Simplicity: Lessons from Macaroni Salad

simplicity copyWhen I first started this series, one of the things I talked about was how “Simplicity is NOT taking the easy way out.” I want to share with you a lesson I learned this past week based on that theme, and then I’ll share a recipe at the end.

Have you seen those boxed “Simply Pasta Salad” kits in the grocery store? I’d seen them lots of times over the years, but never tried one. One night recently, we were having grilled burgers for dinner, and I wanted a quick, easy, won’t-heat-up-the-kitchen side. Pasta salad seemed like just the ticket. Unfortunately, it was already nearing time to start cooking, so I didn’t have time to make a macaroni salad from scratch and none of my family likes the Reser’s stuff that the deli carries. So I decided to try the box kit. They were on sale for $.99 that day, so I picked up four of them – some for now, some for later.

The concept is simple. Inside the box, you’ll find a packet of dressing powder which you mix with oil and water, and a bag of pasta, which you need to cook. Mix the two items together, and voila! Pasta salad. It was really quick to put together, but it wasn’t great in the flavor department. The dressing was really oily and honestly, pretty bland. The pasta was fine; it was just corkscrew pasta, not unlike what I would be likely to use for my from-scratch pasta salad (my grandma’s recipe). There were no add-ins. I suppose that could be considered my fault – there’s nothing on the instructions that says “don’t add anything to this, it’s perfect as-is.”

As we were eating the second batch of it (with my in-laws over for dinner), I was thinking about how “ho-hum” this salad was, and how I should have just made macaroni salad from “scratch.” It takes more work, but the result is so far superior that it’s worth it. And to me, that’s what simplicity is all about. It’s not about taking shortcuts so you can have more down time. It’s about making the thing you do worth the time and energy so that they’re more enjoyable.

My Grandmother’s Macaroni Salad

(I don’t have the exact proportions anymore, so I’m doing this out of my head. My grandma passed away in 2001, so I can’t just get a new copy of the recipe from her, but I’ve made this enough over the years to know it.)

3 8-oz bags of small pasta – your choice on the shape
You can find these on the Mexican food aisle of the grocery store; you could just use 24 ounces of pasta from “traditional” means, but I like the small bags for this recipe.
1 cucumber, diced

1 bell pepper, diced
6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
4-6 sweet or dill pickles, chopped
8 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes

1 1/4 cups mayonnaise – store bought or homemade, whichever you prefer

2-4 tablespoons mustard
1-2 tablespoons white vinegar
Relish, optional

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

When pasta is cooked, drain the water and rinse with cold water until you can work with it with your hands. Combine pasta, vegetables, eggs, and cheese in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to combine. I find that my hands are the best tools for this job. It’s messy, but effective.

Eat immediately or chill before eating. (It should be pretty cold already since you rinsed the pasta.) Refrigerate leftovers.

I think my favorite part about this recipe is that it’s so incredibly versatile. Don’t like cucumbers or bell peppers? Use carrots and celery instead. Don’t like vegetables at all? Add more eggs and cheese. Not in the mood for macaroni salad? Substitute potatoes for the pasta, and now you have potato salad. The cheese cubes add a little something special, too, in the midst of the soft pasta and crunchy vegetables. It’s a texture right in the middle. Yum.

I’ll never buy “Simply Pasta Salad” kits again!




  1. Sanz @ From The Mrs.

    I have a few of those boxed pasta mixes on my shelf and we don’t care much for them either. Macaroni salad is actually a staple in Polynesian cuisine. 🙂

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