Friday, July 18, 2008

Sautéed Chickpeas and Spinach: a Middle Eastern Treat

This richly flavored vegetarian dish is based, though discreetly different, on one I developed at my friends’ Turkish restaurant, the Istanbul Café, where it is served inside a ring of rice pilaf accompanied by seasoned yogurt and feta cheese. One of their few vegetarian specialties, for a long time it was actually their best-selling dish. This recipe is also similar, though not identical, to the chickpea and spinach specialty that has become one of our restaurant/deli's best-selling items for catering in Athens -- usually paired with Middle Eastern marinated chicken kebabs that we call 'Kazim's Chicken' and served on a bed of rice pilaf.

The cinnamon in this gives an almost 'meaty' flavor. Serve it with a rice pilaf (see my blog entries for 1/5/07 and 3/30/08 for rice pilaf recipes). Accompany with a cucumber-yogurt condiment (see blog posting of 4/25/08).

As with most vegetarian main dishes, in my view, a red wine of almost any sort seems to go best. Because of the spices in this dish, I prefer the spiciest of reds, made from the Grenache, or Garnacha. grape, especially those from Spain (which still have good value despite the strength of the Euro) or a French Côtes du Rhône.

The recipe serves six generously. Leftovers store well and the flavor intensifies.

Middle-Eastern Chick Peas Sautéed with Spinach Tim

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
1 large onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon (or less if desired) crushed hot red pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
2 cans (14-15 oz each) chick peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Chopped parsley for garnish

Thaw the spinach, removed from the boxes, on a plate, either at room temperature for several hours or defrosted in the microwave. Finely chop the onion and fry in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until starting to turn golden brown. Meanwhile, mince the garlic and set aside; measure out the spices and salt into a bowl. Lower the heat under the onions. Stir the garlic into the onions and fry 15-20 seconds. Add the dry seasonings, and stir and fry 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomato and simmer 4-5 minutes. Drain the chick peas. Rinse twice with fresh water and drain well. Add to the onion-tomato mixture, stir to mix well and simmer 4-5 minutes.

Squeeze part of the water out of the thawed spinach. Add the spinach to the cooking mixture, stirring to combine. Let simmer 2-3 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. The sauce should have the thickness of heavy cream. Taste the mixture, and add salt as necessary. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice.

This tastes best if made ahead and allowed to sit for at least half an hour (or it can be stored, refrigerated, for several days). Reheat before serving (the microwave works well). Taste, and adjust salt if necessary.

Dust with chopped parsley when serving. Accompany with rice pilaf and yogurt or a yogurt-cucumber-dill mixture.

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