Our love for a Mexican-style pasta salad is a marriage of familiar Mexican staple ingredients and al dente elbow pasta. A 20-minute salad that keeps well and is an easy recipe to feed the family.
- Why You’ll Love Mexican Macaroni Salad
- What is Ensalada de Coditos?
- Was Macaroni Salad Invented in Italy?
- How Do You Keep Mayonnaise from Separating in Macaroni Salad?
- Recipe Overview
- Variations and Substitutions
- How to Make This Salad Perfectly [Expert Tips]
- Great Mains for This Salad
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why You’ll Love Mexican Macaroni Salad
Ensalada de Coditos (elbow salad) is one of those family favourites that gets made repeatedly. What is it about macaroni that is so synonymous with comfort food?
This Mexican pasta salad is easy and uncomplicated. Made with pantry staples and much-loved Mexican ingredients, it’s just a matter of mixing everything in a large bowl and serving it up as it is. Nothing pretentious and ever so hearty.
There are so many versions of this Mexican-style macaroni salad, but we are making a meatless version that’s budget-friendly and one that can be made ahead of time. Also, really good for easy BBQ lunches, meal prep or for the kids to take to school.
If you’re throwing a Mexican-themed party, add our taco salad with Catalina dressing, charred corn avocado salad with roasted red onions, or spicy mango salsa with avocado to the mix.
What is Ensalada de Coditos?
Ensalada de Coditos literally translates to elbow salad. It is associated with big Mexican affairs with lots of food and a big celebration! It is bright, colourful and an easy companion to so many different Mexican favourites.
Mexican macaroni salad recipe is always made with elbow or macaroni pasta and has a creamy dressing that binds it all together. The ingredients that go into the salad will usually contain corn, celery, beans, bell pepper, jalapenos, cheese, ham, pineapple, onion, carrot and so on. For our seafood lovers, do try our shrimp macaroni pasta salad.
Was Macaroni Salad Invented in Italy?
While we always associate all pasta with Italian cuisine, this Mexican macaroni pasta is originally from the United States. Italians don’t eat pasta at room temperature and don’t toss their pasta through a creamy dressing that’s usually a mayonnaise-based concoction.
With strong Mexican influences, this macaroni pasta salad is very much a representation of a lot of American-style salads. Needing to alleviate the flavours of an otherwise bland starch, it is dressed with a mayo-based sauce, much like their love for potato salad (try our classic potato salad) and tuna salads.
How Do You Keep Mayonnaise from Separating in Macaroni Salad?
The key to this is cooking the pasta perfectly. If you undercook the macaroni, it won’t grab onto the mayonnaise and will appear to have separated. On the other hand, if you cook it for too long, the starchy pasta will absorb more of the mayonnaise, and the macaroni salad will dry out.
Flavour/Texture: Familiar is the best word to describe this salad recipe. Comforting macaroni tossed through a mayo-based salad dressing can never really go wrong! Corn, beans, tomatoes, and onions are every day ingredients we all know and love.
Ease: The only tricky part is getting the elbow pasta al dente. 7 minutes is perfect, and the rest of the process is super easy. Mix gently, and you’re done!
Time: 20 minutes is all it takes. Char the corn kernels and cook the macaroni at the same time to maximise productivity. The rest is just draining or defrosting and drying. The creamy salad dressing is just a quick mix, and you’re done.
These are the ingredients you need for Mexican macaroni salad:
Macaroni: Good old-fashioned dry macaroni boiled for 7 minutes for the perfect cook. Add some olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
Corn kernels: You can use fresh, canned, or frozen. If using canned corn, drain, give a quick rinse and pat dry. With frozen corn kernels, defrost and pat dry or sit on paper towels to absorb excess water.
Tomato: A nice ripe tomato, well diced for some freshness.
Red onion: Slice finely to give the salad some kick.
Mixed beans: A can of mixed beans, preferably Mexican favourites like black, pinto, and red kidney, would be best. Easily found on the shelves of the supermarket.
Salsa: A jar of your favourite salsa to form the base of the flavour of the dressing. You can use any kind, i.e. mild, chunky, garlic etc…
Sour cream and mayonnaise: If possible, full flavoured would be best, i.e. full dairy sour cream and whole egg mayonnaise. It will give the Mexican pasta salad a lovely creamy finish.
Cumin powder: A touch of cumin makes all the difference. Love the added savoury and nutty flavours.
Lime: Helps to cut through the creaminess of the dressing, and no real Mexican recipe omits lime!
Variations and Substitutions
Vegan and egg free version: For a vegan Mexican macaroni salad, use vegan sour cream and mayonnaise. The vegan mayonnaise will also provide you with an egg free recipe.
Dairy Free: Swap out the full dairy sour cream for a dairy free one for a dairy free Mexican cold pasta salad.
With meat: If you want a Mexican pasta salad with ham, simply add diced ham pieces throughout the recipe. For a Hawaiian mix, add some pineapple chunks as well.
Type of salsa: You can use any salsa you like. Mild, spicy, chunky, extra garlic, you name it, even better if you have homemade salsa ready to go.
Step by step instructions for how to make Mexican macaroni salad:
Bring a pot of water to the boil and add 1 tsp of olive oil. Add macaroni and cook for 7 minutes or until al dente. Once cooked, drain the pot of macaroni and run under some cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to dry.
Heat fry pan at medium heat. Add corn kernels and toast for about 8 minutes until you get a lovely char. Set aside to cool down.
Dice 1 medium tomato.
Thinly slice ½ red onion
Drain a can of mixed beans and give it a quick wash. Set aside to dry on paper towels.
Roughly chop coriander to yield 1 cup.
How to Make Creamy Salsa Dressing
In a mixing bowl, add salsa, sour cream, mayonnaise, cumin powder and the juice of 1 lime.
Mix until well combined.
How to Assemble the Salad
In a large mixing bowl, add all the salad ingredients.
Add the salad dressing and mix until well combined.
How to Make This Salad Perfectly [Expert Tips]
Al dente macaroni: Cooking the macaroni perfectly is essential to getting this recipe to where it needs to be. It’s about getting that chewiness right and ensuring that the ingredients all bind well together.
Should the pasta be too soft, it will dry out the salad as it will absorb the mayonnaise. It is within its starchy nature to do so. However, if you undercook it, the macaroni won’t grab onto the mayonnaise and will appear separate from the pasta.
Dry your ingredients: My number one rule about making the perfect salad is always to ensure all ingredients are dry after washing, steaming, draining etc. It is the key, so investing in highly absorbent paper towels is a must.
Nothing worse than wet ingredients mixed with mayonnaise or a cream-based salad dressing pooling at the bottom of a salad bowl. This will only make the macaroni soggy.
Always rinse canned produce: Giving all canned vegetables a quick rinse before use is important. It also reduces sodium and removes any residue that may be sitting in the brine.
Great Mains for This Salad
What to serve with Mexican macaroni salad? Try these delicious main dish recipes:
We absolutely love our Mexican food so not better way to serve up this Mexican macaroni salad than with a delicious Mexican main. If you’re after a lighter meal or perhaps not in the mood for meat, these fresh fish tacos with pineapple salsa.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can keep the macaroni salad in the fridge for up to 3 days. With the dairy component in the salad, it is best to be eaten quickly before it spoils.
A macaroni salad is designed to be eaten cold. However, eating at room temperature rather than cold from the fridge is recommended.
If you are eating leftovers and have time, let it sit out for a bit to get to room temperature. If not, a quick zap in the microwave will take the chill off for a more palatable salad.
Cheddar cheese is the most popular cheese to add. Grate it and toss it through the salad for an easy homemade recipe.
This cold pasta salad is truly a crowd pleaser. Great for vegetarian days or if you’re cooking up a storm for family and friends. It’s also a really easy pasta salad to add your own take on, especially if you want to clear out the pantry. We hope you’ll love it!
Mexican Macaroni Salad [Ensalada de Coditos]
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil and add 1 tsp olive oil. Add macaroni and cook for 7 minutes or until al dente. Once cooked, drain the pot of macaroni and run under some cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to dry.
- Heat fry pan at medium heat. Add corn kernels and toast for about 8 minutes until you get a lovely char. Set aside to cool down.
- Dice 1 medium tomato.
- Thinly slice ½ red onion
- Drain a can of mixed beans and give it a quick wash. Set aside to dry on paper towels.
- Roughly chop coriander to yield 1 cup.
- In a mixing bowl, add salsa, sour cream, mayonnaise, cumin powder and the juice of 1 lime.
- Mix until well combined.
- In a large mixing bowl, add all the salad ingredients.
- Add the salad dressing and mix until well combined.
- For a vegan version of the Mexican macaroni salad, use vegan sour cream and mayonnaise. The vegan mayonnaise will also provide you with an egg free recipe.
- Swap out the full dairy sour cream for a dairy free one for a dairy free Mexican cold pasta salad.
- If you want a Mexican pasta salad with ham, simply add diced ham pieces throughout the recipe. For a Hawaiian mix, add some pineapple chunks as well.
- You don’t have to char the corn kernels if you’re short on time. Perfectly fine straight out of a can.
- You can use any salsa you like. Mild, spicy, chunky, extra garlic, you name it, even better if you have homemade salsa ready to go.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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