Easy Southwest Mac n Cheese

$4.94 recipe / $1.24 serving

And by “easy” I mean “you don’t have to make a bechamel sauce.”

The other day I was lucky enough to have one of my recipes included in one of Buzzfeed’s Quick Dinners posts. I wanted to be excited, but I was too distracted by the first photo in the list… it was this totally amazingly creamy looking macaroni and cheese. I was mesmerized. I needed it. The recipe, which comes courtesy of Cooking ala Mel, uses Greek yogurt in place of bechamel as the base for the cheese sauce. That sounded right up my alley, so I ran to the store this morning to grab the ingredients.

I decided to take the mac and cheese in a different direction by adding some southwest ingredients. Diced tomatoes with green chiles (like Rotel) is one of my favorite things to add to mac n cheese, so I started there. Next I added some frozen corn kernels, which added a nice pop of sweetness to contrast the salty cheese and spicy green chiles. I used fresh onion and garlic for extra oopmh, a dash of chili powder, and a few sliced green onions on top to round it out. By the end I was shoveling it into my mouth (Yeah, I know. Attractive, right?).

That being said, I’d like to note that like other “quick” macaroni and cheese recipes, the sauce is not really the same silky, creamy texture as regular mac and cheese. You really only get that with butter + flour + milk + cheese. I can’t quite describe how it’s different (some people have called it fuzzy?), but in my opinion it’s still really great and it kills that mac n cheese craving. Good enough for me!

Easy Southwest Mac n Cheese

Southwest Mac n Cheese

4.5 from 13 reviews
Easy Southwest Mac n Cheese
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Total Cost: $4.94
Cost Per Serving: $1.24
Serves: 4 (1.25 cups each)
Ingredients
  • 8oz. pasta (elbow or shell) $0.75
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil $0.16
  • 1 small yellow onion $0.52
  • 2 cloves garlic $0.16
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels $0.50
  • 1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chiles* $0.79
  • ½ tsp chili powder $0.03**
  • 1 (6 oz.) container plain Greek yogurt $0.89
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar $0.83
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced $0.20
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions (boil 7-10 minutes, or until al dente), then drain in a colander.
  2. While waiting for the pasta water to boil and the pasta to cook, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sauté both in a large pot with the olive oil over medium heat until they are soft and transparent (about 5 minutes). Drain the diced tomatoes, then add them to the pot with the frozen corn and chili powder. Continue to sauté until the corn has heated through (about 3 minutes).
  3. Turn the heat off and add the drained pasta and Greek yogurt. Stir until the pasta is coated in the creamy sauce. Add the cheese and stir until the residual heat has melted it into the sauce. If you pasta has cooled too much to melt the cheese, keep the burner on low as you stir the cheese into the sauce. Serve hot sprinkled with the sliced green onions.
Notes
*Diced tomatoes with green chiles like Rotel brand.

**Chili powder is a mild blend of red chile peppers and other spices. It is not the same as cayenne pepper, which is very spicy.

 

Southwest Mac n Cheese

 

Step by Step Photos

Pasta

Begin by cooking 8 oz. of pasta – elbow or shell style works best because there are a lot of nooks for the cheese sauce to get trapped. Start the pasta first because the rest of the dish will probably be ready by the time the pasta finishes cooking.

Ingredients

You’ll need one 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chiles, one cup of frozen corn kernels, one small onion, two cloves of garlic, and a couple of green onions, sliced. Oh, and 1/2 tsp chili powder and 1 tablespoon olive oil (not pictured).

Onion and garlic

Dice one small onion and mince two cloves of garlic. Sauté both with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until they are soft and transparent (the picture was when they began to sauté, not when they were finished).

Drain Tomatoes

If your tomatoes are watery, drain them first so that they don’t make the sauce watery. Some brands are watery, some aren’t.

Corn and Tomatoes

Add the corn and tomatoes and continue to sauté until the corn is heated through (just a few minutes).

Chili powder

At this point I decided to add a little extra spice, so I tossed in a 1/2 tsp of chili powder. Take note: this is not cayenne powder, but a mild blend of dried chiles and other spices. If you add cayenne powder, your mac and cheese will be very, very spicy.

Drain Pasta

By this time the pasta should be finished cooking. Make sure to drain it well because water like to hang out in those curves and will make the sauce watery once it’s stirred in. So, give the colander a good shake.

Greek Yogurt

I grabbed a “single serving” (or 6 ounce) container of plain Greek yogurt at the store. Generic brand, naturally.

Sauce

Add the drained pasta and yogurt to the pot with the tomatoes and corn. Stir until the pasta is coated in a nice creamy sauce. Turn the heat off at this point.

Cheese

Finally, add one cup of shredded sharp cheddar. Stir and allow the residual heat from the pasta to melt the cheese. If your pasta has cooled too much, you can keep the heat on low while you stir in the cheese.

Southwest Mac n Cheese

Serve it while it’s still warm with a sprinkle of sliced green onions on top. YUM.

31 Comments

  1. Aaron S says:

    Beth, try this one with some chorizo sausage in it sometime. It’s even more delicious than the original. I sauteed it last and added it afterwards (that’s when I saw it sitting in the fridge, haha), but it’d probably be pretty good sauteed with the onions/garlic in the beginning.

  2. superbien says:

    Ideas on vegetarian ways to add protein? Would black beans work? Other ideas?

    • Black beans would be good. Make sure to rinse them well so they don’t turn the cheese grey. :) I think between the cheese, beans, and pasta, you probably have a good bit of protein.

  3. Clarissa says:

    I made this a few weeks back and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I had some serious textural issues. I think it may be because I used store-bought shredded cheese with corn starch, but I’m not sure. It wasn’t too bad on the first eating, although there was some mild grit, but I had three servings left over for meals during the week, and those were terribly gritty. The taste made it worth it to eat, despite that.

    • Yes, it definitely gets more gritty upon chilling/reheating. I don’t know if there is a way to prevent that.

      • Annette says:

        I think it’s the Greek yogurt that makes it gritty when mixed with the tomatoes because it curdles. Maybe using sour cream after the tomatoes off the heat might help. I did like the taste a lot so I will try my suggestion next time and let you know. I think it’s totally worth tinkering with it

  4. Martha Hughes says:

    Hmmm…I made this for lunch today and though I love the flavor not sure I loved the texture – it was gritty and the cheese did not fully melt. I even added a reserve cup of the pasta water to see if that would help. However, my Mac and Cheese loathing husband ate it and said out of all the Mac and Cheese he’s tried he likes this recipe the best.

  5. Liz Z says:

    i’ve planning to divorce my husband so i can marry this dish. can you hear me moaning around my spoon? :)

    it was EXCELLENT.

    looking forward to playing with it too – maybe cream cheese or cottage cheese ISO yogurt, or trying other cheese for the cheddar just for fun.

  6. Mand01 says:

    Another winner. My kids love Mac & Cheese but I’m not a big fan, usually because most recipes are too bland for me, as well as being unhealthy. If I’m going to eat something that unhealthy, it has to taste great. This had enough interest for me to want to keep eating it, and it had the added bonus of being much healthier than the standard version. I had some leftover roasted pumpkin that I diced and added, along with some diced capsicum (red pepper) because we don’t have the kind of tomatoes with peppers in them you mentioned here in Australia. I also used whole meal pasta spirals as this is what I happened to have. Otherwise I made it as you described. The kids yummed it up – a good dish for a meat free Monday. I worked out the dish I made had only 207 calories per serving, and it was filling and cheap. I ended up with ten serves, so leftovers for lunch boxes. Good one.

  7. Addie says:

    MMPH! I just made this for lunch and it was SO easy. I’m surprised how creamy and delicious this is, love replacing heavy white sauces with greek yogurt! I didn’t have garlic left so I added a little extra chile powder and some spinach for extra veggies.

    I’ll be eating this for dinner too. Tasty!

  8. JosephineTomato says:

    I added a can of diced tomatoes (drained) and about a cup of roasted Hatch chiles instead of the rotel – delicious. May add a touch more yogurt to add a bit more creaminess next time. Thank you.

  9. Sara says:

    I liked this recipe and will use it again, but will continue to tweak it. I found it to taste a touch bland and preferred additional cheese, so I used closer to 2 cups of cheese. I also added turkey bacon to the recipe, which kicked up the flavor.

  10. Christine says:

    Ended up turning this into a hamburger helper style dish with the addition of some smokey andouille sausage. So good. Perfect on a night when ordering food seems wasteful, but *something* has to be eaten for dinner.

  11. Angela says:

    Do you think adding little bits of bacon would make it even more awesome? My fiancé loves bacon.

  12. Monique says:

    This looks awesome, I’ll have to try it!

    For the record, I don’t know if you know, you were featured on another buzzfeed list — 29 Exciting Ways to Eat Meatballs, which had the recipe for your Sriracha glazed turkey meatballs. It’s how I found you! (The meatballs were awesome, btw, and I can only handle a bit of Sriracha!)

  13. Mallow says:

    I tried this today and my sauce instantly broke. Everything else I’ve made from your website has been perfect–I don’t know what I did wrong, but I have curdles rather than cream :(

    • Hmm, it sounds like maybe there was too much heat. If you ever decide to try it again, try turning the heat down to low before adding the yogurt. Yours might have been hotter/higher than mine was at that point.

      • Mallow says:

        My pasta might have still been too hot. It didn’t sit as long as it seemed like yours did, because mine took far longer to cook than it ought to have (who even knows why) thanks for the tip!

  14. Tony says:

    Fantastic! I added some frozen spinach and peppers along with the corn, and mixed in sliced chicken breast at the end to really pump up the nutrition. It is amazing how creamy and delicious the yogurt makes this! Thanks, as always.

  15. Kerry says:

    Thank you! This just made the rotation. I wanted to wait to post my review until I warmed up leftovers – tastes great the next day too!

  16. Wendy says:

    I made this a few nights ago. Really delicious! Had a nice creamy texture and very good flavor :) Tastes great reheated as well.

  17. Made this tonight for dinner, adding some chicken and bacon pieces to it. Still came in under $2 per serving. SO GOOD! This will be a go to weeknight meal from now on!

  18. Lindsay says:

    Made this last night…amazing!!

  19. Samantha says:

    I just gobbled down a bowl for dinner; amazing!!! I too was mesmerized by Mel’s original recipe, so I was so excited when I saw you’d made your own version. I can’t find diced chiles here in the UK with diced tomatoes or on their own. Instead, I bought jarred whole ones and chopped up a few myself! Worked like a charm. Thank you so much for this not-so-naughty comfort food :)

  20. Beth, This sounds a lot more heart-healthy than some of my traditional mac & cheese recipes. I’m going to give it a try. Thanks!

  21. Asia says:

    Hi Beth, Thank you so much for this recipe. We just made this for dinner and It was awesome. Although it is a non-traditional Mac and cheese I think that is what makes it my favorite Mac and cheese that I’ve made yet. It was so flavorful (granted, I doubled the chili powder) and “light” for a mac and cheese. The yogurt made a wonderful creamy sauce that didn’t taste like yogurt at all. It was awesome!

  22. I love the idea of using greek yogurt for creamy mac & cheese! The southwest flavors sound really good, too. I’ll have to try this for lunch someday soon! Thanks for sharing :)

  23. Yes! I love using the yogurt trick to make a pasta instantly creamy. Also, did you know (you probably do, but hey, just in case) that you can strain the whey out of ordinary yogurt to thicken it? It’s called labneh and it’s very, very much like Greek yogurt. And it also means you can buy the big bargain tubs of yogurt and get dual uses out of them!

  24. Brandon says:

    Another way to do mac & cheese with not using Béchamel sauce is by using a salt called sodium citrate. I used it for the first time last night and it made a really creamy cheese sauce with just a few ingredients. And since you aren’t using Béchamel sauce, the flavour is that much more rich. You should give it a shot

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