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A Passage to India

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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.

Menu Timeline

Up to a day ahead:

  • Do all your shopping.
  • Marinate the chicken.
  • Prepare the Toasted Spiced Cashews.
  • While the oven is hot, toast the pistachios for the parfait and the pilaf.
  • Set the table.
  • Thaw the spinach in the refrigerator.

90 minutes before guests arrive:

  • Do all your chopping: Peel and cube the mangoes; then chop, in this order, the pistachios, scallions, ginger, onions, and garlic and transfer each to separate prep bowls.
  • Cut the lime wedges.
  • Make the cardamom syrup for the Mango Lassi Parfait.
  • Put the cashews in a serving bowl.
  • Open the wine and set up your bar.

45 minutes before guests arrive:

  • If you marinated the chicken ahead, remove it from the refrigerator so it’s not refrigerator-cold when you start to cook it.
  • Add the mango cubes to the cooled cardamom syrup.
  • Whip the cream and the yogurt for the Mango Lassi Parfaits, cover, and refrigerate until serving time.
  • Prepare the pilaf. Keep covered off the heat and reheat over low if necessary.
  • Prepare the Spinach with Yogurt & Chickpeas through the purée step and cover to keep warm. When ready to serve, add the chickpeas and reheat over low.

As your guests arrive:

  • Offer your guests drinks, cashews, and any other nibbles you’ve prepared.
  • Broil the chicken.

Once your guests are all there and have had a drink:

  • Arrange the chicken and its garnishes on a serving platter.
  • Spoon the rice into a large bowl.
  • Spoon the spinach into a serving bowl.

After dinner:

  • Layer the mango and cream in parfait glasses and serve.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 2 ripe mangos
  • 2 small yellow onions
  • 3 limes
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 small bunch scallions
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 small piece fresh ginger

Meat, Eggs & Dairy:

  • 6 small (3⁄4 lb.) skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts or 12 medium (6 oz.) thighs (or a combination)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups whole-milk Greek yogurt or 3-1/2 cups regular whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter

Wine Picks: The Toasted Spiced Cashews call for a light, fruity wine with crisp acidity; Moscato d’Asti, with its gentle bubbles and vibrant fruit, would be a perfect match. Try the 2006 Michele Chiarlo or the 2006 Bruno Ceretto “Santo Stefano.” Pair the Indian-Spiced Chicken with Lime & Cilantro with a slightly sweet Riesling with high acidity and no oak; the 2005 Mönchhof Estate Riesling or the 2005 Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett Jean-Baptiste, both from Germany, are simply delicious. Finally, with the Mango Lassi Parfait, try the 2005 Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière.

The Menu


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