Macaroni Salad with Fresh Herbs

Our macaroni salad will bring a smile to your face, while smiling right back at you!

You can’t say that about too many shapes of pasta, can you?

But it’s not just the cheerful plateful of U-shaped grins that makes us giggle with glee – this recipe is a refreshing update on the classic side dish that will delight you with every bite you take.

Horizontal close-up image of a spoonful of a chilled and creamy elbow macaroni dish in a white bowl with assorted vegetables.

Without straying too far away from its base ingredients, you’ll still find a lot of recognizable components that have given the classic macaroni salad its longstanding popularity:

We still use a cool and creamy dressing with mayonnaise, elbow macaroni, and a crunchy mix of raw veggies like celery and bell pepper.

But with a few changes, without causing a stir amongst guests at backyard barbecues and the 30-minute lunchtime crowds, we aim to rejuvenate and freshen up this popular recipe.

You’ll enjoy the acidic additions of sour cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice as well as the tangy, textured whole grain mustard in the dressing. And you’ll wonder why you haven’t always added tender pieces of hard-boiled eggs to your typical mix.

Vertical close-up image of a large bowl filled with a mixed vegetable chilled pasta dish garnished with dill on a wooden platter.

And with a light and lovely flurry of chopped assorted herbs, you’ll fully understand why the freshest of ingredients are vital to the delicious success of this recipe.

We use an equal mix of chopped fresh dill and tarragon, as well as sliced scallions, a selection you might not have expected to find in a macaroni salad.

But as soon as you capture a whiff of the anise and grassy aromas, and once you taste the subtle onion flavor, you’ll be rewarded with full clarity and gustatory happiness!

Vertical top-down image of assorted white bowls filled with a chilled macaroni recipe with assorted vegetables, garnished with dill fronds.

There’s a special bond macaroni salad shares with an outdoor summer shindig, as it’s the cooling counterpart to grilled, steamy hamburgers and chicken or ribs slathered in barbecue sauce.

But don’t let your cook-outs call dibs all the time.

Vertical close-up image of a spoon inserted into a creamy pasta dish in a white bowl.

As mentioned before, it’s a perfect busy lunchtime or snack companion – something you can make a few days in advance that you and the family can eat and enjoy between morning meetings, sports practices and games, school conferences and concerts, or other evening events.

Put a smile on your face, and one on everyone sitting at your dinner table, and make the recipe now!

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Horizontal close-up image of a spoonful of a chilled and creamy elbow macaroni dish in a white bowl with assorted vegetables.

Macaroni Salad with Fresh Herbs

  • Author: Nikki Cervone
  • Total Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x


Our macaroni salad is a rejuvenating update on a side dish classic, with crunchy veggies, a creamy dressing, and fresh herbs.


  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 pound dry elbow (macaroni) pasta
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 scallions, green and white sections thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill fronds
  • 1/4 cup chopped tarragon leaves


  1. Fill a medium pot 3/4 of the way full with water, and bring to a boil on the stovetop over high heat. Once at a boil, gently place the eggs in the water using a heatproof skimmer. Boil the eggs for 11 minutes. While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
  2. Immediately remove the eggs from the pot with a skimmer and submerge them in the ice bath. Allow them to cool for about 5 minutes before peeling them while still slightly warm. Transfer the peeled eggs to an airtight container and place in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 1 to 2 hours. Roughly chop the eggs.
  3. Fill a large pot about 3/4 of the way full with water. Bring to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook for the amount of time directed on the pasta’s packaging. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water until completely cold. Shake off any excess water.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, mustard, black pepper, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt.
  5. Place the eggs, pasta, celery, bell pepper, scallions, dill, and tarragon in a large mixing bowl. Pour the dressing on top, and mix everything together until all of the ingredients are completely combined.
  6. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and chill and set for at least 1 hour before serving. Store macaroni salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container up to 3 days.
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Pasta Salad
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Side Dish

Keywords: macaroni, salad, herbs

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Boil and Chill the Eggs

Fill a medium pot 3/4 of the way full with water, and bring to a boil on the stovetop over high heat. You want the pot to be large enough for the eggs to have ample space for cooking evenly.

Once at a boil, gently place the six eggs into the water using a heatproof skimmer, a handy tool for safely lifting food out of hot liquid.

Boil them for 11 minutes – this amount of time ensures the whites and yolks are fully cooked, but still leaves a slightly softer yolk. If you prefer a more jelly-like yolk, cook them for a shorter amount of time, about 9 minutes.

Horizontal image of chopped cooked eggs in a white dish.

While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl next to the stovetop for easy transferring. The ice bath shocks and helps to instantly stop the cooking process, and also helps the shells easily peel off from the whites.

When the eggs have cooked for the full 11 minutes, immediately remove them from the pot using the skimmer and submerge them in the ice bath.

Allow them to cool for about 5 minutes before peeling. They will peel very easily while they are still slightly warm. You can dispose of the shells, or save them to add to your kitchen compost.

Place the eggs in an airtight container and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator – this will take about 1 to 2 hours. Roughly chop the hard-boiled eggs, once they have cooled down thoroughly.

Step 2 – Boil the Pasta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Pour in 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni, and cook according to package directions for an al dente texture – this may take between seven to ten minutes.

Once cooked, drain everything in a colander in your kitchen sink, and rinse the pasta with cold water. Shake off any excess water and set aside as you continue the recipe.

Horizontal image of cooked elbow pasta in a colander.

Don’t cause a fuss just yet! While there are differing opinions on this, even in our own article for building a pasta salad, rinsing with cold water serves a few purposes here:

First, it quickly chills the pasta, immediately halting the cooking process. This helps you seamlessly continue your prep work for a chilled dish with pasta that is cooked to the perfect texture and at the right temperature.

Second, it also washes off surface starch – while this starch is beneficial for hot-dish applications, allowing the pasta to cling to hot sauce, excess starch will be a detriment to a cold-dish application like chilled salads.

Excess starch for a cold pasta dish will cause the macaroni to become gummy and clump together – not what you want for a loose, chilled salad!

Step 3 – Make the Dressing

Measure out the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper into a small mixing bowl. Freshly squeeze the lemon juice into the small bowl.

Horizontal image of whisking together a creamy white dressing in a shallow bowl.

Whisk everything together.

For additional flavor, our garlic aioli would be a delicious substitution for the mayonnaise.

Step 4 – Chop and Slice Ingredients

Using a sturdy cutting board and sharp chef’s knife, dice the celery stalks and bell pepper. Slice the scallions.

Horizontal image of assorted chopped vegetables and hard-boiled eggs on white plates.

Roughly chop the dill and tarragon leaves.

Step 5 – Mix Everything Together

Place the eggs, pasta, celery, bell pepper, scallions, and herbs in a large serving bowl.

Horizontal image of assorted prepped vegetables and ingredients in a large white bowl.

Pour the dressing on top, and mix everything together until all of the ingredients are completely incorporated.

Horizontal image of a prepared macaroni salad in a large white bowl.

A rubber spatula is best for this step. Try to use a gentle folding motion to avoid smashing the ingredients.

Step 6 – Chill and Serve

Tightly cover the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap, and transfer it to your refrigerator. Allow the mix to chill and set for at least one hour before serving.

Horizontal top-down of a large bowl and two small bowls filled with a chilled macaroni dish garnished with dill fronds.

Do a final taste for seasoning – adjust with salt and pepper, or more lemon juice for extra acidity.

For added color, use any extra dill fronds or tarragon leaves as a final garnish.

Eat the macaroni salad within three days to enjoy it at its best quality. It will continue to thicken the more it sits. Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Your Herbs, Your Way

Feathery and delicate, dill and tarragon are ideal companions to both flavor and aromatize a mayonnaise-based chilled pasta salad.

But they don’t have to be the only ones.

Let’s say your summer herb garden is in full swing, with the likes of parsley, basil, oregano, chives, and more in all sorts of varieties and cultivars.

Use any of them here! Any softer, leaf-like herb that you would associate with more summery flavors will work well in this recipe.

Horizontal image of a large bowl and two small bowls filled with a chilled macaroni dish garnished with dill fronds.

However, I would advise against hardier herbs, such as sage, rosemary, or thyme – these might be too strong and overwhelming for this style of cold side dish.

Do you have an herbal combination in mind? Leave us a comment below!

Celery, we couldn’t do it without ya! This crisp veggie gives us the texture we need and crave. Use celery in other recipes, and take advantage of its refreshing taste and crunch:

Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published April 2, 2015 by Ashley Martell. Last updated on March 15, 2024.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

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