September 17, 2011
This dish is inspired by one of my favorite Indian dishes, Chole Saag. Or, wait, Saag Chole. I believe the former is primarily chickpeas (chole) with some spinach (saag) mixed in, while the latter is a dish of primarily spinach with some chickpeas mixed in. My dish is definitely about the spinach, no question about it, because—move over, Popeye—I’m a mom on a mission.
I rarely plan meals around what I think my kids “need.” Obsessing over the many ways we can meet our children’s every need in real time is the worst part of popular parenting culture. I’d like to think that being thoughtful, loving and doing our best balance our children’s needs with our own is a good (or good enough?) approach. When it comes to food, that means making healthy food that I like to eat while making sure that my kids have access to a wide variety of healthy foods three meals and two snacks a day. But, lately, I’ve tired of seeing every green vegetable other than broccoli go to waste. And does broccoli even count as green when it’s lacquered in crimson ketchup? Yuck.
So, I admit it, this meal was the first in a while inspired by
concern a desire to remind the kids that green veggies can be delicious. And maybe I also wanted to win one. The Hungry Boys were getting way too comfortable skipping their veg and agreeing that dinner could be over, even without dessert.
I was clear from the get-go that I’d start this mission with spinach. I figure that’s a good, practical green veggie for them to like, one they’ll see lots of both at home and away from home. I pondered their (latest) reasons for rejecting spinach: to leafy, too stringy (if cut up), too green. I’d tackle texture by whipping out the blender and, as for color, well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Since there’s no way to turn spinach any other color, I’d go with the color hardcore. Oh, I’d show them green. That’s right, a deep green puree—that’s what we’d eat.
I panicked for a moment: I didn’t want to eat spinach baby food for dinner. How annoying! Creamed spinach? Ugh, too creamy and buttery. (It was a rough August, if you call eating a lot of pie “rough.” I’m reigning it in.) That’s when I thought of saag paneer, a favorite Indian spinach dish with soft cheese. I didn’t have the right cheese, but I could do even better, nutritionally speaking, with chickpeas. Saag chole. I had it!
What I didn’t have, though, was clarified butter or a whole lot of time to look into a traditional preparation. Instead, I winged it with wonderful results. I don’t often post recipes without testing them more than once, but this was such a great, easy preparation, I just had to. Well, that and I wanted to gloat, because guess what:
They ate the spinach (and the chickpeas). Two nights in a row, thank you very much. I served it on top of plain rice alongside this Moroccan Shrimp with Yogurt (which the Hungry Boys also loved; it worked great with the Indian flavors of my spinach) from Jenny’s Top 10 Quick Dinners list at Dinner: A Love Story.
Honestly, all together, it was a perfect meal and it came together in all of 20 minutes. Try it if you’re looking for a win, too.
Quick Indian-Style Spinach and Chickpeas
(can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
2 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, defrosted
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/2-3/4 teaspoons minced (or grated) fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Combine spinach (don’t include any water that’s drained out of the spinach, but you don’t need to squeeze the spinach either) and your preferred broth in a powerful blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Set spinach puree aside.
2. Heat butter in a medium pan over medium-low heat. As soon as it melts, add the ginger (1/2 teaspoon for a more mild ginger flavor; I use 3/4 teaspoon for a stronger flavor) and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garam masala, cumin, coriander and curry powder. Toast the spices for 3-4 minutes, until they are fragrant and take on a deep color. If the garlic begins to brown or the spices darken quickly, lower your heat. This is a gentle process to ensure that your ground spices release their oils and keep from imparting a powdery flavor. (This dish will taste significantly better when made with fresh spices.)
3. Add spinach puree to the pan, along with the lemon juice. Cook for about a minute, to bring the flavors together, then add the chickpeas. Continue cooking until the chickpeas are heated through and all of the watery liquid cooks down leaving a puree (with a consistency like baby food). Add more broth if you end up needing to make adjustments to the consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Suggestion: serve with rice.
*Note: Be sure to mash or puree the chickpeas into the spinach for babies not yet managing larger chunks.