For as long as I can remember, macaroni and cheese has always been one of my favorite foods. Growing up in an Indian household with two working parents, my macaroni and cheese experience as a child consisted mainly of the boxed variety. Although I will always have fond memories of bright yellow, boxed macaroni and cheese, I have since moved on to experimenting with my own versions of the dish. When creating this dish, I wanted to incorporate some of the traditional Indian flavors and spices (masala) that I grew up eating into a classic American dish. The result is a delicious and unexpected combination of flavors. The spices blend well with the creamy cheese sauce and are balanced nicely by the sweet peas and fresh cilantro. This is an exotic twist on a classic dish that anyone can prepare at home. —Sonali aka the Foodie Physician
minced yellow onion
chopped plum tomatoes plus 2 more tomatoes, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons
shredded medium Cheddar cheese, divided use
Set a large pasta pot filled with salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the pasta 2 minutes less than package directions indicate for al dente. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes until fragrant, then add the chopped tomatoes, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and salt. Cook until tomatoes break down and mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the flour and whisk into the melted butter. Cook for 2 minutes, then gradually whisk in the milk. Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, stirring often. Add 1 ½ cups each of Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Pour the tomato masala (spice) mixture from the skillet into the cheese sauce and add the fresh cilantro and peas. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine well.
Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 13 x 9” baking tray. Arrange the tomato slices on top of the pasta and sprinkle the remaining ½ cup each of Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses over the top. Bake 30-35 minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Serve warm.
Note: This recipe uses 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, however you can use less if you prefer a less spicy version. Also, I like to use a microplane grater for the fresh ginger and garlic so that you don’t get any big pieces in the sauce.