Utterly delicious and classic, this creamy Southern macaroni salad has a delicious dressing, fresh herbs, and chunks of ham and cheese for sustenance. This is a delicious summer side dish or make ahead lunch item! Try it alongside BBQ Sandwiches for a real summer treat.
HELLO creamy, dreamy pasta salad. I am wildly into classic Southern-style side dishes: I think it comes from hardly eating them growing up. Church potlucks, though? Right up my alley.
You've had Southern macaroni salad, right? It's found at diners, sometimes at picnics, and at family gatherings all over the south. It's really basic, really creamy, and can go all wrong, in my opinion, with the wrong ratio of mayo to other stuff in the dressing.
I've had versions of this salad before that were just GOOEY with too much mayo, and that simply will not do. In this recipe, we go really light on the mayo and add some vinegar, sour cream, and a sprinkle of SUGAR to the dressing. Then we pour it over al dente pasta, and add some other flavors to balance out the dish. Ham, cheese, fresh herbs, all good stuff.
Macaroni Salad Ingredients
You need pasta, of course. Use any kind you like, but I like macaroni or something else bendy and curly that really grabs onto all the dressing and other ingredients in the salad.
Then for the dressing you need sour cream, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. For the salad itself you need some fresh herbs (dill and parsley kind of give that ranch flavor we all know and love), spring onions or scallions (or just one, this guy was enormous!), ham, and cheddar.
Ingredient Notes and Recipe Variations
- If you don't have a crazy spring onion like this you can use 4-6 scallions depending on your desire for onion flavor.
- Feel free to add other veggies to this! Cherry tomatoes are great, celery is lovely, cucumber is nice and fresh, really anything you like can be used to customize this macaroni salad recipe.
- For a spicy version, add ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to the dressing.
- If you are vegan, this vegan pasta salad is really yummy as an alternative to classic macaroni salad!
Step By Step Instructions
- Start some water for the pasta with SALT so the pasta tastes good. Cook the pasta to al dente, drain it, rinse it so it isn't all sticky. While that's happening, make the dressing and prep the rest of the ingredients.
- For the dressing, just dump everything in the bottom of a bowl. Then, stir it together! Taste the dressing to see how it tastes to you. I like a tangier dressing, so I added a little more vinegar. I also added LOTS of salt and pepper to make everything taste a little stronger since the sour cream and mayo are kind of blah flavors until you add to them.
- When the pasta is cooked, add it to the bowl with the dressing and toss it with the cubed ham and cheese, herbs, and onions.
Pro Tip for Vegetarians: I often make two versions of this: identical, but one little bowl with no ham for any vegetarians who we love and want to be able to eat pasta salad.
Just stir everything together, taste for salt and pepper, and we eat!
Expert Tips and Make Ahead:
- These pictures were taken right after I made the salad, and it's ever so slightly goopy. But, just one hour after I made it nearly half of the dressing had absorbed into the pasta, which makes for huge flavor but not a ton of the goop that you get sometimes in grocery store versions of this salad.
- If you want to make this way in advance, I suggest stirring in half the dressing and saving half for right before you serve so the macaroni salad doesn't dry out too much.
- If you'd like to simply prep the salad, cut up the ham, cheese, onions, and herbs. Store them separately. Do the same with the dressing - mix it up, store it in a container. To "make" the macaroni salad, simply boil the noodles and toss everything together right before serving.
- If you don't like mayo, you can use all sour cream or half Greek yogurt.
I've eaten a lot of macaroni salad, and just trust: this is one of the very best. The combo of the sour cream, mayo, and vinegar in the dressing is so yummy, and leftovers of this pasta salad are delicious for a few days in the fridge.
The point of the story is this: This Southern macaroni salad is delicious, very simple, and tastes kind of like church and summer and neighborhood parties all rolled into one, you know?
But, like, a good version that doesn't come in a tub from Walmart. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that, but this is easy and delicious and also HAM.
Add it to your summer potluck rotation. The end.
Southern Macaroni Salad with Ham
- 16 ounces cavatappi or other short pasta cooked to al dente and rinsed under water
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- black pepper
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- ½ pound thick cut sweet ham diced
- 6 ounces sharp cheddar diced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the sour cream, mayo, vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine, and taste: adjust to make the dressing creamier, tangier, or saltier, to your preference.
- To the dressing, add the cooked pasta, ham, cheese, onions, and fresh herbs. Stir to coat, and taste again, add salt and pepper to your preference. Enjoy!