Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Recipe

close up of Hawaiian macaroni salad served in a white bowl
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My favorite part of a Hawaiian plate lunch is the scoop of Hawaiian macaroni salad. It’s cold, tangy, and sweet, which is very appetizing when served with some kalua pork, ribs, or other tasty meats.

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The Best Macaroni Salad

I love Hawaiian macaroni salad at luaus and with my plate lunch. At home, I am usually satisfied with rice to eat with Instant Pot Kalua Pork with Cabbage along with a small salad. But it’s summer and we are getting together with friends and we need extra sides to bring as a potluck dishes or to serve our guests.

Hawaiian macaroni salad probably originated from plantation workers in Hawaii back in the 1800’s according to Onolicious Hawaii. Her recipe wasn’t soft and creamy enough for me and I decided to try adding milk like Keeping It Relle.

I also adjusted the recipes to add a little bit more grated carrots, onions, and scallions and reduced the amount of salt and sugar to make the dish a tiny bit healthier for my dietary needs. My recipe for Hawaiian macaroni salad has the right flavors and texture of this well-known creamy and tangy pasta side dish.

close up image of Hawaiian macaroni salad served in a white bowl with a fork
This recipe makes approximately 6 cups of macaroni salad, which would be about 12 “scoops” of mac salad but as a generous side dish, it serves 6.

Ingredient Notes

Milk

Some recipes for mac salad use milk for extra creaminess and some don’t. Milk is definitely a hidden potential allergen. If you are dairy-free, I think it’s possible to substitute with a plain, unsweetened version of what’s safe for you. Be mindful of the possibility that people might use other alternative milks (almond, cashew, soy, etc.) instead of cow’s milk.

Mayonaise

After years of being egg-free before my son was desensitized to eggs, I’ve avoided conventional mayonaise and completely forgot that Best Foods makes the most delicious mayonaise. Apparently that’s a must-have for Hawaiian-style mac salad.

Carrots

This recipe also calls for 2 carrots that you need to grate finely. But do not grate all of the carrots because you only need 1/2 cup of finely grated carrots and leave about 1.5 inches to protect your fingers.

Sweet onions

Same with the sweet onion, the recipe calls for a whole sweet onion. Finely grate it until you have enough (1/2 cup) and reserve the rest for other recipes. Be careful, nothing is worse than grating your fingers or nails while prepping!

Scallions

In this recipe I use just the green parts of the scallion. Reserved the white parts along with the carrot “handles” and remaining onions and made a chicken fried rice with some leftover cooked chicken.

collage of prepped ingredients, pouring in dressing, macaroni salad after mixing, and how to wrap
Top left: prepped ingredients. Top right: pouring the dressing and combining all the ingredients. Bottom left: the macaroni salad is quite wet but it will absorb some of the dressing while chilling in the refrigerator. Bottom right: to prevent the pasta salad from drying out, I loosely wrapped with plastic and pressed the wrap directly on the pasta salad.

How to Make Macaroni Salad

Unlike cooking pasta for Italian dishes until al dente, we will want to overcook the pasta until it’s very plumped up and soft. I tried a recipe to cook the macaroni pasta an extra 1-2 minutes and while it was cooked, it wasn’t soft enough to absorb the dressing.

I recommend adding the pasta to the boiling water on medium heat and then double the recommended time on the package and added an extra minute for a really soft-cooked elbow macaroni.

Drain the cooked macaroni in a colander and toss gently to shake off any excess water and transfer to a large 2 quart non-reactive glass serving bowl. Immediately add the apple cider vinegar and gently mix to coat evenly. Allow the cooked pasta to absorb some of the vinegar for a few minutes as it cools slightly.

Add the prepared carrots, onion, and scallions. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables and stir gently to combine. It will seem too wet at first but will be just right after refrigerating for 1-3 hours.

Allergy Aware Macaroni Salad

This recipe is free of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and sesame as written.

The easiest allergen to substitute is wheat or gluten with a gluten-free elbow macaroni. My favorite brand of gluten free pasta is Barilla for this kind of recipe.

If allergic to eggs, use your favorite egg-free mayonaise. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to buy egg-free mayo and manufacturing processes may have changed, but my go-to brands were Just Mayo and Follow My Heart. Please double check to see if those will work with your allergies. I also notice that Hellman’s makes a plant-based mayo but I haven’t tried it.

Adding milk to the dressing lightens up the dressing and makes it creamier and healthier than adding an equivalent amount of mayonaise. If allergic to milk, I recommend adding a smaller amount of a plain, unsweetened version of an allergy safe alternative milk.

close up of Hawaiian macaroni salad served in a white bowl
5 from 3 votes
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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Recipe

My favorite part of a Hawaiian plate lunch is the scoop of Hawaiian macaroni salad. It's cold, tangy, and sweet, which is very appetizing when served with some kalua pork, ribs, or other tasty meats.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, Hawaiian
Keyword Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, mac salad
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Chill time (minimum) 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings 6 cups
Author Sharon Wong (Nut Free Wok)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 medium carrots 1/2 cup grated
  • 1 medium sweet onion 1/2 cup grated
  • 2 stalks scallions greens only, chopped
  • 1 cup mayonaise Best Foods or Hellmans, more as desired
  • 1/2 cup milk or plain non-dairy milk substitute, I use non-fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to salt the pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper finely ground

Instructions

  1. Fill a large 6-8 quart stock pot with water slightly more than halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni, salt the water as desired, and cook on medium heat until soft (double the package cook time plus an extra minute, approximately 13 minutes total).

  2. While the pasta cooks, use a fine grater to grate the carrots and onion into a bowl. You will only need about 1/2 cup of each and set aside whatever you can't safely grate (~2 pieces of carrot and 1/2 an onion) for other recipes.

  3. Drain the macaroni in a colander and drain well. Transfer the macaroni to a large non-reactive mixing or serving bowl, add the apple cider vinegar, and stir. Allow the pasta to absorb some of the apple cider vinegar.

  4. Add the chopped scallions, grated onion, and grated carrots to the macaroni.

  5. In a small mixing bowl, combine the mayonaise, milk, sugar, salt, and pepper and pour the mixture over the macaroni. Gently mix the ingredients together.

  6. Cover the pasta directly with plastic wrap to keep the pasta from drying out. Refrigerate until serving (1-4 hours, up to overnight).
  7. If stored overnight and/or the macaroni salad looks dry, add 1-2 heaping tablespoons of mayonaise (as needed) to the macaroni salad and stir (optional).

Related Recipes

You could bring this Hawaiian style macaroni salad to a summer potluck or BBQ but be sure to keep it cold with ice and don’t leave it out for more than 2 hours.

This recipe would be great with luau inspired dishes such as Instant Pot Kalua Pork with Cabbage or Slow Cooker Kalua Pork with Bacon and Cabbage for a luau inspired menu.

You could serve it as a side dish for Broiled Teriyaki Chicken Thighs, which is quick and easy to make as well. It only takes a few minutes in the broiler.

I would also eat this with Korean Style Beef Short Ribs and Turkey Spam Musubi.

If you needed another side dish, try making Instant Pot Okinawan Sweet Potatoes and mash the cooked sweet potatoes with some coconut milk, if not allergic.

And lastly, you need to make this amazing Better For You Butter Mochi, a Hawaiian dessert.

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About Sharon Wong 282 Articles
Welcome to Nut Free Wok, a blog about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I hope that you will find my food allergy mom experiences helpful and enjoyable to read as I write about recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy related awareness and advocacy issues. My professional experiences include education, teaching, and a little bit of science and computers. Thank you for visiting! ~Sharon Wong, M.Ed.

8 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I how easy and tasty this macaroni salad recipe is. This is a perfect side dish for my grilled pork chop or chicken.

  2. 5 stars
    Have you ever been to Mo Bettah’s?. This recipe tastes just like their macaroni salad! I love that I can make it at home.

  3. At the end of the recipe, it says if the pasta dries out overnight, use 2 heaping spoonfuls. But it doesn’t say of what. I could be reading it wrong, but I definitely can’t see it. What should I add if the pasta dries out?

    • Thank you for letting me know about my omission, you will want to add 1-2 tablespoons of mayonaise as needed. The addition of milk helps to keep the pasta salad creamy, but you know what to do just in case!

  4. 5 stars
    This is almost the exact recipe I use. I made 15 pounds of it yesterday for a retirement luncheon at my husband’s work today. Just one thing.. at the end, you said to add 2 heaping tablespoons, but forgot to say what. I assume this is mayo because I do the same thing. Just wanted you to know so you could edit it.

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