Growing up in the 70’s with a working mom — a mom who did not care for the kitchen until later in life — I ate a fair amount of Betty Crocker’s Hamburger Helper.
I probably helped her “cook” it and — gulp — I think I even liked it. I haven’t tasted it since I was a kid, but after reading the ingredient list, I know I wouldn’t care for it now.
My tastes have changed, not to mention my skills, but I’m not above opening a jar to help me get dinner on the table in a hurry.
I ran across a line of Indian simmer sauces at a Fancy Foods Show a while back that took me by surprise. The sauces were flavorful, relatively healthy, and the scariest thing on the ingredient list was xanthan gum (which isn’t scary at all).
Since then, I’ve purchased all the flavors of Maya Kaimal Indian Simmer Sauces. The sauces come in shelf-stable jars and also in refrigerated tubs (without the xanthan gum, by the way). I’ve found both at Whole Foods.
[Disclosure: Maya Kaimal did not provide me with samples … I actually like their sauces, purchase them, and feed them to my family. Imagine that.]
Here’s an easy, vegetarian recipe to try out the sauce (although you could easily add cooked chicken to this dish).
I’ve chosen the tangy tomato-based Tikka Masala, but any of them would all work in this recipe.
The whole meal comes together in less than 40 minutes, even faster if you’ve roasted the spaghetti squash in advance.
I usually do the whole recipe at once. While the squash is roasting, I chop up an onion and some mushrooms to sauté. I use spinach in this dish, too, because it adds some healthy greens, and I actually love spinach. If you don’t like spinach, leave it out, but you don’t really taste it because the sauce is the dominate flavor — creamy tomato with a tang and complex, aromatic spices.
While you’re waiting for the squash to finish, and the mushrooms and spinach to finish, chop some peanuts or cilantro for a garnish.
I’m big on garnishes — especially when the finished dish is less-than-pretty, like this one.
I hate to even show the final dish, but I’m going to because it isn’t about what it looks like. It’s about the taste — pretty darn tasty — even if it doesn’t look like a cover shot.
Let’s review: six ingredients, 35-ish minutes, tangy, tomato sauce with intoxicating spices and healthy to boot? Sounds good to me.
Tikka Masala Spaghetti Squash
1 (1-1/2 to 2 pounds) spaghetti squash
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion
8 ounces cremini or button mushrooms
6 to 8 ounces spinach
1 (12.5 ounce) jar Maya Kiamal Tikka Masala (or other flavor) simmer sauce
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts and/or cilantro (optional garnish)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and discard. Place squash cut-side down on a lined baking sheet. Pour in 1/4 cup of water to keep it from burning. Bake until squash is just tender, roughly 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and cool slightly before shredding flesh with a fork into strands. I use a pot holder to hold the squash. Season squash with salt and pepper and keep warm.
2. While the squash is roasting, cut the root and stem ends off the onion. Cut the onion in half root to stem. Remove peel. Cut each half into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4-inch slices. Wash and trim the spinach.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onions and mushrooms until the mushrooms are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach to the skillet in batches, turning with tongs as the spinach wilts. Cook the spinach until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Drain any liquid off and discard.
4. Heat the simmer sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbly hot, about 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Divide the squash strands among 4 plates (warmed if you’re so inclined). Top with the onion/mushroom/spinach mixture. Spoon the simmer sauce over the spinach mixture. Top with chopped peanuts, if using.