No, this is not a bad joke (well, it probably is, actually…). But, if you swap in “our house” for “a bar”, you’ve got the dinner party guest list I ended up with not so long ago. Of course I didn’t realize this until I’d happily confirmed everyone and sat myself down to come up with a menu. You may have heard me cursing. Loudly. Once I regained my composure only to lose it again upon finding out that yes, most soy sauce DOES have gluten in it, I finally managed to find my happy place with my go-to “oh my god, he/she/they can’t eat WHAT?” cuisine: Indian.

While I don’t cook it that often–I have friends who have devoted serious energy to the art of Indian cookery and I’m just as happy to eat it at their houses–I find that it really works well with the panoply of dietary restrictions today’s hostess-with-the-mostest is liable to face.

First off, it’s eaten family style (at least in the U.S….), so people can pick and choose from the dishes that work for their particular particularities of palate and I can still be sure that everyone has SOMETHING to eat. Secondly, Indian has, by definition, a plethora of vegetable and pulse-based dishes that are friendly to even the most rigid of vegans.

At this dinner for six, I served rogan josh–a lamb dish that, hah,  is neither vegetarian or dairy-free–along with a red lentil dal, hardboiled eggs in a brown-fried onion tomato gravy, and a saag aloo. Of course, rice, a cooling yogurt and cucumber raita, and (prepared) chutney also made it onto the buffet. The rogan josh and egg dish were courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey (though I subbed in quail eggs because they’re cute and fancy–what’s not not love?). The red lentils are an adaptation of a Nigella recipe from the NYT that I will get around to posting at some point.

The saag aloo, though, is of my own design. Thus, I make no claims to the authenticity of this common spinach and potato dish, but I’ve arrived at it after many, many tries and I think it tastes just as good if not better than the versions found in restaurants. It’s certainly brighter in color and flavor. It’s probably a good bit healthier too; while coconut milk isn’t the best thing in the world, it’s definitely better than the usual butter and cream.

Saag Aloo
Yield: ~6 side servings

1 lb potatoes
3 medium onions
3 cloves garlic
1 2″ piece ginger
3 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground white pepper
1 1lb bag frozen spinach
1 bunch cilantro
1 14 oz can coconut milk
~ 2 tbs lemon juice

Cut the potatoes into 1′ pieces and steam or boil till just barely tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside. While the potatoes are cooking, get on with everything else.

Chop the onions. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and saute till translucent, about 5 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, peel and mince the garlic, peel and grate the ginger, and prep the cilantro. Trim the ends and rinse it very well in a large bowl of cold water–swish around energetically till all the grit falls to the bottom.  Roughly chop the cilantro, stems and all, and set aside.

To the sauted onions, add the grated garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, and white pepper. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so–till the garlic is fragrant. Add the spinach and about 2c water. Bring to a simmer (which may take a bit if your spinach is still frozen… as mine invariably is) and cook for 15 minutes. Add the cilantro and cook til its wilted into the mixture, another minute or so.

Whip out you immersion blender and puree the spinach mixture until completely smooth, and then do it some more. It should be totally blitzed. Partially cover and simmer over low heat, stirring regularly, for another 5 min or so. Then, mix in the coconut milk and salt to taste, stir in the potatoes, and cook a bit longer, about 5 min. Add the lemon juice to taste. You may want to toss in a bit more spice too. Serve forth with other Indian-type dishes.

(Also, yes, the picture is drrreadful. YOU try making something that looks like baby poop look attractive, hmm?)