Chef Preeti Mistry’s mac and cheese first won me over with that tomatoey tinge and tikka masala spicing. But the part that really confounded me was the extreme creaminess without a béchamel in sight. How? In part we can thank the full-fat dairy (don’t skimp), and also the fact that the recipe wasn't a mac and cheese to begin with. It started as a butter chicken recipe at Preeti’s first restaurant Juhu Beach Club—they thought would have a great second life as a mac and cheese (and it has).
As Preeti writes in Julia Turshen's cookbook Feed the Resistance, “This macaroni and cheese is on the 'Comforting' menu at my restaurant, where we give a dollar from every bowl to a particular non-profit organization. This one specifically supports Destiny Arts Center. We have worked with them for the past four years to support their amazing efforts. They are an incredibly powerful organization that teaches both self-defense and dance to young people on a sliding-fee scale. And more than that, it is a place where young people can express themselves creatively and explore the many issues they may be dealing with in their lives, such as racism, sexism, physical abuse, homelessness, drugs, or gangs. In the more than 25 years they have been around, the high school graduation rate among kids that are fully integrated in the program is 100 percent. We love them.”
A few more tips: The sauce big-batches well, freezes well, and holds well in the fridge, so you can scoop out big, spicy spoonfuls through the week to sauce your noodles (or anything else you’d like to tikka mac-ify) as you go. Even the fully sauced mac holds up valiantly, as long as you don’t blast it in the microwave or oven longer than necessary. If you can’t find any of the spices or would just rather use a ready-to-go blend, Preeti recommends the mustard fenugreek masala they developed with Spicewalla (but use two heaping teaspoons, since it will be spicier).
Recipe adapted slightly from Feed the Resistance by Julia Turshen. Check out Preeti’s original Butter Chicken recipe in The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook by Preeti Mistry and Sarah Henry.
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- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 20 minutes
- Serves 8
green cardamom pods
black cardamom pods
3-inch [7.5-cm] cinnamon stick
1 1/2 teaspoons
Indian red chile powder (Kashmiri chile powder)
(56g) unsalted butter
minced, peeled fresh ginger
garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
6-ounce (170g) can tomato paste
(480ml) heavy cream
(227g) sour cream
1 1/2 cups
(170g) gouda cheese, coarsely grated (plus more for sprinkling on top, optional)
1 1/2 cups
(170g) cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
kosher salt, divided
(453g) uncooked elbow macaroni, shells, or other small shape
- Place the green and black cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, and fenugreek seeds in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring the spices, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the toasted spices to a clean coffee grinder and pulse until finely ground (or use a large mortar and pestle). Stir in the chile powder and set the mixture aside.
- Place the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it melts, add the ginger and garlic and cook until sizzling and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the reserved spice mixture, tomato paste, cream, and 1/2 cup (120ml) of water. Whisk everything together until the tomato paste dissolves. Let the mixture heat up until bubbles form around the edge, about 5 minutes, and then whisk in the sour cream, the cheddar cheese, and the gouda cheese. Cook, stirring now and then, until the cheeses melt and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes. Season the sauce to taste with 2 teaspoons salt, decrease the heat to low, and keep the sauce warm.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season it generously with salt. Add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the cheese sauce and stir well to combine.
- Either serve right away (it will start very loose and deliciously creamy and thicken more as it sets, and as leftovers). Or, optionally, transfer the mixture to a broiler-safe baking dish. Heat your oven broiler. Top the pasta mixture with the additional grated gouda to taste and broil 3 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.