last winter, my husband and i attended a friend’s wedding celebration at barcelona wine bar, which is a spanish tapas restaurant in boston (there are a few other locations too). among the many, many dishes that were set down on the table for us to enjoy was an unassuming little casserole dish that looked to contain chick peas and spinach.
it was absolutely one of those dishes that you look at and, faced with so many choices on the table, nearly skip over in favor of something more “interesting”. after all, how good could chick peas and spinach possibly taste, compared to piles of cheese and fried thingies? i mean, i love chick peas more than the average person, but you should have seen the other plates that were being laid out in front of us.
anyway, i’m super glad i didn’t make the mistake of taking a pass on these particular chick peas and spinach, though. because, in addition to the chick peas and spinach, that little casserole dish was jam packed with… magic. chick peas + spinach + magic.
magic came, in this case, in the form of lots of garlic and cumin (which, come to think of it, is a pretty common form for magic to take). the dish was really flavorful (see: garlic and cumin), just the right temperature (slightly warm), and had this great texture that resulted from some of the chick peas being mashed, some remaining whole, and then the whole delicious mess being served on crusty bread. my mouth is watering again now just thinking about it, and we ate it back in december.
fast forward to recently when i finally found time to tinker in the kitchen and try to recreate this recipe. my first stop was, of course, the interwebs and, i don’t know why, but i was really surprised to find out that this is a totally standard tapas recipe, “garbanzos con espinacas”. which meant that i had plenty of recipe variations to start from.
it seemed that the first major decision was bread or no bread. some of the recipes instruct you to mash bread into the mixture to thicken it. i immediately discarded that idea as i didn’t really remember that being the case with the version at barcelona and i figured mashed chick peas would be better to thicken the mixture while keeping the ingredients simple (and gluten free, depending on how you serve it).
once that decision was made, i just picked the recipe that seemed most similar to the flavors i remembered, then increased the garlic and cumin. i mean, i basically always do that, but this time felt extra justified in indulging my preference for all the garlic! from there, it was just tinkering to figure out how much liquid to add and which other flavors added vs. competed (lemon juice: good; red wine vinegar and smoked paprika: approach sparingly, if at all).
now that i’ve figured out how to recreate this tapas dish at home, i see a lot of simple, chick pea and spinach dinners in our future…
- 30 oz. (850 g.) canned (low sodium) chickpeas, drained with canning liquid retained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 12 oz. (340 g.) spinach, washed and roughly chopped, if it’s not baby spinach
- 1 onion, thinly sliced into half moons
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup / 118 ml) canned plain (no salt added) tomato sauce
- 9 garlic cloves, peeled, end bits trimmed, and whole
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1 – 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- juice of 1 lemon
- crusty bread, for serving
- add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large saucepan and heat over medium. once the oil is hot, swirl the oil around to coat the pan then add the spinach and immediately stir well, making sure to scrape any leaves off the bottom of the pot. fold the wilted leaves from the bottom onto the top of the pile to help wrangle the large pile; it will cook down quickly. once the spinach is tender, remove from pan and set aside.
- using the same pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-low. once hot, add the onion and whole garlic cloves. cook for about 3 minutes, until the onions and garlic are softened. add the cumin seeds and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring frequently, for 1 – 2 minutes until the cumin smells amazing.
- transfer half of the onion/garlic mixture, including all of the garlic cloves, and the vinegar to a food processor, and pulse to a paste. add half of the chick peas and 2 tablespoons of their canning liquid, then pulse to break up the chick peas; you won’t get anything resembling hummus texture but you want them mostly mashed.
- return the mixture to the pan, heat over medium, and add the remaining drained chickpeas, tomato sauce, and spinach. cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is hot all the way through.
- if the consistency is a too thick, add a little bit more chick pea liquid, a tablespoon or two at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice. serve warm with crusty bread.