Macaroni salad is one of the most indulgent things you can eat. It’s nothing but refined carbohydrates bathed in sweetened mayonnaise. What’s more decadent than that?! But what if you could have all of the joy of a mac salad without all of the oil from the mayo, and even without any of the actual macaroni? Thanks to my Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing, I have turned this naughty indulgence into a high-protein, plant-based salad that’s good for eating alone in front of the TV, taking to a picnic, or serving to your fanciest party guests.

JUMP TO FULL RECIPE

vegan cauliflower macaroni salad plant based

My Mac Story:

Macaroni salads and I go way back. As a kid, I lived for the sweet and runny, and slightly acidic supermarket macaroni salad. It’s never not been at the grocery store, sitting there in a display case with its other mayo-based salad friends, just waiting for someone, like childhood me, to come along and order it by the pound.

Growing up, I demanded that my mom always keep our refrigerator stocked with it. It was not uncommon for me to just sit in front of the TV and devour entire deli containers of the good stuff. As I got older, I even got a little bit experimental with my consumption of macaroni salad. A munchie-fueled binge led me to use tortilla chips to deliver the goodness to my face, and for quite a long period of time, I refused to use any other utensil to eat it.

When I moved to Vegas for college, I was introduced to the Hawaiian-style mac salad, which depending on which restaurant you get it from, is very similar to the grocery store variety; with maybe a bit more mayo to help with structural integrity. Served with two scoops of rice and a BBQ’d protein, that Hawaiian-style mac salad just tied the entire meal together.

As a vegan, and as a grown adult, my love of the stuff hasn’t waned. I created a recipe and video a couple of years ago for my take on a vegan Hawaiian plate lunch, and as always, the mac salad is the star of that show. 

I do have a few regrets with that recipe, though. Admittedly, I was a bit reserved when adding the mayo to that mac salad. Knowing how much mayo is normally used in those salads, I decided to dial mine back a bit. I knew I was planning on eating a ton of the stuff, so my logic was to use less vegan mayo so that I could devour more mac salad.

Enter my Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing:

I’ve got a lot to say about this dressing in THIS post, so I’ll spare you the dramatics here. But the bottom line is that I’ve created a tofu-based dressing that can be used in place of mayonnaise in mayo-based cold salads such as potato, and of course, macaroni.

The dressing is creamy and tangy, and by adding just a bit more sweetness to it, it makes the perfect macaroni salad dressing that’s somewhere between what’s on the supermarket and the Hawaiian-style versions.

But Cauliflower?!

Cauliflower is a great vessel to carry sauce. In a macaroni salad, nobody really cares about the macaroni. It’s all about that sweet and tangy mayo. So, by using cauliflower, you get the experience of eating a mac salad, with the added benefits of eating cauliflower, and without any of the drawbacks to eating pasta.

Could you just use pasta instead? Please do! The original tests of this salad, using the Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing, were done with capatavi pasta. I subbed in cauliflower at the last minute, and loved the results. If you want to use pasta instead, then cook 8 ounces of dry pasta in place of the cauliflower.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing – This tofu-based super creamy dressing  is years in the making. It all started a couple of years ago with a few cold salad recipes that I wanted to make vegan, without vegan mayo, but with the creaminess of a mayo-based dressing… I could go on and on, so click HERE if you want to read my whole “journey” with this sauce.
  • Cauliflower – I’ve often referred to cauliflower as the Meryl Streep of the vegetable kingdom, and her performance is this dish solidifies that title. Cutting the cauliflower can be a bit “zen”, so give yourself a fair bit of time to do it right. I give a full tutorial for cutting cauliflower in THIS VIDEO for Cauliflower Street Tacos, which I think is quite insightful (if I do say so myself). Yes, frozen cauliflower is already cut up for you, and I do love a bag of frozen cauli for some dishes, but THIS IS NOT THE ONE! If cauliflower isn’t your thing and you just want to have a really good macaroni salad, then just cook up 8 ounces of your favorite pasta product, and plug that in wherever you see cauliflower.
  • Green onion – I like the color and subtle onion flavor that a green onion gives to this salad. But don’t sweat the onions (Get it? Sweat… The onions…). Any color or type of onion, from red to white, to shallot will work in this salad.
  • Frozen peas – I think that peas actually grow in bags on the frozen food aisle. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with a bunch of peas in any other form. Feel like shelling your own? Go for it. Not a pea fan? Or maybe you want to up the veg quotient in this already 100% vegetable dish? Try adding some frozen corn. 
  • Carrot – Finely grated carrots add a bit of sweetness and a fair amount of texture to this dish. If you don’t have a box grater, or you want to add a bit more crunch, you can thinly slice or dice the carrot as well
  • Red bell pepper – Any color of pepper will work in this salad, but red is great to help round out the vibrant rainbow of colors in this dish. 
  • Brown sugar – My inspiration for this particular salad comes from Hawaiian-style macaroni salads. I actually have a RECIPE and VIDEO for my version of that dish if you want to check it out, but I have to say, I think I like this version a bit better…. Regardless, the bottom line is that Hawaiian-style mac salads are pretty sweet. Adding a bit of brown sugar helps to lift up the already sweet flavors of the vegetables in this salad, especially the cauliflower. If you want to use an alternative sweetener like agave or maple syrup, that would work just as well. Don’t want to add any sweeteners at all? It’s your salad, do what you want.

Without further ado….

Check out the video below to see how easy it is to throw this Mac-auliflower Salad, and my BBQ Potato “Chip” Salad together. Then scroll down for the full, printable recipes.

Vegan Mac-auliflower Salad

5 from 1 vote
vegan cauliflower macaroni salad
Vegan Mac-auliflower Salad
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
 

Fresh and easy vegan cold salad that eats like a macaroni salad, but is made with cauliflower.

Course: Lunch, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ lb fresh (not frozen) cauliflower
  • ¼ cup green onion (about 1 large stalk), thinly sliced, whites included
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
  • ¼ cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ batch Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing (recipe below)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
To prepare the cauliflower:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and a bit of salt. Cut your cauliflower into ¼ to ½ inch pieces. Simmer the cauliflower for 5 minutes. Quickly remove from the hot water to a large bowl of ice water. Allow the cauliflower to cool completely, and then drain and dry the cauliflower thoroughly.

To make the Mac-auliflower Salad
  1. Place the blanched and dried cauliflower in a large bowl along with the prepared vegetables. Sprinkle on brown sugar and toss to distribute everything evenly. Stir in Universal Cold Salad dressing, and taste again for seasoning. Reserve a bit of dressing. Chill until ready to serve.
To serve:
  1. Stir in a bit more dressing to coat the salad. Top with fresh herbs, and maybe some Almond Bacon
Recipe Notes

If you want to use macaroni or pasta instead, just use 8ounces (dry) of your favorite pasta in place of the cauliflower. Cook fully, according to package directions.

Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing

5 from 1 vote
Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing
Universal Vegan Cold Salad Dressing (GF)
Prep Time
5 mins
 
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: American
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 1 12 ounce package firm or extra firm silken tofu (Mori-Nu)
  • ½ cup raw cashews*
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (omit to make oil-free)
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender. Blend for about 1 minutes, until there are no flecks of cashews, and the mixture is emulsified.
Recipe Notes

* If you aren’t using a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix or even a NutriBullet, then you should soak your cashews in cool water for a few hours before blending. You can also do a “quick soak” by simmering the cashews in hot water for about 10 minutes

vegan cauliflower macaroni salad