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comfort foods | potatoes in spicy spinach sauce by Yee-Fan Sun

There's something deeply comforting about smushy foods. When I'm feeling the beginnings of a cold, or it's rainy and gray outside, or I'm sliding into a slight blue spell, I have a tendency to find myself craving foods that don't require much in the way of eating effort. Cinnamony apple sauce and brown sugar oatmeal, real refried beans and cheesy garlic polenta -- these are the kinds of foods that wrap around me like a security blanket, cozy and familiar and warm.

I once met a girl, at a summer camp for geeks back in my early teen years, who kept her snack stash stocked with piles of Gerber baby food. When everyone else I knew was hoarding Doritos and Kit Kats, the junk food our parents were always telling us not to eat when we were back home, she squirreled away tiny glass jars of pureed peach and apple and pear. It would have seemed odd, except we were all 12-year-old bookish misfits, and every one of us boasted our own personal brand of weird. Besides, after she grudgingly offered up some of her prized snacks to share, we had to admit: pear mush is kind of good.

These days, my smushy food cravings are generally a tad more sophisticated. Comfort foods, I'm happy to have discovered, don't have to be bland…like this yummy Indian-inspired spinach and potato dish, a sort of creamed spinach with a kick.

Potatoes in spiced spinach sauce (aloo saag)
This spicy spinach sauce is so good I could probably eat it on its own and be perfectly happy, but the potatoes make it a little more substantial -- serve it with basmati rice or pita bread and you have yourself a simple but filling meal. Use whatever potatoes you like, though I prefer the waxy red or white-skinned varieties over the mealier-textured Russets. As for the spinach, I find that fresh spinach yields a brighter green-colored sauce with a slightly nicer flavor, but if you're feeling lazy, frozen still yields a pretty tasty result.

1 lb. fresh spinach leaves, washed well (or frozen if you must)
2 cups 1/3"-dice potato (about 6 new potatoes)
4 fat cloves garlic
1/2 medium yellow onion
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more as needed
1 tsp. garam masala
3 Tbsps. milk, plus more as needed
crushed red pepper to taste

serves 2 as main dish, 4-6 as a side
time 20-30 minutes

1 Wash the spinach leaves well and drain. Toss them in a pot along with a 1/2 cup of water. Heat on high for a few minutes, stirring, until the water starts to steam and the bottom leaves begin to wilt. Give it a good stir, cover, lower heat, and cook for about 7 minutes, until just tender. Drain (don't worry about getting out all the water.) Puree until smooth in a blender or food processor.
2 Meanwhile, toss the diced potatoes in a pot with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Add a ˝ tsp. of salt. Cook the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes, until tender. Drain.
3 Cut off the root ends of the garlic cloves and lay cloves flat. Lightly pound with the side of your knife blade and peel off the papery skin. Finely mince up the garlic. Peel and finely mince the onion as well.
4 Heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a good-sized sauté pan. Cook the garlic and onion over medium heat until soft and yummy-smelling. Stir in the turmeric and cook a minute or two more.
5 Toss in the spinach puree and potatoes and stir well. Add the milk, salt, garam masala and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper to taste. Bring to a low bubble, and cook a few minutes more to let the flavors meld. If the mixture looks too dry, add a little more milk. Enjoy!


serve this with: chickpea dal with spinach | lemony lentils | curried chicken with caramelized onions

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