Sunday Suppers: Mom-Style Macaroni Salad

I originally posted this on June 7, 2009. The photo did not come close to doing this salad justice, so I've replaced the one, lone, sad photo with some that I hope will make your stomach growl just a little!

Mom-Style Macaroni Salad

I do enjoy a good pasta salad:  crisp, blanched vegetables and yummy al dente pasta shapes all drenched in a homemade vinaigrette and spiked with whatever herbs and spices strike my fancy.

Mom-Style Macaroni SaladBut that's not what I'm here to talk about.  This is Macaroni Salad.  I can't even call it pasta salad, because it isn't Schmancy enough.

Mom-Style Macaroni SaladThis is the macaroni that you take to the covered dish Wednesday night supper.  The one that you make for the little league end-of-season party.  The Dish of Choice for the swim team party, the block party, the I'm-sorry-your-aunt-died get together.  I grew up eating this stuff, and when I make it for myself, I stay pretty true to Mom's way of making it.  And now, I'm going to share it with you.

Mom-Style Macaroni SaladUse this as a basic recipe template, and feel free to add/substitute to your Heart's Content.  But do try it The Original Way at least once.  Especially if you are a fan of celery seed and tuna.  You won't be sorry.

Mom-Style Macaroni Salad

Mom-Style Macaroni Salad
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
The best mom-style macaroni salad in the world. Because it's my mom's. Give it a try, or spin it using your favorite ingredients.

I never measure when I make this. The whole idea is to make enough dressing goo to coat all the pasta pretty liberally. By the next day, most of it will have soaked in, leaving the pasta somewhat dry. If you don't like it that way, make a Very Lot of dressing goo. If you like your macaroni on the dry-ish side, make Just Enough. Whatever that means is up to you.
What You Need
For the Dressing
  • mayonnaise
  • sour cream
  • spicy mustard
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vinegar
  • celery seed
  • sugar or honey (optional)
For the Macaroni
  • 1 pound macaroni--shells or elbows. You can use Special Shapes, but I stay with the basic Loved Since Childhood shapes for this one
  • medium onion, diced (as much or as little as you like)
  • celery, small dice (ditto)
  • some dill pickles, all cut up into wee cubes. Or just use relish. (double ditto)
  • 1 big old can of tuna
  • some cheddar cheese cut into ¼" cubes (I also used some pepper jack, because it said it wanted to join the party. Who was I to say no)? (triple ditto)
What To Do
For the Dressing
  1. Mix equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream.
  2. Add in enough mustard so that the whole deal is decidedly yellow-ish.
  3. Season with salt and pepper, and add enough vinegar (I used white balsamic--use your favorite) to make it the consistency of thick-ish ranch dressing.
  4. Add about ½-1 tsp celery seed (depending on how much you like it. Remember, you can use whatever you want). Stir and stir, and taste.
  5. You might need to add a squirt of honey or other sweetener if it's tasting a little too Pointy to you. I like it pointy, so I skip the sweetener.
  6. When I was done, I probably had about 1¼ cups of dressing. Make more or less, depending upon how gooey you like your macaroni. Oh, yeah--if you want, you can add some grated Parmesan to your dressing. I didn't this time (and I didn't miss it), but I've done that before, and it is Very Good.
For the Macaroni
  1. Cook the macaroni until it is done to your liking, and drain well.
  2. Put the macaroni into a big old bowl, and stir in the dressing. Yes, while the macaroni is still hot, so it will soak in.
  3. Then, stir in the onion, celery, pickles and tuna until it is all nicely Mixed Up. I do this one ingredient at a time, just to give the macaroni time to cool off some before adding the cheese.
  4. Add the cheese cubes last.
  5. Refrigerate until cold.
  6. Put in your face.
  7. Mom used to put in shredded carrot, and you can if you want. I don't. You can leave out the tuna, or substitute chicken, if you want. You can also add in chopped herbs if you feel called to do so.


Do you have a favorite "mom-style" dish that you go back to again and again?  I'd love to hear about it so I can make it and Eat It.  And maybe share with The Beloved.


Mom-Style Macaroni Salad






  1. linda conley says

    Ooo-ooo! Extremely lazy version: Make some pasta. Cool it off. Pour some ranch dressing over it. Add some chopped crispy bacon. At this point, you can put anything else you want to in it – red onions are nice too! I love pasta salad!

  2. says

    Mom-style dish? Well, mashed spuds of course 🙂 With milk & butter & salt & pepper & maybe mustard & often capers & a bit of parsley & lots of onion gravy & I bet that would all taste great with some of that Neese’s sausage…

    • says

      Why have I never thought to put mustard in mashed potatoes?! I put it in potato salad. Next time, I shan’t forget. And you’re prolly right about Neese’s being great with them, too!

  3. Ashley says

    This is so timely! I finally have my computer back from the shop and I’ve been craving macaroni salad for an upcoming picnic. You must be telepathic!

  4. says

    Ha, I went to a cookout recently where my friends were all “you HAVE to tell me what you think of my food” because I cook & bake, and one of my friends had brought a really delish macaroni salad. It was one of those things I thought I didn’t like growing up, and I never make it myself, but it IS awesome when it’s made properly.

    My favorite mom recipe is for my mom’s apple pie – well, specifically the crust. She always makes an olive oil crust, which I LOVE with apples. I mess with the filling whenever I make it, but I always make her crust. I’m also a big fan of her blueberry muffins (which I’m re-doing as cupcakes soon) and oatmeal raisin cookies (which, like everything she bakes, has Smart Balance/whatever instead of butter, and if I make them with butter they just don’t taste right).

    • says

      Yeah, Moms are magic that way. “Use margarine; it’s the only way.” And although we think we know better and are Above Margarine, they’re always right! 😆 Will have to try that olive oil crust. Sounds fantastic, Anna!

  5. Kathleen says

    I suspect my guys will like your version better than mine. I’m trying it this weekend. I am the laziest of cooks and basically just cook the macaroni and add tuna, finely chopped onion, a bag of mixed vegetables and a couple big gobs of mayo. Your dressing sounds wonderful–and not too hard. 🙂


  1. […] Mom-Style Macaroni Salad is my hands down favorite. You probably make a similar version, honestly. But this is the way I like to make it. It’s the way my mom always made it, and as much as I like to change things up and rarely eat the same thing twice, this macaroni salad is sacrosanct. Try it once and see if you don’t think the same. […]

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