“I had no idea what it was,” says Vishwesh Bhatt of macaroni and cheese, which he discovered as a nineteen-year-old, shortly after arriving at the University of Kentucky from Gujarat, India. After his first bite, he was intrigued but felt something was missing. “I was like, ‘Hey, how come you guys don’t add spices to your food?’” It did remind him of something, though—his mom’s grilled cheese sandwiches. “She’d add chopped onions, green chiles, and cumin seeds,” he says. “They were salty, spicy, and gooey in the middle.” So Bhatt doctored the dorm-room Kraft with the familiar flavors of home. Building on his budding talent for cooking, he started hosting dinner parties for friends, which led to paid gigs and then culinary school. Bhatt began cooking with chef John Currence in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1995, and he now runs the kitchen at Currence’s Snackbar, where he oversees a French-Southern menu with a strong Indian influence: Kashmiri-style creamed collards show up on the menu alongside Mississippi-milled grits spiked with mustard seeds, ginger, and sliced green chiles. So does this macaroni and cheese, a professional update to Bhatt’s college favorite. With a base of spice-steeped cream that thickens without a roux, it’s almost as easy to pull together as the blue-box kind.
Food & Drink
Indian-Spiced Macaroni and Cheese
Recrafting a Southern favorite with flavors from home
photo: Johnny Autry
For the cream
1 quart heavy cream
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small shallot, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed
1-inch piece of ginger, sliced
1 tsp. coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
For the pasta
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. butter, divided
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 shallots, minced
2 tsp. minced ginger
1 lb. shells or elbow noodles, cooked according to package instructions
4 cups shredded sharp white cheddar, divided
2 cups grated Parmesan, divided
Kosher salt, to taste
For the cream:
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 15–20 minutes before straining and reserving liquid. Set aside.
For the pasta:
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 4 minutes, and then add cumin seeds and peppercorns. Toast for 1 minute or until fragrant, cool, then transfer to a ziplock plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Set aside. Next, melt 2 tsp. butter in the pan and add bread crumbs. Toss well and then toast until light brown (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Set aside. Add remaining butter to the pan and sauté shallot and ginger until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in noodles, and then add toasted, crushed spices, spice-infused cream, and half the cheese. Stir until mixture is thick and creamy, and season with salt as needed.
Transfer mixture to a 2- or 3-quart baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and toasted panko. (Or you can finish the dish in the skillet.) Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10–12 minutes. Serve immediately.
Recipe from chef Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi.
Chef Vishwesh Bhatt also uses the spice-infused base from this mac and cheese recipe to make creamed collards. Stir some into a pan of cooked greens until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.
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