I have to admit, one of my fondest memories of summer were the trips I took as a child with my family. They were usually just short trips to the beach or somewhere close to home. One thing I especially remember about our vacations was how my mother prepared for the trips. She made sure we packed all the essentials as far as clothes, cosmetics, games and toys. But, what she was most remembered for, as far as I am concerned, was the picnic lunch she always packed. We were a family of 7 and going on any vacation was not cheap. So, my mom, as awesome as she was, packed the cooler full of lots of goodies. A trip was not complete unless there was a lots of fried chicken and my mom’s famous macaroni salad. It was a staple whenever we traveled. I loved her macaroni salad and it was the perfect side to her crispy fried chicken. As much as I loved it though, over the years, I have tried to lighten it up a bit. I think my recipe for Light Macaroni Salad still has all the flavor as mom’s, but by adding lots of veggies and cutting back on the amount of the dressing, it ends up being a much healthier option.
As I often teach in my cooking classes, to make a healthier version of a recipe, it is all about smart substitutions and a really good ratio of the food groups. So, traditional macaroni salad has about 60% macaroni, 30% dressing, and 10 % veggies. Yummy, great, loaded with flavor, but not necessarily the healthiest choice for a macaroni salad. So, how do we turn mom’s amazing macaroni salad into a Light Macaroni Salad?
First, I started with the usual macaroni, and of course, you can substitute whole wheat or gluten free macaroni. Then I added a variety of different vegetables; almost the same amount as the pasta in the recipe. So, with a salad made with 50% macaroni and 40% veggies, that leaves 10% for the dressing. I know, way too much math. An easier rule of thumb, make sure that any recipe is half vegetables and half all other ingredients like proteins, carbs and/or fats. This demonstrates how recipes can be updated without losing all the great flavor that the original recipes have. It is one of the best tricks to make your diet healthier…increase the veggies in any and every dish. I know, we often hear that we should be eating 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and often wonder, how in the world that can be done. But, just by adding some to your morning eggs, sandwich at lunch and your main dish at night, it it TOTALLY possible.
So, back to our Light Macaroni Salad. I started with, of course, macaroni. I love using Barilla brand pasta. The elbow macaroni especially is different from other elbows. It has little grooves on it like you see in many rigatoni pastas. What is the big deal about grooves other than making your dish “groovy”? (So bad!) Can you tell I grew up in the 70’s? Well, when you mix the pasta with the dressing, the grooves help soak up all the creaminess of the dressing. The pasta actually “holds on” to the dressing. Next, I add in lots of different, colorful vegetables…onion, celery, peppers, carrots, and zucchini. You don’t have to stop there though. Try adding cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and lots of fresh herbs. Now, when it comes to the dressing, I only use 1/2 cup of mayonnaise. Then, I thin it out with a little milk and give it a tang with some red wine or cider vinegar. The small amount of sugar gives a great contrast to the vinegar and balances the dressing out perfectly.
Serve this Light Macaroni Salad by itself on a hot summer day or with hot dogs and hamburgers at your next barbecue. My mom was an amazing cook and thinking of her wonderful dishes brings back such sweet memories of summer vacation and other holidays. I love the fact that I am able to take all the flavor of her recipes and lighten them up a bit, and making it with all the love she put into her cooking. Thanks mom for all the inspiration and incredible recipes you passed on to me. It makes my kitchen a living memory. With love from The Memorable Kitchen.
- 8 oz. dry macaroni (I used Barilla)
- ½ sweet onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup celery, finely chopped
- ½ red pepper, finely chopped
- ½ cup carrot shreds
- 1 small zucchini, finely chopped
- ½ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann's is the best in my opinion)
- 1 tablespoon 1% milk
- 1-2 tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, about 7 minutes. I add about 1 teaspoon salt to the water before adding the pasta.
- Drain the pasta and run cool water over the pasta until it is about room temperature. Make sure to shake out excess water. Place in a medium sized bowl. Add in the onion, celery, red pepper and carrots and zucchini.
- In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, sugar, salt, celery salt, and pepper. Pour over pasta and vegetables. Mix until pasta and vegetables are completely coated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The salad is best if you make it the night before.