Wet weather blues are very real. Forget all the seductive smells in the air and the romance of the outcast skies, the monsoons are notorious for stirring my appetite. Now my idea of comfort food and yours may be poles apart, but I think we can all agree on one thing- it’s got to be indulgent in some way. Sure, I can always rely on a plateful of trusty fried onion bhaji, but nothing screams naughty like adding a whole cup of cheese to a bubbling pool of white sauce in waiting.
Like many others in Mumbai, I did not grow up on mac n cheese. I thought it was boring, bland, and never took to it really. A few years ago when I was in London, I popped open one of those Heinz tins that came real cheap from the pound store, and I still remember the godawful smell that greeted me. I thought to myself, how the fuck is this shit even edible?
Somewhere down the line, several things changed. I befriended cheesemakers like Prateeksh Mehra of The Spotted Cow Fromagerie, Mansi Jasani of The Cheese Collective and passionately followed physicist-turned-cheesemaker Aditya Raghavan’s musings on cheese. I tasted an astonishingly good plate of mac and cheese at Culture Club Cheese in Cape Town and briefly cashed in on the jalapeño mac and cheese popper brigade that was all the rage a year ago.
The key to making good mac n cheese is using a combination of different cheeses- each builds a different layer of flavour and of course, béchamel. Béchamel or white sauce is one of the French mother sauces, if you didn’t know, and is crucial to your skill set in the kitchen. If you know how to make béchamel, you’ll be able to whip up a Croque Monsieur for yourself in the dead of the night. Ain’t that convenient?
The recipe for this Spicy Juan or Chipotle-spiced mac n cheese comes from Anna Mae’s legendary Mac N Cheese truck in the UK. Tony and Anna recently compiled their recipes as a cookbook and this Spicy Juan is apparently their most popular veggie option. I adapted their recipe to the more commercial Indian cheeses available in the market, but preferred to side with a more authentic Chipotle flavour by opting for Sprig’s newly launched chipotle paste. The results were mind-numbingly delicious.
For The Béchamel
Butter 2 tbsp
Flour 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Salt a pinch
For The Macaroni
Elbow macaroni 200g
Kodai Extra Sharp Cheddar 115g, grated (buy here)
Go Monterey Jack Cheese 50g, grated (buy here)
Kodai Parmesan 1 tbsp, plus more (buy here)
Chipotle Sauce 2 heaped tsp (I used Sprig’s Chipotle Adobado sauce)
Pickled Jalapeno Peppers 1/2 jar, to serve
Coriander leaves a handful, chopped, to serve
Greek-style Yoghurt a few tablespoons, whisked, to serve (optional) (I used Danone)
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and salt it. Tip in the elbow macaroni and let it cook till al dente. Drain it and leave it in a colander. Any excess water will ruin the sauce so let it drain out. You can drizzle a bit of oil over the macaroni to avoid it from sticking as it cools.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the butter, and in another small saucepan warm the milk till hot but not simmering. Once the butter has melted, reduce the heat to low and add the flour. Whisk together till it forms a roux. Continue to cook and roast this roux for three to four more minutes until it turns a golden brown. Do not burn your roux. Drizzle in the hot milk a little at a time and stir vigorously till all the milk has been added.
Now crank the heat up to medium and stir until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, approximately five minutes more. Stir constantly so that the sauce doesn’t burn at the bottom of the saucepan. Season with salt and turn the heat down to low again.
Add all the cheese to this pan and stir till all the cheese has melted. Add in the drained pasta and chipotle paste and stir through. If your mixture is too thick, add some more milk and adjust the seasoning. Spoon it out into the bowls, top with jalapeños, chopped coriander and yoghurt to serve.