It’s unusual for me to have a weekend alone without Dan. Though our work schedules intersect like Venn diagrams, leaving me with most evenings free for dinner with friends or—let’s be real—catching up on writing, laundry, and whatever’s on the DVR, it’s more common for me to be traveling without him than the other way around.
But left to my own devices on these rare occasions, I revert to my former collegiate slobby self in the blink of an eye. Mountains of shoes spring up beside the front door, dishes are mysteriously left soaking but unwashed in the sink, the dining room table is barely visible under a blizzard of papers and magazines, and my already-erratic eating habits get weirder.
Yes, there’s popcorn. (There’s always popcorn.) And plates of the famous Barber family cheese and ketchup on Ritz snack. But there’s a new comfort food favorite I’ve been turning to lately when cooking for myself, inspired by a few simple recipes from Paul Qui and the Canal House duo: coconut creamed spinach.
Wait? What? Spinach? That sounds too healthy to be a lazy, eat-by-yourself-all-weekend food. But remember, I’m a girl raised on Boston Market whose one takeout indulgence is Thai food. No wonder this recipe hits all the right notes for me.
Though maybe there’s another reason I’ve been making this dish for myself and not sharing with others: it’s not the prettiest thing on the plate. The spinach becomes a dingy sludge, muddying the pristine coconut milk with its dull olive color, turning what was once brilliant green and blinding white into a swampy mess.
The flavor, however, is anything but muted. When it’s finished, the coconut milk infuses the spinach with its richness, at the same time giving the dish a looser, lighter consistency than the cream and handfuls of cheese that usually bind creamed spinach. Vinegar brightens the sauce, miso adds depth, and handfuls of sesame seeds and scallions snap and pop with each bite. I can’t resist a drizzle of spicy sesame oil to clear the sinuses.
By the time Dan returns, I’ve done my teen-movie-oh-my-god-the-parents-are-on-their-way! cleaning to return the house to its semi-pristine state, save the constant tumbleweeds of cat hair and dust that will outlive us all. No evidence of my slothlike tendencies remain. Well, except for that Tupperware container of spinach in the fridge and a few olive pits in the trash.
- 2 bunches spinach
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 2 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon brown rice miso paste, (or whatever miso paste you happen to have in the fridge; I just prefer the deeper, saltier flavor of the brown miso for this one)
- 2 cups cooked rice or whole grain
- sesame seeds
- minced scallions
- sesame oil, (regular or spicy)
- Thoroughly rinse the spinach (I use the Alton Brown method of washing greens) and slice into ribbons.
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large (at least 3-quart) high-sided saucepan until shimmering, then add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. It will start to crisp and brown quickly, so don’t let it burn.
- Add the spinach in handfuls, stirring to wilt the leaves and fit it all in the pot. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until it’s wilted down.
- Add the coconut milk, vinegar, and miso and stir to combine. Cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Ladle the spinach and its sauce over rice or your favorite whole grain, and top with the garnishes of your choice.