Creamy and spicy Masala Mac and Cheese with an Indian twist. This Masala Mac and Cheese is made with no cream, milk, and serrano peppers.
I've been dreaming about making a Masala Mac and Cheese for so long now, and I had to deliver yet another mac and cheese recipe before Thanksgiving. Other names for this Masala Mac and Cheese are Indian Mac and Cheese, Desi Mac and Cheese, or even Tikka Masala Mac and Cheese.
What is Masala Mac and Cheese?
Masala is a mixture of ginger, garlic, onions, and tomatoes sauteed with Indian spices. So in this mac and cheese, we first make the masala with some serrano peppers and then make a roux (with butter and flour) to help thicken the sauce.
We then add the milk slowly to avoid any curdling followed by lots of cheese. Now we have our creamy masala sauce ready.
Once the sauce is ready, add the macaroni or shell pasta to the creamy sauce. Finish off the mac and cheese with toppings and bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. And that's it!
Even my picky eater husband who can't handle any spice went back for seconds and thirds. The next day he woke up at 7 am on a Saturday and had the leftovers for breakfast. It's seriously that good.
Make this as a side dish on Thanksgiving, or you can also make my Crunchy Tortilla Salsa Mac and Cheese or Black Bean Enchilada Pasta.
- Pasta - For this recipe, you will need medium shells. You can also use macaroni. Both types of pasta work well with mac and cheese.
- Veggies: Serrano Peppers, Onions, Red & Green Bell Peppers.
- Ginger & Garlic - chopped.
- Whole Spices - You'll need a mortar & pestle to crush the following spices - cardamom pods, fennel seeds, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and clove.
- Powdered Spices - Red Chili Powder, Coriander Powder, and Turmeric Powder.
- Tomato Paste - This adds color and a concentrated tomato flavor to the sauce.
- Butter - You'll need 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
- All-purpose Flour - Some AP flour to form a roux and help thicken the sauce.
- Whole Milk - There is no cream in this recipe, but you will need milk.
- Cheese - You'll need a combo of Gruyere and Mild Cheddar cheeses.
- Panko Crumbs - This adds a crusty texture to the mac and cheese.
- Fresh Cilantro - This works as a garnish.
- Avocado Oil - Oil to help saute the veggies.
Why You'll Love this Masala Mac and Cheese
- Creamy & Spicy
- Can be made 2 days in advance
- Indian Fusion
- Made without Cream
- Gluten-free option (see FAQ below)
How to make Masala Mac and Cheese recipe step by step?
1. Fill a large pot with water and heat up. This is for the pasta.
2. Chop the ginger, garlic, serrano peppers, onions, and red and green bell peppers.
3. Grate the Gruyere and Cheddar cheeses and set them aside.
Cook the Sauce & Pasta
1. Heat up a dutch castiron on medium heat, once hot, add oil followed by serrano peppers. Saute for 30 seconds.
2. Add garlic and ginger. Saute for another 30 seconds.
3. Add onions and season with salt. Saute for 2-3 minutes or until they're translucent.
4. Add red & green bell peppers. Season with salt and saute for 4-5 minutes.
4. In the meantime, using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder grind your spices - cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom, and fennel seeds.
5. Add the crushed spices, along with turmeric, coriander powder, and red chili powder. Cook for about 1 minute.
6. Then add tomato paste and cook for a minute.
7. Move the onions to the side and add butter in the middle of the pan.
8. Lower the heat. Once the butter melts, add the flour.
9. Cook the flour and butter for about 1-2 minutes to form a roux. This will help thicken the sauce.
10. Now, SLOWLY pour the milk little by little. Do not add all the cold milk at once else your sauce will curdle.
11. Stir the milk into the sauce continuously.
12. Your sauce should be thick and well-seasoned. Let the sauce heat up for 6-7 minutes.
13. In the meantime, cook the pasta.
14. Make sure the cheese is at room temperature to avoid curdling the sauce. Add 1 ¼ cups of Gruyere and 1 ¼ cups of cheddar cheese to the sauce. Turn off the stove when adding the cheese.
15. The sauce should now be creamy and cheesy.
16. Check on the pasta. Once cooked, drain the pasta completely.
17. Add 12 ounces of cooked pasta to the sauce.
1. Combine the remainder of the cheese and 1-2 tablespoon of panko crumbs.
2. Add the cheese panko crumbs mixture over the pasta.
3. Top with thinly sliced serrano peppers.
4. Into the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
5. Once out of the oven. Top with chopped cilantro. Wait about 10 minutes before serving.
Tips on making Masala Mac and Cheese
- Prep all the ingredients ahead of time.
- Make sure the milk and cheese are at room temperature. This will help in tempering the milk with the hot veggies and avoid any curdling issues. The same applies to the cheese.
- Slowly add the milk to the hot veggies to avoid any curdling.
- Cook the pasta until al dente or how you like it.
Make Ahead Mac and Cheese
You can make Masala Mac and Cheese up to two days in advance with cheese and panko crumbs on top. Cover tight with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge until you're ready to bake. Bake the mac and cheese in the oven for 30 minutes before serving.
- Make sure the milk and cheese are at room temperature. This will help prevent any curdling when added to the hot veggies.
- When adding the milk, make sure to add the milk slowly to prevent the sauce from curdling.
- When you add the cheese to the sauce, turn off the stove.
Yes, you can. You will need vegan butter, milk, and cheese for this recipe.
For a gluten-free option, simply use gluten-free pasta and gluten-free panko crumbs. I recommend using shells or macaroni.
If you'd prefer creamier mac and cheese, replace one cup of milk with one cup of heavy cream. This will result in even richer and creamier mac and cheese. Just note, the nutrition will change.
For spicy mac and cheese, you may use Thai green chilies. For milder mac and cheese, you can use jalapenos.
Well, I definitely recommend using mild or medium cheddar. Those are very easy to find. You may also use Mexican cheese blend, Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, and Gouda - any of these should work just fine.
I highly recommend using medium shells, small shells, or macaroni. These types of pasta work best for mac and cheese. I don't recommend penne, rigatoni, or spaghetti.
This Masala Mac and Cheese is definitely not healthy. With that said, it's lightened up compared to many other mac and cheese recipes since it incorporates milk instead of cream. Keep in mind though, this recipe does have whole milk, butter, and lots of cheese.
More Mac and Cheese Recipes
- Truffle Mac and Cheese
- Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese
- Crunchy Tortilla Mac and Cheese
- Black Bean Enchilada Pasta
- Broccoli Mac and Cheese
Pin & Enjoy!
Masala Mac and Cheese (no cream)No Cream, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free option
- pot of boiling hot water, season well with salt
- 12 ounces medium shells pasta, whole wheat or gluten-free will work
Make the Sauce
- 2 tbsp avocado oil
- 1 serrano chili, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- ¾ cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
- ¾ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
- ½ inch piece cinnamon stick
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 cardamom pods
- 4 peppercorns
- 1 clove
- 2 teaspoon coriander powder
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder, cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoon white flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 ¼ cup Gruyere cheese, grated, for sauce
- 1 ¼ cup mild cheddar cheese, grated, for sauce
Topping & Garnish
- ¾ cup Gruyere cheese, grated
- ¾ cup mild cheddar cheese, grated
- 1-2 tablespoon plain bread crumbs, or panko
- sliced serrano chilies
- small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- Fill a large pot with water and heat up. This is for the pasta.
- Chop the ginger, garlic, serrano peppers, onions, and red and green bell peppers.
- Grate the Gruyere and Cheddar cheeses and set aside.
Cook the Sauce & Pasta
- Heat up a dutch castiron on medium heat, once hot, add oil followed by serrano peppers. Saute for 30 seconds.
- Add garlic and ginger. Saute for another 30 seconds.
- Add onions and season with salt. Saute for 2-3 minutes or until they're translucent.
- Add red & green bell peppers. Season with salt and saute for 4-5 minutes.
- In the meantime, using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder grind your spices - cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom, and fennel seeds.
- Add the crushed spices, along with turmeric, coriander powder, and red chili powder. Cook for about 1 minute.
- Then add tomato paste and cook for a minute.
- Move the onions to the side and add butter in the middle of the pan.
- Lower the heat. Once the butter melts, add the flour.
- Cook the flour and butter for about 1-2 minutes to form a roux. This will help thicken the sauce.
- Now, SLOWLY pour the milk little by little. Do not add all the cold milk all at once else your sauce will curdle.
- Stir the milk into the sauce continuously.
- Your sauce should be thick and well-seasoned. Let the sauce heat up for about 6-7 minutes.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta.
- Make sure the cheese is at room temperature to avoid curdling the sauce. Add 1 ¼ cups of Gruyere cheese and 1 ¼ cups of mild cheddar cheese to the sauce. Turn off the stove when adding the cheese.
- The sauce should now be creamy and cheesy.
- Check on the pasta. Once cooked, drain the pasta completely.
- Add 12 ounces of cooked pasta to the sauce.
- Combine the remainder of the cheese and 1-2 tablespoon of panko crumbs.
- Add the cheese panko crumbs mixture over the pasta.
- Top with thinly sliced serrano peppers.
- Into the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
- Once out of the oven. Top with chopped cilantro. Wait about 10 minutes before serving.
- for gluten-free - choose gluten-free shell pasta and gluten-free panko crumbs.
- for vegan option - use vegan milk, vegan cheese, and vegan butter.
Wow this was a huge hit when I made it for a potluck I hosted. Everyone just loved it. Will now have to make it again for Thanksgiving too!
Best Mac and cheese ever!! I actually made mine vegan and my husband and mother in law couldn’t tell the difference!
Great recipe! Simple instructions and delicious result
Nirali Pathak says
I love Nisha's recipes! I made Chicken Tikka Masala using the same recipe for the gravy. Except substituted pasta with chicken. It was delish! Thanks girl!
Thanks so much Nirali. Such a great idea. xoxo
First time cooking Mac and cheese, turned out amazing. recipe is easy to follow along 🙂
Another winner from you Nisha - this recipe was the star of our vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. We all enjoyed it and the dash of masala was perfect for our Indian family. Thank you!
Thanks so much Aasheeka. So glad you enjoyed this dish. Really appreciate your sweet comment. xoxo
Ghata Vyas says
Made this for lunch yesterday. So delish!!! Hubby and I devoured it! I put tad too many jalapeños so def had a kick ;).
Best recipe ever!! My husband and in-laws absolutely loved this dish. I added some chicken to it and it really hit the spot. Thanks so much for this amazing recipe
This recipe is so easy to make. Made this for Thanksgiving and it was a huge hit! Everyone liked how light and creamy it was. MIL asked if it could become a staple! Haha!
Awww.. that's so awesome! So glad your MIL approved - that's always a tough one. xoxo
Gurpreet Aujla says
Perfect sidedisb for Thanksgiving everybody loved it and so easy to make😋 Thank you so much for always sharing yummy recipes☺️
This recipe is a bomb. We just loved it . My husband is not a great fan of Mac n cheese but he had 3 rounds of this. I am going to make it again . Thank you for the recipe! And all the best for your delivery😊
This one was a winner!! I substituted some of the ingredients with vegan alternatives and the dish still tasted AMAZING!!
Thank you for the recepie and your blog in general! ❤️
SO SO YUMMY! The best twist on traditional mac and cheese that in my opinion, is pretty bland. But this is so flavorful and delicious!! A family favorite. Thank you for this recipe Nisha!
SO SO YUMMY! Way better than traditional mac and cheese which, in my opinion is pretty bland. This is so flavorful and creamy and my family and I love it. Thank you for this wonderful recipe Nisha!
Hubby and I are both sick so we couldn't make it to my family Thanksgiving party. We mustered up the energy to try this and loved it! It's the perfect hint of masala. Thank you for brightening our day! I'm going to replace my traditional mac recipe for this one next year.
Mac & Cheese in an Indian twist tasted delicious! Made this for Thanksgiving and the entire family loved it. Thanks so much for sharing this easy and tasty recipe.