Growing up macaroni salad and potato salad were staples on our table in the summer time. They were also standard fare for picnics and covered dish dinners. My mother had a special insulated bowl with a tight fitting locking lid that was reserved for these two dishes.
My mother's macaroni salad was nothing fancy, but it was hearty and delicious. She used lots of hard boiled eggs and celery and made sure the dressing was slightly runny. I refused to eat anyone else's macaroni salad for years. No one else's was good enough. (I still feel this way about her potato salad).
However, in college I dated a man whose mother made me macaroni salad the first time I met her. Southern politeness dictated that I at least try a little of everything she served. Her macaroni salad was different - drier without as much mustard, with tomatoes and small chunks of cheese. "Cheese in macaroni salad???" I thought. I was sure I'd hate it. On the contrary, I loved it. Some bites had a cool burst of tangy tomato. Others had a creaminess of mild cheddar. The relationship didn't work out, but I do still miss that salad from time to time.
Enter my now husband, whose mother believes food is love. She finds it her mission in life to ensure the people around her are well fed. If you go to bed hungry in her house, it is your own fault. The first time she served me macaroni salad, I was skeptical, but after my previous experiences, willing to try. In addition to green peppers and sometimes cucumbers, hers also has tomatoes, but no cheese. It's also a salad I would eat any/every day.
What I realized is that for every person who cooks out there, there is a version of macaroni salad. No one is ever the same as anyone else's. They are very specific to the person making them.
When time came for me to make my own macaroni salad (which I do not do often, as my husband isn't a big fan), I realized I wanted to incorporate elements from all three I'd grown to love. A macaroni salad to me has to have a bit of mustard and "bite" in the dressing. I also wanted the creaminess of the cheese. And I loved the coolness of the cucumbers and tomatoes. What I ended up with for my version was a loving marriage of all three.
This recipe fills my large 9x13 lasagne dish with a little leftover. I only make it when I have a crowd to feed. You can cut this recipe in half easily.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons celery salt
1 box elbow macaroni, cooked, rinsed and drained
1 large cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 large carrot, shredded
1 stalk celery, diced
4 ounces cheddar cheese, diced
Blend dressing ingredients together, mixing well and tasting for seasoning. Now is the best time to adjust it if needed.
If making ahead of time, prepare dressing, dice all vegetables, and cook macaroni 1-2 days in advance. Store in the fridge separately. On the day you'll serve, combine all ingredients and taste for seasoning.