Monday, February 28, 2011

Smoky Saucy Chickpeas with Spinach

We were eating dinner with friends on Friday, and their son sighed and said, "I love beans. If I could, I'd eat beans every night." I watched Ben and Birdy to see if their pleasant good natures would crack open to emit a geyser of steaming culinary rage and boredom: "Are you crazy? We eat beans every single night! And it totally sucks!" But no. Just a mild: "Wow, you should come live with us, then!" Indeed. We eat a lot of beans. And by "a lot" I mean: a lot. Especially since I got my pressure cooker, which has turned the cooking of dried beans from a maddening exercise in eternity and hard-hearted chalkiness into a few thrilling minutes of steam and tender perfection. If you eat a lot of beans, I simply cannot recommend enough that you get a pressure cooker. (And, as always, if you have any questions about pressure cooking or the buying of a pressure cooker, please feel free to write me. My second career as a pro-bono pressure-cooker consultant is really taking off!)

The thing is, we eat beans in some form or other--with rice, in burritos, as soup, or just the beans themselves in shallow bowls with grated cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a lime wedge--more nights than we don't. Pintos, black beans, lentils, limas--and, of course, garbanzos, or "butt peas," as we have been known to call them. And these are not typically meals that very readily lend themselves to recipes here, as they are not really recipes at all. Cook a pound of pintos. Season them really well with salt. Serve in bowls with tortilla chips, shredded cabbage, and Smoked Tabasco. But this, below, is an actual recipe that I have been making on and off since Birdy was a baby--which is when I got my first tin of smoked paprika. Back then you had to order it from a specialty food company, and then wait for it to arrive by carrier pigeon--but now I feel totally unapologetic requiring that you use smoked paprika in this recipe because you can buy it at the supermarket! From friendly, regular old McCormick's! If you try making it without the smoked paprika, it will be very good, still--tangy, rich, and delightfully nutrient-dense--but it will be missing that flash of barbeque-hued excitement that tricks your taste buds into thinking they might be eating bacon. In other words, you will know you're eating chickpeas, which are perfectly tasty. But.

Smoky Saucy Chickpeas with Spinach
Serves 4-8
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 30 minutes (canned or pressure cooked beans) to 4 hours (dried beans cooked in a regular pot)

This recipe is adapted from in Paula Wolfert's recipe "Chickpea and Spinach Stew with Spanish Paprika" from the delightful cookbook Mediterranean Grains and Greeens, which I love to look at, but confess to not having cooked from a great deal. I admit that the difference between using to 15-ounce cans of cooked chickpeas and 1 pound dried is significant: the former will be saucier and spinachier, while the latter will be way garbanzoier. If you like, use 2/3 of the cooked peas for the stew, and save the rest for hummus. I used to serve this over couscous or brown rice, but right now I'm in a phase of serving it plain alongside hunks of fresh, buttered bread. It is delicious.

1 onion, finely chopped           
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 bay leaf
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained, or 1 1/2 cups dried, cooked
4 packed cups baby spinach (or, honestly, some or much more than this to tip the balance towards the spinach side of things)
More olive oil

If you're starting with dried chickpeas, soak and cook them until tender. In a pressure cooker, add a generous amount of salt and give them 14 minutes, then allow the steam to release naturally. In a pot, be sure to muster a generous attitude towards the peas and their stubborn desire to not be soft. Either way, pop in a bay leaf or two while they're cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium-low heat and sauté the onion with the salt, stirring occasionally and then more often as it starts to brown, until it's browning and soft, 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute, then stir in the smoked paprika and sauté until just fragrant, a few seconds. Add the tomato sauce, sherry vinegar, and bay leaf, taste for salt (you'll likely want to add another 1/2-1 teaspoon) then stir in the drained chickpeas and cook until the flavors are well blended--around ten minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and incorporated, 2 or 3 minutes. Taste for salt and vinegar--it should be lip-smacking in its tangy goodness--drizzle in another splash or two of olive oil, and serve.  

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