First off, this dish is not called “spinach and chickpeas”, it is espinacas con garbanzos. Don’t you agree? “Spinach and chickpeas” is something you eat because you should — it is healthy and you aspire to be. Espinacas con garbanzos is something you eat because it sounds sexy, and doesn’t taste half bad either. It’s hearty and smoky with a little kick, you eat it on little fried bread toasts at a tapas bar in Spain.
Or, you know, in New York City on another brutally rainy March night. My friend Ang had a tapas pot-luck last Friday (the baby ditched us for a better party at his grandparents house) and, yes, I brought a Spanish dish to a Spanish party that did not include a single format of pork. Wild! Hey, I figured others would have the chorizos and jamón serranos covered. Me, I wanted some Spanish comfort food. I’d tried a version of this dish a few years ago, thanks to the sweet nudging of Ximena at Lobstersquad and instantly loved it. It sounds like it would be too simple to hold your interest, perhaps something you’d eat because you “ought” to, but it tastes like something you’ll crave again and again.
To make the dish, I used a blend of Ximena’s recipe and the fancier restaurant version in Moro: The Cookbook, a book I am going to confess that I cannot open very often because I immediately want to make every single thing in it right that very second and this crashes into the reality of being pressed for time and the longing, it is actually painful. No, I am not being melodramatic: Feta Salad with Spinach, Crispbread, Sumac and Pinenuts! Chestnut and Chorizo Soup! Seared Sirloin Salad with Barley and Grapes! And let’s not forgot that these are the same folks behind one of my favorite dishes on earth, this Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing. Do you get it now? Sigh.
I have digressed again. Good food distracts me like that. I think you’ll really like this dish.
One of the reason I blended recipes was because I wanted the approachability of Ximena’s version but also some of the extras in Moro’s — the vinegar, paprika and the fried bread, mashed to a paste. Except, in hindsight, I think I’d also enjoy this recipe without the bread. It would be a bit thinner and saucier and possibly harder to slop onto a piece of toast, but also a bit lighter — in weight, not just calories. If you’re bread-averse or think you’d enjoy it without the crumbs in the sauce, give it a spin and let us know how it goes.
Tomato sauce, by the way, is emphatically not traditional in this dish but after making Ximena’s version with it — she says “you don’t have to use tomato in this recipe, but it’s so much better with it” — I can’t have it any other way.
Last note: This recipe is flexible. If you end up with a little less spinach or a little more sauce, or if you want it with a little less this or a little more that, so be it. Enjoy it. Have fun with it.
1/2 pound (230 grams) dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender* or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound (450 grams) spinach, washed
A hefty 1-inch slice from a country loaf or about 2 slices from sandwich loaf bread (2.5 ounces or 75 grams), crusts removed and cut inset small cubes
1/2 cup (4 ounces) tomato sauce (I used canned stuff I keep around)
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, to taste
Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil. When it is hot, add the spinach with a pinch of salt (in batches, if necessary) and stir well. Remove when the leaves are just tender, drain in a colander and set aside.
Heat 2 more tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the bread for about 5 minutes or until golden brown all over, then the remaining tablespoon of oil and the garlic, cumin and pepper. Cook for 1 minute more or until the garlic is nutty brown.
Transfer to a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle along with the vinegar, and mash to a paste. Return the mixture to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce. Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot. Season with salt and pepper.
If the consistency is a little thick, add some water. Add the spinach and cook until it is hot. Check for seasoning and serve with paprika on top, or on fried bread toasts (as the Spanish do).
* I make all of my dried beans in the slow-cooker these days. They are perfect every time, and the flavor of fresh beans — even the sad-looking ones from grocery store bins I used — is incomparable. No presoaking, just cover them 2 to 3 inches of water and cook them 3 hours on high. (I have learned that cooking time can vary widely in slow-cookers so allot more time than you might need. I often make mine in the day or days before and let them cool in their cooking water, which is then by then very flavorful.)