Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chickpeas and Spinach

Serves 4

There are lots of recipes for chickpeas and spinach; I sometimes make Chana Masala (Spicy Chickpeas and Spinach), and as part of collection of "Recipes for the Semi-Vegan" in the December 29 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Mark Bittman has yet another recipe for this combination, a recipe very similar but not quite as complex as the one, "Garbanzos con espinacas" that caught my eye in Moro:The Cookbook . Compared with Bittman's, the Moro recipe includes saffron and fresh oregano, uses red wine vinegar instead of sherry, and starts with bread cubes rather bread crumbs .  The Moro recipe is very good, my guess is that if the spinach is not overcooked, the Bittman one would be good too.

The Moro recipe calls for 500 g of spinach; I used 352 g which seemed like a lot of spinach before it cooked down. The chickpea spinach ratio was okay but would have been better with the requisite amount of spinach.   The saffron is a luxury, use it if you have it and want to, but the smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton), sweet (dulce) or hot (picante), is a must. Before being ground the peppers are dried over oak fires to impart a distinctive smoky quality. I use the Safinter brand which is available at Whole Foods.

I cooked a vegetarian dinner for guests last week using this as a main course preceded by Beet Soup with Cumin and followed by Almond Olive Oil Cake.  All totaled, about one quarter of a cup of olive oil per person but no animal fat/butter.  To reduce my company  time in the kitchen, I made the bread paste early. Making the bread paste is by far the most time consuming part of this recipe; if I were halving this recipe to serve two, I would make a full recipe of the bread paste and reserve half for future (within a week) use. Alternatively, as Bittman does, use breadcrumbs prepared in large batches.

[APRIL 2012 UPDATE: I made a half recipe of this last week and instead of using a food processor to make the paste, I let the bread cool and dry until it was "crunchy", then used a wooden pestel to make the paste.  A tiny bit more time to crush, but a much quicker clean-up.

Also, (see next paragraph)  I  now save a step and cook the chickpeas and paste first and then add the (uncooked) spinach and oil and cook until the spinach is wilted.  If using less oil or the spinach is quite dry and bread paste sticks to the pan, I add a little water to loosen the paste.]

I do a fair amount of wok cooking and usually add the spinach last (and do in Chana Masala recipe) and will be tempted to do this next time I make this recipe (stay tuned for possible revision). While I can understand the Moro recipe (cook spinach and set aside) I do not understand the Bittman recipe where the spinach is cooked to the wilting point then the chickpeas are added and cooked for five more minutes. FINALLY THE RECIPE:

Soak overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda

200g [7 oz] chickpeas

Drain the dried, soaked chickpeas  in a colander, rinse under cold water, then place in a large saucepan. Fill with 2 liters cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming off any skum as it builds up and cook for 1-2 hours until the chickpeas are soft and tender. Remove from heat, pour off excess liquid until level with chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper and set aside. OR USE [as I did] two 14 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed with cold water.

Place a large saucepan [I used a wok] over medium heat and add

3 T olive oil, when oil is hot add

500g [17.5 oz] spinach with a pinch of salt [I omitted salt]

Remove when leaves are just tender, drain in a colander and set aside.  In a frying pan [I used same wok] heat

3 T olive oil, when it is hot add

75 g [2.6 oz] white bread, crusts removed, cut into small cubes

Fry the bread for about 5 minutes until it is golden brown all over, then add:

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 t cumin seeds
1 small bunch fresh oregano, roughly chopped [I used 14 g with stems, 10 g after stems removed]
1 small dried red chilli, crumbled [I removed seeds before crumbling]

Cook for 1 more minute until the garlic is nutty brown. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or food processor along with

1 1/2 T good-quality red wine vinegar (like Cabernet Sauvignon)

Mash to a paste. Return the bread mixture to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and

A good pinch of saffron (60 strands) that has been infused in 4 T boiling water for at least 10 minutes

Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot, then season with salt and pepper.  If the consistency is a little thick then add some water.  Add the spinach and cook until it too is again hot and served sprinkled with [I mixed in 1/2 t then just put a tiny additional dusting on top]

1/2 t sweet smoked Spanish paprika

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