Indian-Spiced Mac & Cheese
Comfort food, thy name is noodles.
Here in Vancouver, the forecast is nothing but clouds with raindrops for the next 7 days. It just doesn’t stop. When it’s deluging enough so that your thoughts turn to building an ark, it’s time for noodles.
It’s always been amusing to me that noodles are universal comfort food. The Jewish have Kugel, the Germans have Spezle, the Italians have pasta, and Asia has ramen, udon, pho…
When it rains like this, I want two things: warmth, carbs, and spice. I often crave Laksa, ramen or Tom Yum Soup.
I recently had this amazing dish called Bombay Mac and Cheese at this local Vancouver place called The Noodlebox. It was recommended to me, and I have to say, as soon as I tried it, I became obsessed with reverse-engineering the recipe.
The idea is that it’s basically what you would expect mac and cheese to taste like if you ordered it in India. Now, I’m pretty sure mac and cheese doesn’t really exist in India, so this is definitely a fusion (kind of like butter chicken pizza).
Instead of cheese, this recipe uses chunks of paneer, and coconut milk instead of the butter-milk-flour roux. It also comes with a wollop of Indian spices: turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, chilli, and garam masala.
The end result is creamy, spicy and very comforting.
Indian-Spiced Mac & Cheese
- 1″ thumb of fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 bird’s eye or Thai red chili
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp salt, divided
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 smallish onion or 1/2 a large one, diced
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 2 cans coconut milk
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 450 g macaroni
- 1 package paneer, cut into 1″ squares
- 1 400 g package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed out
- garnishes: chopped fresh tomato and chopped fresh cilantro
- Begin by creating the spice blend. In a small frying pan over medium-low heat, toast the cumin and coriander seeds. Be careful to watch them so they do not burn.
- Meanwhile, rough chop the garlic, ginger and chili together. Place the garlic, ginger, chili, cumin, coriander and 1 tsp of salt into a spice grinder and blend until a fine paste.
- Bring a medium pot full of well-salted water to a boil and then add the macaroni. Stir well and allow to cook until almost done, about 7 minutes. Drain.
- In a large pot on the stove over medium heat, drizzle some oil or a combo of oil and butter. If you want to be super authentic, you should use a couple tablespoons of ghee. When the oil is warm, add the onion, stir well, and allow to saute until they begin to get soft, about 5 minutes. Now add the spice mixture and stir it well to combine. Allow to cook out for another 5 minutes or so. Now you can add the other dry spices by sprinkling them overtop and then mix them in well. Finally, add the tomato paste and stir well. Allow to cook down for another minute or two.
- Open the cans of coconut milk and add them to the pot. Stir everything well and allow to cook and meld together for a few minutes, then add in the pasta. Toss everything well together.
- Now add in the paneer and the spinach, and stir well. The Paneer won’t melt, it will remain in chunks. Taste and for seasoning and adjust. You can add extra salt and pepper if needed. The final texture of the dish should still be a bit runny and saucy. The starch in the pasta will suck up extra moisture and thicken the sauce.
- Spoon into bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro and chopped tomato.