Homemade Masala Mac & Cheese

On one of my many trips visiting my daughter in NYC, we went to S’Mac – a restaurant dedicated to mac and cheese! The location in her neighborhood closed down unfortunately but there’s still a location on the LES (Lower East Side). 10+ years later, I still remember the Masala Mac infused with spices- delicious!

Since my daughter moved to Baltimore years ago and I don’t visit NYC as often, I thought I would try to recreate the dish!

Change the spices and flavorings to create your own favorite version … using a combination of taco seasoning, Mexican chili powder, hatch green chili, jalapeño and corn, create a Mexican version of Mac and cheese.. Feel free to experiment with other cheeses like Pepper Jack or Colby Jack.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup finely diced red pepper

1 green chillies, chopped

1 teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic minced

1 Roma tomato, chopped

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

1/4 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped, set aside a little for garnish

3 tablespoons butter, separated

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 cups warm milk

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

PREPARATIONS

Boil the macaroni (al dente) according to the directions on the packet. Drain and set aside

Heat oil in a saucepan, add the onion and red pepper, saute for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the green chili, ginger and garlic and stir on low heat for about a minute.

Add the tomato, cumin powder, coriander powder and salt, stir till combined. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes Remove from heat and set aside.

In another saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons butter and when foamy add the flour and keep mixing for about a minute. Gradually add the milk and when the sauce is smooth, stir occasionally until thick and bubbly.

Add the cooked pasta, cheese and the tomato spice mixture; mix until the cheese is melted.

Pour into a greased 8″ x 8″ square glass dish or a 2 quart glass dish.

In a small pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter – mix in the dry breadcrumbs.

Add breadcrumb mixture evenly over the Mac and Cheese.

Bake at 400 for 5 mins until the breadcrumbs are brown. Garnish with cilantro.

Baked Chickpeas

Did you know…. chickpeas, or garbanzo beans are one of the top 10 trending food products in 2021? Chickpeas have so many benefits– a low glycemic index (your body absorbs and digests them slowly), high dietary fiber (which can help lower cholesterol), calcium and magnesium.

India produces the most worldwide, though grown in more than 50 countries.

This Ottolenghi recipe my daughter sent me reminded me of the dish Chole- though the traditional recipe takes quite a bit of time to cook. This recipe’s only liquid is oil- cooking the chickpeas and other ingredients in the olive oil makes all of the flavors more concentrated and flavorful. All you need is a casserole dish or large pot with a lid, and in an hour and a half the dish is done.

The recipe calls for canned chickpeas, but if you choose- soak 1 1/2 cups dry chickpeas overnight or for at least 4 hours with a pinch of baking soda. Rinse and add more water, pressure cook them for 5 minutes and they’re done!

Ingredients

2 (14 ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed

10 whole garlic cloves, chopped (if you prefer, thinly slice or leave whole)

1 tablespoon ginger, grated or thinly sliced

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 teaspoons each: cumin seeds and coriander seeds, crushed or blended in a spice grinder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, optional

2 teaspoons paprika

2 fresh or dry red chilies, optional

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4 cup olive oil

Preparation

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Put all the ingredients in a casserole dish (which has a lid). Stir to combine.

Cover with the dish, place in the oven and cook for about 75 minutes, stirring once halfway.

Serve with Pita bread, Naan using the bread to soak up the flavored oil, or rice.

Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken

Recently I came across this recipe in Bon Appetit and knew that I had to try it as it had curry leaves in the ingredients. Chicken nuggets + Curry leaves = a winning combination!

Curry leaf plants can grow in tropical places similar to its native region of India. As it gets cold in the Carolinas, I have to bring the plant indoors in the winter.

Curry leaves can be found in Indian grocery stores (and some organic stores like Mom’s).
Storage Tip: After washing and drying the leaves, rub the leaves with a little oil and place them in a jar or zippered bag to freeze.

In most recipes curry leaves are tempered in oil, but in this recipe you simply blend them for the marinade and some chopped leaves are added to the flour coating as well.

The recipe calls for the chicken to be fried, but I made them successfully in my air fryer. They can be reheated in the air fryer or in a toaster oven.

Ingredients

1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds or 1/8 tsp. cardamom powder

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon whole black pepper corns

2 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2-3 green chillies, chopped

1 -1″ piece ginger, grated

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

25- 30 fresh curry leaves, divided

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, divided, reserving a little for garnish

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cubed into about 1″

2 cups all-purpose four

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Oil for frying (or brushing on)

2-3 green chillies, fried for garnish

5-10 curry leaves, fried for garnish

Preparation

In a small dry skillet, toast the cardamom, coriander, cumin seeds and black peppercorn, stirring until fragrant.

Cool and transfer half of the mixture to a spice mill and blend to a fine powder. Set aside.

Blend the remaining whole spices, buttermilk, lime juice, chillies, ginger, garlic, 15 curry leaves, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon cayenne to a blender until smooth.

Add the chicken to this, mix well and add to a resealable bag or covered bowl. Chill overnight or at least 4-8 hours.

Combine the reserved spice mixture, flour, baking powder, baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon cayenne in another resealable bag. Chop the remaining 10 curry leaves and add to the flour mixture. Stir to combine well.

Heat about 1 1/2 ” oil in a wok , or pre-heat the air fryer to 400 degrees.

In the mean time, remove the chicken from the marinade and let the excess drip.

Add the chicken in small batches to the flour bag and coat well. Remove and set the coated chicken over a wire rack.

Repeat with the remaining chicken

Fry small batches of the chicken for 6-8 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack with paper towels below to drain.

If using the air fryer, brush the chicken pieces with oil and add to air fryer (do not crowd) and cook for 5 minutes… Turn the chicken pieces and continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes to a golden brown. Repeat with the remaining chicken nuggets.

Garnish with fried chillies and fried curry leaves

Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Pea Soup)

Dal is a staple in all parts of India, served thick over rice or in a bowl as a soup. There are so many different varieties, all made with somewhat different ingredients. There are many types of lentils (also called dal) – whole lentils, split lentils, and lentils which have the husk or skin removed.

Lentils are a low-calorie source of plant-based protein (they have a protein concentration of approximately 25%). One-half cup serving of cooked lentils provides 9 grams of protein. They also are a good source of iron, fiber and a good source of Vitamin B.

This recipe uses split pigeon peas, or toor lentils – a basic, every day dal. Feel free to adjust the taste to suit your menu – eliminate the tomatoes, add more lemon juice – most of the ingredients are optional.

Soaking the lentils will help cut down the cooking time, though using a pressure cooker makes it even quicker.

Ingredients

1 cup toor dal, (split pigeon peas)

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small onion, chopped

1-2 green chilies, slit or 1 dry red chiili

1- 2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1- 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves for garnish

Preparation

Prepare the lentils: Rinse dal until the water is clear. If you have the time, soak the dal for about 1 hour.

Drain the soaked dal, add 3 cups water and cook the toor dal in a pressure cooker for about 10 minutes (unsoaked for 14 minutes). Or cook in a saucepan with approximately 3 cups water, until soft for about 30 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother consistency, blend with an immersion blender, whisk or potato masher.

Tempering: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the mustard and cumin seeds- as soon as they start popping, mix in the red or green chilies and onion. Cook for 3- 4 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent and then add in the garlic and tomatoes. Stir for a few minutes- next add in turmeric and salt.

Stir in the cooked dal and about 1-2 cups of water, depending on the consistency you prefer. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the tomato is soft and dal is well combined.

Mix in the lemon juice and garnish with cilantro.

Other variations:

  • Add 1-2 cups chopped fresh spinach (1/2-1 cup frozen spinach, thawed)
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger with the garlic.
  • Add 1 teaspoon sambar powder, with the turmeric

Red Lentil and Zucchini Pakodas

I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit a few months ago and it caught my attention for several reasons. I had never seen a pakoda (fritter) recipe made with not only Masoor dal (red lentils) but also a nutritious green vegetable.

Lentils are an excellent source of vegetable protein, rich in iron and folate and the addition of Zucchini adds antioxidants and fiber to the dish .

I experimented, adding a few more spices and cilantro to the original recipe and cooked it in my air fryer (healthy alternative to pan frying).

Serve the pakodas with cilantro chutney, ketchup or hot sauce.

Ingredients

1 cup Masoor dal (red lentils)

1 medium zucchini, coarsely grated

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon ginger grated

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Ghee or oil for sautéing

Preparation

Rinse the lentil and soak with water overnight.

Add the grated zucchini to a colander and add the salt and onion. Mix well and set the colander over a medium bowl and let this mixture sit for a couple of hours.

Squeeze the liquid from the mixture and pat with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Drain the lentils and place in a food processor.

Add the spices and 1/2 teaspoon salt and pulse the mixture till it forms a puree.

Transfer the lentil mixture to a bowl, add the zucchini mixture, chopped cilantro and stir to combine .

Heat oil or ghee in a large skillet over medium heat and drop about 1/4 cup batter , flattening the top with a spatula. Drop about 6 “pakodas” in the skillet and frying them for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat with the remains mixture.

Makes about 12 pakodas, depending on size.

Air Fryer Method

While your air fryer is preheating (for approximately 5 minutes) at 380 degrees, shape your pakodas and brush with oil

Cook for about 6 minutes; turn them over, brush oil on the other side and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes, until brown.

Serve with cilantro chutney, ketchup or hot sauce.

Carrot-Halwa Bars

I stumbled upon this recipe on the website Food 52.com. This method of baking “Gajjar Halwa” made it even quicker than the previous recipe I posted last year. These bars turned out delicious and also tasted a bit less sweet.

The bars can also be made and frozen which is convenient since this recipe makes quite a large portion!

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups shredded carrots

1/2 cup whole milk

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

0ne 14-ounce can Condensed milk

8 tablespoons butter, melted

1/8 teaspoon cardamom powder (5 pods)

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg grated (optional)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13″x 10″ baking pan.

Sift the flour and baking powder and place in a large bowl, making a well.

Combine the carrots, milk, sugar and raisins in a large bowl and microwave for about 5 minutes until the carrots are soft.

Add the melted butter, cardamom powder and nutmeg to the carrot mixture.

Pour the carrot mixture into the middle of the flour and gently fold the mixture from outside to the middle.

Do not over mix as you can cause the gluten to develop resulting in a tough leathery mixture.

Spread evenly on the greased cookie sheet. Top with slivered almonds.

Bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Cool and cut into squares. Can be frozen for a month.

Savory Quinoa Mini Muffins

Quinoa is one of the healthiest grains – high in protein, a moderate amount of fibre and various minerals and vitamins. These mini muffins made with quinoa are a great addition to lunch or dinner with soup or as an appetizer.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups cooked Quinoa

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 -1/2 cup corn

1/2 cup black beans

1/2 cup edamame or lima beans

1/4 cup salsa

1-2 tbsp hot sauce (Sriracha or buffalo wing hot sauce)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

2-3 tbsp cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush a 24 cup mini muffin pan (or 2- 12 cup mini muffin pans) with oil.

Mix all of the above ingredients together and fill the muffin cups.

Bake for 20 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes and remove to a wire rack.

Almond Halwa

Happy Diwali! Diwali (or Deepavali) is India’s biggest holiday of the year. Also called the festival of lights – it gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.

I enjoy making a variety of Mitai (Indian sweets) during this time – and this recipe is a quick and easy one!

Preparation

2 teaspoon butter or ghee

1 cup almond or cashew flour

1/2 cup milk

4 tablespoon sugar (or more to taste)

Pinch of saffron strands (optional)

1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder (optional)

Chopped nuts, for garnish

Whipping cream (optional)

Method

Heat the butter or ghee in a saucepan.

Add the almond flour, milk, sugar and saffron strands, if using.

Cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until mixture is thick

Add Cardamom powder (if using).

Pour into a serving dish, and garnish with nuts

Serve warm, with whipping cream if desired

Matri (Savory Crackers)

One of my grandson’s favorite snacks is Matri, a savory Indian snack. The traditional way of making it is to fry the dough to make it quite crispy. As I am always looking for healthy snack recipes, I decided to adapt a savory cracker recipe and switched out the spices to the ones below, typically used for this recipe, and made a baked version of Matri. We have found that it is such an addictive treat!

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon red chili powder

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

3/4 -1 teaspoon ajwain (Substitute: dry thyme or oregano)

1/3 cup oil

1/2 cup water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix all of the dry ingredients, including seasonings, in a large bowl.

Add the oil, and mix well.

Add the water slowly to make a fairly stiff dough.

Rest the dough for about 30 minutes.

Roll out to 1/4″ thickness. Prick the dough.

Cut into squares and bake for about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool Matri on a wire rack.

Curried Peas and Tomato

Fresh English peas are low in calories, high in fiber and have one of the highest amounts of plant-based protein. The addition of tomato makes this dish even healthier as tomatoes contain Lycopene and Lutein which are great for your eyes! Pan-fried or scrambled paneer and tofu can be added to the dish to make it more filling.

Ingredients

2 cups fresh English Peas (Trader Joe’s generally have them in stock in the salad/veggie section)

2 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 medium onion, chopped fine or grated

1 teaspoon each, garlic paste and ginger paste

1/2 – 1 teaspoon red chili powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium tomato chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

juice of 1/2 a lemon

2 tablespoon chopped cilantro for garnish

Method

Steam the peas for about 4- 5 minutes till just soft (do not cook completely)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds- as the mustard seeds start popping, add the onion . Sauté for about 3 minutes till the onion start to brown.

Add the garlic and ginger paste and stir for 30 seconds. Add the remaining spices and continue to stir for a minute. Next add 2 tablespoons water and cook until the spices are well combined.

Stir in the chopped tomato and tomato paste and continue to stir till the tomato is soft and mushy. Add 1/2 cup water and continue to cook for another few minutes.

Add the peas and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice .

Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Variation: Add pan-fried Paneer (or even scrambled tofu) for a more filling dish.

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