Are there a few staples that you make sure never to run low on in your kitchen? The ones that you know yield gold in moments both easy and challenging: 8:15 Sunday evening, after an all-day train journey; 2:30 a.m. Friday night/ Saturday morning, after a long night out—or just dinner time on a regular weeknight. I’m referring to those moments you want to eat well AND fast, yet you’re low on time, energy, other produce (everything here’s shut on Sundays!) or all of the above.
That’s when these staples get pulled out in our kitchen and they deliver, every single time. One of my favourites is frozen spinach—the kind where the leaves are frozen into little blocks, not the mushy-mixed-with-cream-type. The uses for this miracle product are so vast, and this recipe calls on two other trusty staples I’d be lost without: fresh garlic and red chilli flakes. Just three ingredients—yet the end result always transports me to a happy place. When I have plenty of time and energy, this dish is an accompaniment to a light daal and a curry. Otherwise it’s eaten straight up with hot rice. I can imagine it making a great filling for these puffs, or pairing beautifully with roasted potatoes. I even serve it with eggs, as a brunch offering.
The important thing here is how each ingredient is cooked: the spinach needs to be completely un-frozen and dry; the garlic needs to be well-fried and cooked through, and the salt needs to be on-point. If you stay tuned into these little details, you’ll end up with something delicious, much more than the mere sum of the parts going in. I hope you’re not put off by the bold use of chilli and garlic in the title of this dish, they’re more infusion than individual ingredient and bring so much flavour.
Note: If you choose to use fresh spinach, make sure to chop it finely and don’t bother discarding too much of the stalks. Also, start at paragraph two of the recipe below.
Serves two as a side
400 gms frozen or fresh spinach (see note)
1/4—1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 large garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon ghee or sunflower oil
Salt to taste
(If you're using fresh spinach, skip to the next paragraph) Place the frozen spinach blocks in a nonstick pan on medium heat and allow them to de-frost completely, about 10 minutes. Halfway through, turn the blocks around so the other side can melt, otherwise you’ll end up with half-burnt spinach that still has bits of ice in it. Allow all the water to evaporate, taking care not to dehydrate the spinach. Remove into a bowl, wipe the pan clean and set it back on a medium flame.
Peel the garlic clove and smash it with the side of your knife so that it separates into layers. Alternatively, slice it finely. Heat the ghee in the pan, and once warm, add the garlic and chilli flakes and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly browned, turning once in a while. This should take 3—4 minutes and you can sprinkle in a pinch of salt halfway though. Once the garlic is nicely browned, add the spinach and stir to mix. Add salt to taste, sprinkling liberally and mixing well. Cook for another five minutes on low heat, allowing the chilli and garlic to infuse the spinach. Taste for salt and if needed, add more. Transfer to a bowl and serve hot with rice.
Images: Vatsala Murthy