Are you in the mood for some comfort food? Of course you are; it's January. In the interest of resolutions and energy, you might, however, be leaning towards something with vegetables — perhaps even a vegetarian dish? I have a proposal for you: Fresh baby spinach and chickpeas seared with ginger, garlic, and onion in a creamy coconut milk sauce, finished off with a healthy dash of lemon.
But it doesn't stop there. No — this spicy, tangy dish of greens was designed to be served over a sweet potato. Want to see how it looks when all put together? Here you go...
It's a mess of color and vegetables: Green, tender spinach draped over a big, hot sweet potato. (I roasted my potato in the oven for about an hour at 400°F.)
This isn't by any means an especially difficult or even original meal; there are scads of recipes out there for greens braised in coconut milk. I was looking for a very specific taste — hot and spicy, extra tangy, rich and sweet from the coconut milk — every sense and taste in the dish amped up to 11, so to speak. The stew itself is a quick one; I put it together in about 30 minutes. That is one benefit to using baby spinach, instead of the kale, collards, or turnip greens often called for in this kind of recipe. They need to cook longer or even be blanched in boiling water beforehand. The spinach cooks much faster (and wilts down tremendously; the 1 pound called for here will look huge before cooking!).
Poured over the sweet potato this is powerhouse vegan comfort food, with loads of flavor and solid sustenance from the chickpeas and sweet potato. I haven't tried freezing the braised greens yet, but I think it would make a great make-ahead and even freezer-friendly meal for winter eating.
Braised Coconut Spinach & Chickpeas with Lemon
serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side
2 teaspoons oil or ghee
1 small yellow onion
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger, from a 3-inch piece
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)
1 dried hot red pepper or dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 pound baby spinach
14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Whole roasted sweet potatoes
Cilantro leaves, to garnish
Toasted unsweetened coconut, to garnish
Heat the oil or ghee in a large, deep Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is beginning to brown. Add the garlic, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest and red pepper, if using. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the chickpeas and cook over high heat for a few minutes or until the chickpeas are beginning to turn golden and they are coated with the onion and garlic mixture.
Toss in the spinach, one handful at a time. This will take about 5 minutes; stir in a handful or two and wait for it to wilt down and make room in the pot before adding the next handful. When all the spinach has been stirred in, pour in the coconut milk and stir in the salt, ground ginger, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer then turn down the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the chickpeas are warm through. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, if necessary.
Serve hot over roasted sweet potatoes, with cilantro leaves and toasted unsweetened coconut to garnish.
Serving note: This is thick enough to eat on its own with a fork; it's not terribly soupy. But it's saucy enough to eat over pasta, rice, brown rice, quinoa, or another grain.
(Images: Faith Durand)