A weeknight dinner party? Absolutely, if you choose this laid-back, Indian-spiced meal that can be prepared in about two hours: Indian-spiced chicken, basmati rice, creamy spinach and a mango parfait.
Friday is my favorite night for hosting dinner parties. Without the high expectations of Saturday (when everyone knows you had all day to cook), or the back-to-work pall that hangs over Sunday, a Friday night gathering reflects an end-of-the-week festivity that is by nature casual and relaxed.
The key to Friday night entertaining is to let its inherent limitations be your inspiration. Knowing that I have only about two hours to cook dinner keeps me from even contemplating homemade pasta or shimmering fruit tarts. Instead, I stick to extremely flavorful, easy dishes that are impressive enough to serve to guests but don’t require a huge amount of effort.
For example, in this menu, I use some intense Indian flavors to enliven what’s at heart just a comforting, laid-back meal of chicken, spinach, and rice. Even people who think they don’t like Indian food will like this. The chicken marinates in spices that give the meat an earthy, rich flavor that I brighten with a little lime and cilantro. (The chicken needs to marinate only as long as it takes the broiler to heat, but if you’d rather, you can marinate it overnight.)
Since I know I’ll still be cooking when guests arrive, I distract them with drinks and snacks: spiced, toasted cashews and crisp fennel slices, which contrast nicely with the salty, addictive nuts. I love the bright surprise the fennel offers, but you could serve cherry or grape tomatoes or even crunchy slices of English cucumber sprinkled with sea salt, for even less work.
Finally, for dessert, a mango parfait is a quick but elegant twist on an Indian beverage called a lassi. And since you can make the parfait components ahead, and assembling it at the last minute is a snap, you won’t have to worry about doing anything much after you sit down to dinner. Just relax and enjoy the meal.