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Macaroni Salad - How to make sauce tastier?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone,

Last night, I made a macarani salad with elbow macaroni, a red bell pepper, cellery, and olives (i was also thinking of putting egg in as well). My question was about the sauce. I was trying to go for low/non fat so I used the following which didnt turn out too good:
-nonfat sour cream
-celery seed, thyme, parsley flakes, salt, black pepper, spicy mustard and white wine vinegar

It tasted very "blah", the taste of the non fat sour cream was pretty bad and it seemed to overwhelm the sauce.

Any suggestions?? Should I have added or taken something out?
post #2 of 6
Hmmmm.... my use-what-I've got mac salad has always been lite mayo, dijon mustard, celery seed, celery, and red onion, and S&P. But, I'm by no means a professional.
post #3 of 6
Try a reduced fat or low fat mayonnaise. instead of vinegar use lemon juice, add some capers or diced cornichons, lose the parsley flakes and chop up some fresh parsley. A boiled egg and/or some good quality tuna is nice also.

Here's a little salad that I make - but I'm always fooling around with proportions and ingredients depending on what's in the fridge or pantry:


1 c. small macaroni, your choice of stle - elbow is good
1/2 sm. onion, red (preferred), diced
2 scallions, diced
1 stalk celery, diced small
small red pepper, diced (sometimes roasted slightly)
1 can tuna, drained (or wild Alaska salmon, maybe smoked?)
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tbsp. chopped olives
2 tbsp. relish
a few diced cornichons
1 - 2 Tbs non-pariel capers, maybe a little of their liquid
2 tbsp. Lite mayonnaise
a little Dijon mustard (optional)
Juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon (depending on size and juice content of the fruit, or to taste)
Cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, cumin, paprika (smoked or not) to taste

Boil macaroni. Meanwhile, mix onion, celery, olives, relish, and mayonnaise together. Then add slightly cooled macaroniAdd tuna and mix some more. Add some diced eggs, add cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, cumin, paprika to taste and mix lightly. Sprinkle some eggs on top. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add some hard parts of romain hearts for additional crunch and mouth appeal.

post #4 of 6
Good advice already -- most of all, lose the nonfat sour cream! :p It's much better if you use just a little of the real thing, thinned out. Or try using a mix of nonfat yogurt (much zippier), light mayo, and lemon juice or vinegar.

The problem is twofold: 1) macaroni is bland to begin with, and 2) the flavor is blunted in anything you serve cold, so you need to bump up the flavorings. The suggestions Shel and bluedogz gave you will definitely help.

There's a whole book on pasta salads that has some great ideas. I've tried a few (and I'm not particularly fond of macaroni salads) and found them very good.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #5 of 6

From Cooks Illustrated

Fusilli Salad with Salami and Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette

Assertive ingredients like salami and sun-dried tomatoes can add deep flavor and texture to the simplest of pasta salads. We wanted to develop a pasta salad in which these flavors took center stage. Here’s what we discovered:

Choose a pasta shape that will trap the vinaigrette in its "nooks and crannies." Curly, ribbed fusilli is the perfect choice.

Cook the pasta until thoroughly tender, not al dente. We found that al dente pasta had an undercooked, chalky texture once chilled. Toss the pasta while it’s still hot in the vinaigrette.

Use jarred, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, not the dry, leathery ones sold in cellophane. The flavor and texture of jarred tomatoes is well worth the price. Drain and dry them before mincing so that they taste of tomatoes, not the vinaigrette in which they come packed.

Temper the assertive flavor of red wine vinegar by blending it with a little lemon juice.


6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (8-ounce) jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes , drained, patted dry, and minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic , minced
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 pound fusilli
8 ounces salami or pepperoni, cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchsticks
8 ounces provolone cheese , cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchsticks
1/2 cup kalamata olives , pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Whisk the oil, sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a bowl large enough to hold the salad. Cook the fusilli in 4 quarts boiling water seasoned with 1 tablespoon salt until tender, about 14 minutes. Drain the pasta thoroughly, then toss while hot with the dressing. Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

To Make Ahead

The salad can be prepared, covered, and refrigerated a day in advance. Before serving, freshen the salad with a spoonful of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

post #6 of 6
Surprisingly, you might need a little sweetener. Not much, but a little bit kind of ties everything together. You can use Splenda if you're worried about dietary concerns. Salads mask the after taste for some reason and no one will know. Some people prefer artificial sweetener because is won't break down the salad dressing or mayo the way sugar can. The sweetened version I think works better with shrimp as the protein. My friend makes her macaroni salad llike that and it's really good. I just use straight mayo in mine.
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