When I first became vegan, I spent a lot of time cooking dishes that were unfamiliar to me. I sampled new ingredients, including tempeh, quinoa, and a slew of other grains and legumes. Now that I’ve been vegan for more than a little while, I find myself gravitating toward comfort foods and nostalgic dishes. This has been especially true lately, with all of the uncertainty and unrest in the world. Macaroni salad was a childhood favorite of mine, and this creamy avocado macaroni salad is a simple tribute to it.
I’ve made vegan macaroni salad a few times before, but I’ve always taken the easy route of using store-bought vegan mayo as a base. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s nice to make a sauce from scratch, and I also love the way that avocado adds fiber, folate, and other nutrients to the dish—along with the creaminess, of course.
The creaminess in this macaroni salad isn’t over-the-top: it’s there, but it’s subtle. I tried a few different versions of the dressing as I was playing around with the recipe. One only included avocado, another avocado and olive oil, another—the one I ended up like the most—avocado blended with unsweetened vegan yogurt. I love the tanginess that the yogurt adds to the sauce, and the consistency of it was my favorite of all three batches.
Avocado macaroni salad ingredients
The ingredients for this salad are pretty flexible: you don’t have to use the same vegetables that I used, and there are lots of ways that you could jazz up the sauce. I wanted to keep the dish very, very simple, and the recipe reflects that. Here’s what it’s made with:
I used about half of a large, Hass avocado. If you have a smaller avocado, you can just use a little more than half. I give a cup measurement in the recipe!
Any plain, unsweetened, non-dairy yogurt is fine here: almond, cashew, coconut, or soy. My go-to vegan yogurt lately is the Forager brand cashew-gurt, but I’ve used a lot of other yogurts in meals and cooking. Just be sure that the yogurt is unsweetened, as it’ll make the sauce too sweet otherwise.
I often use lemon juice in dressings and sauces like this, but sometimes the lemon can compete with other flavors. I’ve been using white vinegar a lot in dressings lately, originally because it was always on hand at the start of quarantine, whereas lemons tended to run out. But I’m enjoying the fact that it can add acid to a dressing without being overly assertive.
I use elbows in the salad, but another small pasta shape will also be fine! Try the dish with mini shells, tubeti, or even orzo.
I almost always come back to a combination of bell pepper, carrots, celery, and red onion when I make macaroni salad. The proportions fit my tastes: lots of bell pepper, very little onion, but enough to impart some flavor. I think chopped scallions, broccoli florets, peas, and grape tomatoes would all be lovely. And I didn’t add herbs to the recipe, but you certainly could.
Making avocado macaroni salad
Making this recipe is nice and easy: cook and drain the pasta, blend your dressing ingredients together, add veggies of choice, and mix. I used my food processor to make the sauce, but a blender is equally fine (for sauces and dressings, I tend to use both appliances, sometimes without any good rhyme or reason).
Once the macaroni salad is ready, you can store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three or four days, if it lasts that long!
- 8 ounces elbow pasta (or another short pasta shape)
- 1 1/4 cups finely chopped bell pepper
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/2 cup finely chopped or grated carrot
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion (substitute chopped scallions)
- optional: chopped fresh herbs of choice
Creamy avocado sauce
- 1/2 large, Hass avocado (about 2/3 cup, or 3 ounces/90 g)
- 1/3 cup (3 ounces) unsweetened, plain non-dairy yogurt
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar (substitute apple cider vinegar or lemon juice)
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or coarse salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup water
- pinch of freshly ground, black pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to package instructions. Drain and rinse the macaroni in cold, running water. Drain again.
- While the macaroni cooks, add all sauce ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend till smooth. The sauce should be thick, but pourable. If it's too thick, you can add an extra tablespoon of water to thin it a bit.
- Once the pasta has been cooked and drained, add it to a large mixing bowl, along with your vegetables and herbs, if using. Add all of the sauce. Toss the ingredients together well and serve.
This creamy avocado macaroni salad would fit well into any summer grilling or cookout or outdoor gathering menu. But your summer gatherings might look a little different this year, as mine do. If so, it’s a nice warm weather dish to enjoy all on your own, or with someone you’ve been quarantining with.
If you want to serve the creamy avocado macaroni salad as a side, it would be a great accompaniment to BBQ soy curl sandwiches, sweet potato black bean burgers, or sweet potato red pepper quesadillas. And you can always add some tofu or tempeh or vegan bacon to make it a more substantial main dish, maybe with something green on the side.
However you serve it, I hope you’ll enjoy it. And I’m wishing you an easeful transition into the weekend. See you back here on Sunday.