Curried vegan macaroni salad is a family traditional macaroni salad with all the diced veggies you’d expect and curry powder to pep up the creamy dressing.
Creamy macaroni salad with curry powder was a main event during the summer months when I was growing up. Fortunately, although my dietary preferences are different from those of childhood, curried macaroni salad still has a place at my table. It remains a favorite side salad to this day.
This easy recipe includes the usual suspects you'd expect to find in such a salad. Once you have the cashews quick-soaked for 30 minutes, you can put this together in the time it takes your pasta to cook and cool.
Cashews – Our vegan option for making a creamy dressing relies on raw cashews. Be careful here that you don’t use the roasted or salted ones. You won’t get the same results.
Lemon juice and apple cider vinegar – The acids that make the dressing taste zesty and refreshing. I used more lemon juice than apple cider vinegar as I find the citrus flavor more appealing, but you can adjust as you blend the dressing.
Dijon mustard – For salad dressings, even vegan mayo, Dijon mustard adds salt and complexity. Because some Dijon or other mustard contains salt, wait to add additional salt after you've made the dressing.
Curry powder – Curry powder is actually a mix of various spices. You can choose from varieties that are mild to hot. I used a medium powder that is our standby. 1 – 2 teaspoons should do the trick.
Paprika or cayenne pepper – If you haven't used a hot curry powder in the dressing, give it an extra pow with hot paprika or cayenne pepper. You can also use regular paprika. Paprika also makes a lovely presentation when sprinkled on top of the salad.
Red onion, celery, and red bell pepper – These are the veggies that provide flavor, crunch, and texture.
Pickles – Dill pickles are my preference here. I’ve not tested this recipe with sweeter pickles, but they would likely change the intentional flavor of this salad. Not that you can’t try it.
Macaroni – You can use wholewheat or gluten-free macaroni if this suits you. And of course, you can use another kind of smaller pasta. Be sure that you rinse the pasta well after cooking it. This releases the starch making the salad easier to mix up.
cashew pro tips
- You can prep the cashews in a variety of ways. This includes soaking them overnight, steaming or boiling them or grinding them, or, our preference, the quick soak. If you happen to have one of those super-blenders, you may not need to do any soaking. If not, here's how to quick soak:
- In a small bowl, add 1 cup of cashews.
- Cover the cashews with at least 2 cups of boiling water.
- Let the cashews soak for 20-30 minutes.
- Drain and rinse the cashews.
- Add them to the blender with the rest of the dressing ingredients.
- When making cashew dressings, vegan sour cream, or vegan mayo, we recommend using a blender. Blenders push the ingredients downward and have a more contained space than most food processors.
- It’s also important to practice patience when blending cashews. Gritty cashew dressings are usually the result of not soaking the cashews long enough or not giving the blender the time it needs to do the job.
- Try adding all the ingredients and running the blender for a few minutes before adding the water. This can also help to prevent 'cashew grit.'
- Friction between cashews helps to break them down. This makes a smooth, not gritty dressing.
macaroni pro tips
- Be sure not to overcook the macaroni. It should be al dente which means 'to the tooth' in Italian. This is pasta that is chewy and firm. How do you know? Taste it! When you cook pasta, it's always a good idea to keep a slotted spoon close at hand so you can scoop out pieces and test them. Tossing it at the wall indicates that it's starchy and soft, but if it sticks, it's overcooked.
- If you allow the macaroni salad to sit after making it, the flavors will get stronger. The drawback is that the pasta will soak up the dressing. This makes it less creamy. To resolve this, you may want to mix in a bit of lemon juice right before serving.
- If you want a super-creamy salad, use less macaroni. Simple, I know, but it's the most effective way, and it's easier than making more dressing (although that's always possible).
- Keep the dressing on the thinner side. It should have consistency such that it runs off the spoon.
If you cannot or don't want to use cashews, the best substitute we've tried is sunflower seeds. We discovered while perfecting sunflower seed sour cream that they need to be ground first. Sunflower seeds will require at least double the apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.
The best way to keep macaroni salad moist is to rinse the macaroni after it’s been cooked. You want to rinse away as much starch as possible. Before adding the dressing, you can try tossing the macaroni with a teaspoon of lemon juice. It's also helpful to keep the salad covered as much as possible.
Adding a pinch of salt to macaroni won't help the water boil quicker; however, it will make the macaroni more flavorful.