Stovetop Southwest Tuna Mac and Cheese

Raise your hand if you loveeeee mac and cheese.

As a kid, my Dad would always make me macaroni and cheese made with sharp or white cheddar, plus LOTS and lots of pepper. If I were lucky, he would add peas (because I loved them more than any other veggie in the world.)

Now that I’m into full-on #adulting, I LOVE when my mac and cheese is packed with anything just a little bit unique: truffle mac and cheese, vegan mac and cheese, mac and cheese with a Ritz cracker topping, mac and cheese with brussels, BUFFALO cauliflower mac, or even a classic broccoli cheddar mac and cheese. Can mac and cheese be its own food group yet?

I thought I’d bring you another unique twist on mac and cheese that I’m absolutely in love with: Southwest tuna mac and cheese with spicy flavors and unique umami flavor. Trust me, I know that it sounds a little crazy, but I promise you it’s one of the BEST mac and cheese recipes you’ll ever make.

Stovetop Southwest Tuna Mac and Cheese

Ingredients in tuna mac and cheese

Not only is this tuna mac and cheese packed with flavor, but it also uses simple ingredients and pantry staples that you might already have on-hand. The extra protein makes this a delicious, healthy tuna mac and cheese dinner!

  • Elbow macaroni: you can use gluten free, whole grain or regular noodles. I really love the chickpea pasta because of the extra fiber but whole grain is wonderful, too.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese: I like to use a block of cheddar because it melts much easier. I do not recommend using pre-shredded cheddar for this recipe but rather shred or cube it yourself.
  • Flour: I used whole wheat pastry flour to help make a perfectly thick cheese sauce for the tuna mac and cheese. You can also use all purpose or gluten free all purpose flour!
  • Tuna: I AM IN LOVE with the tuna in this recipe. It adds an interesting savory umami flavor that I can’t get enough of, not to mention tons of protein. You can use yellowfin or albacore tuna in this delicious recipe.
  • Taco seasoning: I decided to use a packet of organic taco seasoning to season the mac and cheese because that’s what I had in my cupboard, however, my DIY taco seasoning is perfect for this recipe!
  • Black beans: these beans are another reason I love this recipe. The fiber and protein in the beans help to keep you full and add a southwest flair to the recipe.
  • Milk: feel free to use any milk you’d like in this recipe (although I wouldn’t use skim). When I first made this recipe I chose to use unsweetened cashew milk because it’s incredibly creamy and adds amazing flavor to the mac and cheese.

Customize your tuna mac and cheese

This easy tuna mac and cheese is great for customizing to your taste preferences and what you have on hand! Here’s what I can recommend:

  • Go gluten free: simply use your favorite gluten free pasta shape like this one, as well as gluten free all purpose flour.
  • Try it dairy free: instead of cheese you could add my cashew cheese sauce for a dairy free option.
  • Add some veggies: feel free to fold in veggies like peas (so nostalgic) mushrooms, chopped bell pepper, or even diced jalapeño.

stovetop tuna mac and cheese in a skillet

Can I make it vegetarian?

Sure! Simply omit the tuna and enjoy the protein that black beans provide. Feel free to add an extra can of black beans if you’d like.

How to make tuna mac and cheese on the stovetop

  1. Cook the pasta. First boil the noodles until al dente, then drain them and set them aside.
  2. Make a slurry. While the pasta is boiling, you’ll make a slurry (or a roux) by melting butter in a pot or skillet with garlic. Whisk in the flour and onion powder & stir until a paste forms. Then slowly add in the milk, whisking away any lumps so it’s nice and smooth.
  3. Thicken the sauce. Increase the heat and bring your mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes stirring every so often, until the sauce thickens up similar to a gravy
  4. Cheese it up. Next, add in the cheese and taco seasoning and stir until completely melted.
  5. Mix in the mac. Finally fold in cooked noodles, black beans and drained tuna and mix until well combined. 
  6. Broil & serve. Top with the rest of the cheese, then either mix it in or place your skillet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and slightly golden. Top with fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro and hot sauce if you’d like, and serve!

healthy tuna mac and cheese in a skillet with a wooden spoon

Storing tips

You can store any leftover tuna macaroni and cheese in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Simply reheat in the microwave.

I know you are going to love this filling comfort food tuna mac and cheese. It’s wonderful on a cozy evening and great for reheating too. I recommend topping it with hot sauce and cilantro!

More cozy dinners you’ll love

Get all of my dinner recipes here!

If you make this easy tuna mac and cheese recipe, be sure to leave a comment and rate the recipe below letting me know how you like it. You can also upload a photo and tag #ambitiouskitchen on Instagram! xo.

Stovetop Southwest Tuna Mac and Cheese

tuna mac and cheese in a skillet

A southwest inspired version of tuna mac and cheese with taco seasoning, black beans, yellowfin tuna and plenty of cheese. This creamy, spicy tuna mac and cheese recipe comes together in just 30 minutes and is packed with protein. Perfect for weeknight dinners, game day or anytime you have a comfort food craving!

Ingredients

  • 8
    oz
    elbow noodles (or whatever noodles you’d like)
  • 2
    tablespoons
    butter
  • 1
    clove
    garlic, minced
  • 1/4
    cup
    whole wheat pastry flour (or sub regular flour or GF all purpose flour)
  • ½
    teaspoon
    onion powder
  • 1 1/2
    cups
    unsweetened cashew or almond milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6
    oz
    sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese)
  • 1
    (1.1 ounce) packet taco seasoning (preferably organic)*
  • 1
    (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1
    (5 ounce) can yellowfin or albacore tuna, drained
  • 2
    oz
    sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and reserved for the topping (or about ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese)
  • To garnish:
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Hot sauce, if desired

Instructions

  1. First boil the noodles until al dente, according to the directions on the package. Once done cooking, drain and set aside.

  2. While the noodles are boiling, make a slurry: In a large oven safe skillet or pot add butter and garlic. Once butter is melted, whisk in the flour and onion powder and cook for 30 seconds until a paste forms. Slowly add in cashew milk, whisking away any lumps.

  3. Increase heat and bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes stirring every so often, until the sauce thickens up similar to a gravy

  4. Next add in 6 oz cheese and 1 packet of taco seasoning and stir until completely melted. 

  5. Finally fold in cooked noodles, black beans and drained tuna and mix until well combined. 

  6. Top with 2 ounces of shredded cheddar. At this point you can either serve the mac and cheese and just fold in the extra cheddar you just added, or remove from heat and place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and slightly golden. Serves 6. Top with cilantro and hot sauce if desired!

Recipe Notes

*To make your own taco seasoning: use my go-to recipe here!

To make dairy free: feel free to use my cashew cheese sauce instead of making the cheese sauce for this recipe.

See the full post for even more ways to customize this recipe.

Nutrition

Servings: 6 servings

Serving size: 1 serving

Calories: 425kcal

Fat: 19g

Saturated fat: 10.6g

Carbohydrates: 40.8g

Fiber: 6.6g

Sugar: 1.6g

Protein: 23.2g

This post was originally published on October 30th, 2017, republished on April 1st, 2020, and republished on September 28th, 2022.

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