When it comes to popular side dishes that can pull double-duty as quick, standalone meals, it’s hard to beat macaroni salad — especially when it has the protein-rich addition of shrimp. With the combination of protein, carbohydrates, and a hefty helping of veggies mixed in, you’ve got a well-balanced dish that also delivers a balance of textures and flavors, to boot.
While you’re probably familiar with the creamy, mayonnaise-based sauces that are ubiquitous for pasta salads, this recipe developed by Molly Madigan Pisula of Vanilla Bean Cuisine, has a special addition that makes the salad stand out. "Shrimp macaroni salad typically uses mayonnaise for the base of its creamy dressing, but I like to add in some Greek yogurt in addition to the mayonnaise. Greek yogurt has more protein and fewer calories than mayonnaise, and I think the slightly tart flavor gives this salad a little extra boost," Pisula shares. So whether you’re looking for a dish to bring to a summer potluck or you’re meal-prepping your lunches for the week, this easy make-ahead meal checks all the boxes: It’s simple, flavorful, protein-packed, and comes with a little added tang.
Gather the ingredients for shrimp macaroni salad
The ingredient list for this shrimp macaroni salad is a little long, but you likely have many of the items on-hand. Of course, you’ll need the namesake macaroni and shrimp, but you’ll also need a shallot, celery, a red bell pepper, mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, celery seed, garlic powder, kosher salt, and pepper.
"You can use any size shrimp you like with this recipe," Pisula advises. "I prefer the 51-60 count shrimp — they’re a perfect bite size and taste much better than the little cooked salad shrimp you often find in a shrimp macaroni salad. That said, use what you like. And, pre-cooked shrimp can definitely be used instead of raw."
As far as other ingredient substitutions, you can trade out the lemon juice for white wine vinegar or sub green onions in for the shallots. And Pisula also says you shouldn’t shy away from adding in more veggies, suggesting peas or radishes as good options to consider.
Cook and drain the pasta and shrimp
To kick things off, you’ll need to cook the pasta and shrimp. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil on your stove and add the macaroni to the pot. Cook according to the package instructions, adding the shrimp to the pot the last 1 to 2 minutes of the cooking time. When the shrimp are pink and cooked through, immediately drain and rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process.
The trick to a good pasta salad is to get the cooking time right, and it’s important to aim for al dente. "Don’t overcook the pasta — err on the side of under vs. overcooked, since overcooked pasta will make the macaroni salad mushy. If you’re unsure of the cooking time on the package, cook [the] pasta until al dente, then add the shrimp," says Pisula.
After you’ve drained and rinsed the pasta and shrimp, pat them dry to remove any excess water — this helps prevent a watery salad. Then, transfer them to the fridge to chill until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
Prep the vegetables
As the macaroni is chilling, go ahead and prep your veggies. You’ll want to finely chop the shallot, celery, and red bell pepper. Getting the pieces small and reasonably uniform is important. "Small pieces will help you get a little bit of everything on your fork when you eat this salad — it’s most delicious that way, as you enjoy the different textures and flavors together," Pisula says.
Make the sauce
The last thing to do before assembling your salad is the whisk together the sauce. Go ahead and add the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, celery seed, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to a large bowl. Use a whisk or spoon to stir well until the ingredients are well-combined.
Mix the pasta shrimp salad together
With all the parts ready to go, add the pasta, shrimp, veggies, and sauce to a large bowl and stir to combine. Be careful while stirring so as not to mush or break up the pasta. Go ahead and taste the salad, and as needed, add more salt or pepper, to taste.
Chill, garnish, and serve
Shrimp macaroni salad is best served cold, so go ahead and transfer your salad into the fridge to chill. When you’re ready to serve, garnish with celery leaves and seeds, as desired. "This salad will last for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, though the pasta is tastiest the day you make it," says Pisula.
If you do make it ahead and notice that the salad starts to look a little dry after a day or so, there’s an easy fix. "It will continue to absorb a bit of moisture as it sits in the refrigerator. You could always add a little more mayo, Greek yogurt, or warm water to bring the sauce back to full creaminess," Pisula suggests.
- ½ pound macaroni pasta
- 1 pound raw small shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 large shallot
- 2 celery sticks, plus leaves for garnish
- 1 red bell pepper
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon celery seed, plus more for garnish
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- celery seeds, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Add the macaroni pasta and cook as directed on the package, adding the shrimp when there is about 1 minute left of cooking time.
- Cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
- Drain and rinse the pasta and shrimp in cold water to stop the cooking process, then gently pat dry and refrigerate until ready to assemble salad.
- Peel and finely chop shallot.
- Thinly slice celery or chop into small pieces.
- Remove seeds from the red pepper and chop into small pieces.
- To make the sauce, whisk together the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, celery seed, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
- To the bowl with the sauce, add pasta, shrimp, shallots, celery, and red pepper and stir.
- Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Chill in the refrigerator until cold.
- Garnish with celery leaves and celery seeds, and serve.