Skip to navigationSkip to content

Summer picnic recipes for mayonnaise haters

AP Photo/John Cetrino
Phyllis Diller sees you, Team Never Mayo.
  • Annaliese Griffin
By Annaliese Griffin

Editor of the Quartz Daily Obsession

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Mayonnaise is the stuff of strong opinions. Whether you’re pro, con, or deeply brand-loyal, there is no more polarizing condiment—and perhaps no more polarizing food—than the creamy emulsion.

Unlike, say, liver and onions, or black licorice, a clear stance on mayonnaise is required if you hope to enjoy food, simply because it’s in so many dishes. It slicks sandwiches and cold salads from Moscow to London to Tokyo, thickens Thousand Island dressing and tartar sauce, mingles with ketchup in South America (and other locales), and somehow makes frites even more delicious. In the US especially, mayonnaise is a crucial ingredient in picnic staples that go into heavy rotation come summer, like potato and pasta salads.

If, like many millennials with avocado and greek yogurt tastes, you are a mayonnaise hater, take heart—there are alternatives you can bring to next weekend’s barbecue that are so delicious that nobody will miss the white stuff.

Potato salad

I’ve always preferred German-style potato salad, dressed with a vinaigrette, to creamy potato salad, probably because I really strongly dislike celery, and the former is far less likely to contain it. Despite often containing bacon, German potato salad also feels lighter.

My go-to potato salad these days though, is a South Indian potato curry, very much like the potato masala filling you get in a dosa. I make the one out of Vibrant India by Chitra Agrawal, just add more chopped cilantro on top and serve it cold or at room temperature. I always get asked for the recipe—the bright yellow hue from the tumeric really makes it stand out.

Le grand aioli

Le grand aioli is one of those beautiful, simple dishes that requires lovely produce, and a very delicious homemade mayonnaise or garlicky aioli to really pull off. After all, it’s basically a platter of raw and lightly cooked vegetables, to be dipped in mayonnaise.

I make much easier version and more forgiving version with labneh, a Middle Eastern strained yogurt that is like whole milk greek yogurt, but even creamier and more luxurious.

For every cup of labneh I add one clove of finely minced garlic, a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and whatever herbs I have on hand (cilantro and parsley are especially good), and I blend that all up in a food processor or blender.

Then I serve with whatever vegetables I have—sliced cooked potatoes and beets are extra delicious, but cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, endive leaves, blanched green beans or grilled zucchini all work, too. It feels healthy, but less basic than a crudites platter.

No-mayo chicken salad

I need to be up front about this: my heart is really not in mayo-free chicken salad. Potato salad, macaroni salad, deviled eggs, all of those can be made well without mayonnaise. Chicken salad without mayonnaise—isn’t really chicken salad. It’s another thing.

That being said, Epicurious has a helpful guide to making delicious chicken salad without a recipe and they suggest that sour cream or greek yogurt could be used interchangeably with mayonnaise. I don’t agree wholeheartedly, but I think that full-fat greek yogurt, thinned with some olive oil, and mixed with chopped scallions, salt, and pepper, could make a very serviceable chicken salad.

I also really like the idea of the bright-sounding chicken salad with a mustardy vinaigrette from the Kitchn—full of parsley, roasted red peppers, and sliced almonds. I wouldn’t tell someone I was making chicken salad and then serve this, but I would order it on a sandwich at a deli, for sure.

Pasta salad

This one is easy: The mayonnaise-drenched elbows and rotinis of my childhood have largely been replaced with the pestos, peppy vinaigrettes, caesar dressings, and ranch-based sauces that are much more prevalent now. (Though, if you enjoy ranch dressing while living in fear of mayo, you need to do some self-examination.)

Food52 has an excellent guide to making mayonnaise-free, vegetable-forward pasta salad.

On a sandwich

AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Sandwiches need condiments like the desert needs the rain.

Sandwiches need condiments. They not only add flavor, they help make the whole package stick together properly and provide a cohesive bridge between all the different elements. Mayonnaise really, really excels at this task, so if your mayo hating is because of the eggs, give the vegan version a try, or maybe even see if mixing mayo and mustard together might work.

If eggs are your concern, vegan mayo is delicious,whether you’re making it or buying it, and is a great alternative on a sandwich, or even for making a perfect grilled cheese. For the mayo-never crowd, you have a couple options. Dijon mustard is great on sandwiches in which meat is the star of the show, especially something salty like ham. The labneh spread for the grand aioli above is great with roasted vegetables, or for any other veggie sandwich you could dream up. Hummus is a hippie staple in vegetarian sandwiches, serving as both filling and condiment, so that is also an option, and it’s vegan. Mashed up avocado could also serve as a good spread (or you could make avocado mayonnaise, though if might be too similar to regular mayo for some). Avocado is really the only good solution if you’re hoping to enjoy a mayo-free BLT.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.