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A radical plan for a date night

  • Date night meals should be quick, easy and fun
  • Even quick fix meal bowls can be spiced up with an innovative use of everyday ingredients

The date night black rice bowl.
The date night black rice bowl. (Photo: Samar Halarnkar)

Fridays are date nights, a practice the wife instituted a couple of years ago. Initially, I was hesitant. Date night? After two decades of marriage? What about the nine-year old? And why did we need this, given that we both worked from home?

The questions were speedily dismissed. The family was indeed together more often than most, and that precisely was the problem. Where, she demanded, was the couple time? All the time, I offered. Either you are dense, she said dangerously, or purposely pretending to be dense. Either way, I was on thin marital ice.

So, reluctantly, I agreed to Friday.

The nine-year-old was packed off to her grandparents, which we believed was as good for them as for her. Time exclusively with them, and an evening free from us. She was free to negotiate the evening with her grandmother. They quickly agreed on:

l An hour in front of the television—her only TV time during the week—watching Animal Planet (this changes with the mood)

l Pizza while watching TV, on the grandparents’ bed, something we were never allowed as children

l Long storytelling sessions—mainly tales from my childhood—before cuddling with Ajji, who leaves her husband for the night

That was her date night. Down the road at our date night, we usually went for a movie and later wandered into nearby Kamanahattan, as the area of Kamanahalli is sometimes referred to. When I was in college, Kamanahalli (halli is village in Kannada) was on the lush edge of the city, dotted with small, scattered homes and fields. Today, it’s a heaving multicultural neighbourhood filled with a variety of young people—from Syrians to Koreans to Nagas—and their food.

Only a motorcycle is allowed on date night, so we are free to weave through traffic, sit up close and generally feel young and free. In time, we realized that driving around had some disadvantages, mainly that I could not have a drink. I am, you see, conscientious about following the laws of the land, and police officers with breathalyzers seem to have a natural attraction to me. So, I never drink and drive.

Lately, with that disadvantage, a run of bad movies and worsening traffic, date night has stayed home. This is no bad thing, given Bengaluru’s balmy evenings. The patio doors are flung open and loud music plays on my 36-year-old Arphi analogue music system. Friends know better than to call on Friday night. We may, perhaps, dance, have a few drinks, discuss issues formidable and frivolous and order out. Our standard is chapati-chicken and chapati-paneer rolls from Khan Chacha or Mexican bowls from Fresh Menu, a delivery service.

By now it should be obvious that I am a convert to the concept of date night. I understand and enjoy it. Saturday is also the only day we sleep in because the child is not around to shake us awake before the crack of dawn. She shakes her groggy grandmother awake, of course, at 5.45am, eager to get the weekend kick-started.

The only bit about date night I was disgruntled about, somewhat, was the food. Khan Chacha was easy and all very well, but, really, a Halarnkar date night with outside food? My suggestions for a date-night menu were stonewalled with the argument that we should not be wasting time in the kitchen.

Last week, the wife expressed some boredom with our quick-fix date-night food, and I seized the opportunity to press my agenda. Forget Mexican bowls from outside, I said, and let me make one instead. She was interested but only if she could join in. So she did, producing some of the ingredients you see below. The fridge was bare, but we were determined to use only what we had.

It appeared we did not have an essential ingredient, beans, but so what? After rummaging through our meagre supplies, we managed to put together black rice, homemade salsa, corn, vinegared onions, lettuce, a can of mussels and, um, paneer. These may sound like an odd combination, but—aided by the cool breeze, dimmed lights, good music and lots of love—they merged perfectly to disrupt the routine of date night.

Date night rice bowl


2 mugs cooked rice (we had Spanish black rice but you can use any variety)

For the salsa

6 tomatoes, peeled and quartered

1 onion, chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded

Juice of 1 lime (more if you need)

5 tbsp fresh coriander

Salt to taste


Place all the ingredients into a food processor and run for 5 seconds so the tomatoes are not fully pulverized. Adjust lime and salt.

For the corn: Microwave a cob for 5 minutes in salted water, cut corn from cob, mix with half a red pepper, finely chopped, and 1 tsp capers.

Other ingredients: Cut a bowl of lettuce into strips; marinate 2 cups paneer in garam masala, salt and sauté in a wok with 1 tsp oil for 5 minutes; marinate one onion in red-wine vinegar and cut into strips.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

Twitter - @samar11

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