Monday, May 27, 2013

Mac salad, the king of side dishes

We just finished an epic Memorial Day weekend full of friends and fun, and hosted a luau-ish style party! We have never been to Hawaii, so you'll have to forgive me for my lack of authenticity.

We needed to come up with a Hawaiin style main dish and side that was easy to make and a real crowd-pleaser. Luckily, that isn't too hard, these folks know how to eat! My favorite is the "Plate Lunch". The Plate Lunch typically consists of a protein (pork, beef, chicken, or fish) in some sort of BBQ or teriyaki or other awesomeness, served with rice and a side of my all time favorite food ever, macaroni salad - or as the locals like to affectionately call it, "mac salad" for short.

Macaroni salad and I, we are long-time friends - enemies maybe? If you haven't checked out Bizarre Foods from my Youth, you should do so. What I didn't talk about there was my obsession with macaroni salad. Sometimes still, when I see macaroni salad across the room, I drop what I'm doing and listen to the hypnotoad, waking up only to find myself in a faceplant over the bowl. It's very strange, I tell you.

But I didn't just fall for any macaroni salad - I hated the really globby stuff (like a mayo to pasta ratio of 3:1, that would be bad). ShopRite "Word Class Macaroni Salad" was the absolute best. They don't sell this stuff anymore, although they do sell "Black Bear" macaroni salad, and looks pretty much like a 3:1er. For you non-New Jersey natives, ShopRite is a grocery chain that sells every NJ-style deli item ever imagined. If you're touring NJ (not sure why you would, but roll with me here), you should make this store a part of your cultural immersion.

This macaroni salad changed my life. It was the best @#$% I've ever eaten. I blame it for my butterball-like exterior as a kid - I would save my couch pennies for the $2.95 it took to obtain a plastic container of this stuff. "Oh no, mom, how did that get in the cart? It must have fallen in! But here's the money to cover it!" I would say this stuff has a ratio of 0.25:1 on the mayo to macaroni, which made it awesome. And it had many other ingredients, quantities in secret. A little sweet, not too much. A little peppery, just enough to stimulate the senses. Some crunch from celery and onion, not too much. A dash of magic, too, I'm sure.

Anyhow, back to Hawaii - at first I thought I'd take my shot at authenticity, but I quickly turned to try and make the macaroni salad that had flavors that reminded me of my childhood memories. A little sweet, a little salty, a little tangy, not globby. So here it is.

Note that I didn't just magically come up with this all on my own - a great big thank you to Ezra Poundcake for the great tip of cooking macaroni for twice as long as package directions and to add cider vinegar to the pasta for about 30 minutes prior to adding the dressing. This makes every bit exciting with less mayo, as it has a tangy crisp bite to it, just like the stuff I remember. I believe this has a ratio of 0.25:1, which is perfect. I also had to add some of this and that from my condiment cabinet until I hit it perfect. I know this was not what went into ShopRite's macaroni salad (it was probably much more simple than this, and cheaper to make), but I think the flavors come close.


1 lb dried macaroni, large preferred
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 large bell peppers, any color, finely diced
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1/4 cup creme fraiche, or full fat sour cream if you cannot find
1 tbsp sriracha
1 tbsp sweet chili garlic sauce, such as Mae Ploy or Trader Joe's
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch sweet smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook macaroni twice as long as package directions, drain, and rinse with cold water. Add cider vinegar and let sit for 30 minutes. In another bowl, add chopped veggies. In yet another bowl, add the mayo, creme fraiche, sriracha, sweet chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, worcester sauce, sweet smoked paprika, and salt and pepper. Mix until smooth. Add all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least another hour to allow flavors to blend.


  1. I'm not normally a fan of "mac salad"... I believe macaroni belongs in cheese. But. You got me at the "sweet chilli garlic sauce". Oh, and the worcestershire. Oh and the sriracha.

    Guess this is going on my must try list.

    1. Glad to hear I have inspired! I can never do just plain ol' anything. Gotta spice it up. I hope you'll come around to a new appreciation, I think grocery store gloppery has done a disservice and has prevented mac salad from reaching it's full glory ;-)

  2. Macaroni and cheese is definitely higher on my list of likes but, the mac salad was pretty darn good.