flavors you select go will together, that’s all that really matters.
  • And don’t let the measurements of the herbs threaten you – add as much as you want, I’d say up to a cup or two total, especially if you use any salad type greens.
  • Toss your selection of greens and vegetables with the cooked macaroni, then add the dressing.
  • Salt and pepper to season is your own preference.  (Don’t forget to salt your pasta water when you cook the macaroni!!)

It’s good right away and even better with an hour chill down in the fridge.

Bacon would be good…

3 thoughts on “MacSal

  1. Hi Barb and Kevin, My mom Bette never made MacSal, but I will try this one, looks delish. Glad to see you are “keeping on, keeping on”, Jen Witt


    • Hey there! We think of you so often! Where are you now? We are definitely “keeping on”, and it has been pretty weird. Hope you are well too.


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