Meatless Monday: Spring Into Spinach 'n' Rice
It is precisely at this time of year when we all could use a burst of green -- both on the front lawn and on our dinner plates. At long last, Mother Nature has opened the gates of spring, but we all know from experience that the early weeks of the new season can be downright moody, with one foot breaking ground in the vegetable garden while the other is still in need of woolies.
Before the farm market debut of asparagus, which most home cooks associate with spring, there’s a parade of greens -- watercress, nettles, Russian baby kale, and maybe the first bit of spinach, depending on where you live. The days are longer, but the nights are still plenty cool, which heartier greens enjoy.
Here at the Casa, I’m still on the prowl for supper mains to warm the belly as I incorporate flecks of green and other harbingers of spring. Thanks to “The Greek Vegetarian” by Greek cooking all-star Diane Kochilas, I’m all set while I ride out the seasonal transition. Her version for the Greek classic spanakorizo (spinach and rice pilaf) is just the thing for this time of year -- bright and full of promise yet hearty enough for those cool eves. I liken it to a Greek risotto, creamy and starchy but without the constant stirring of its Italian counterpart.
Start to finish, you need just about an hour; it's about 45 minutes with a cooking partner. There is nothing complicated about this dish, and as you’ll see in my recipe notes, it’s quite forgiving, allowing for a fair amount of substitutions and adjustments. Best of all, the flavors are bright as a daffodil, a reminder that we’ll be eating outdoors in no time.
Spinach and Rice Pilaf (Spanakorizo)
Adapted from “The Greek Vegetarian” by Diane Kochilas
½ cup olive oil (KOD: You may not need all of this)
2 large red onions, finely chopped (KOD: I used what I had on hand, a mix of yellow and red onions)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 cup basmati rice (KOD: I substituted jasmine rice)
1 pound fresh spinach, trimmed and coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup chopped fresh dill
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Strained juice of 1 lemon
¼ pound hard feta (KOD: If you can't something on the hard side, don't fret.)
In a large casserole or stew pot, heat ¼ cup of olive oil and cook onions and garlic over medium-low heat for 10-12 minutes, until onions are soft and wilted. Do not brown. Add rice and stir, 1-2 minutes.
Add spinach in batches of about 2 cups, tossing (and coating) after each addition, waiting a few minutes for each batch to wilt and shrink a little so that it all fits in the pot. Season with salt.
Add 1 cup of water. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes (KOD: For me, it was closer to 30 minutes), stirring occasionally, adding more water if necessary to keep mixture moist. Add dill and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 20 minutes (KOD: maybe even less time), or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the spinach-rice pilaf is smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, the add lemon juice and remaining olive oil (KOD: I used only a portion).
Spread spanakorizo on a platter. Using a vegetable peeler, shave feta on top. (KOD: I used a small box grater) Serve either warm or at room temperature.
Makes four servings.
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