Meatless Monday: Trini Spini

I was the proud owner of an oversized bag of just-picked spinach, one of the many locally harvested treats I picked up on Thursday at a Seattle farm market. While driving home, though, I experienced a bit of buyer's remorse, wondering if my schedule over the next few days would allow for spinach time. After all, Fourth of July was already spoken for, and I worried if my beautiful bag of leafy greens would hold out until Sunday. (Thankfully, she did.)

(Kim O'Donnel)

I was in the mood for a new take (or at least new to me) on America's beloved green veg, but as I thought about you and our weekly meatless meeting, I knew it needed to be simple -- in both preparation and personality. It needed to be quick, too, even if cooked, and it needed to be flexible enough to pair up with a variety of grains and other sides.

Like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the answer to my kitchen prayer fell into my lap, as I turned onto page 230 of "World Vegetarian" by cookbook maven Madhur Jaffrey. The far eastern Caribbean island of Trinidad is the inspiration for Spinach Bhaji, possibly the best wilted spinach that has ever passed my lips.

I love the efficiency of this dish. Onions, garlic and chiles fry up in oil and serve as the flavor foundation. The greens come next, with plenty of salt, which wilt (and steam) under cover. No extra liquid is needed, and as the spinach water is released, it creates its own stock with the aromatics. When the lid comes off, the cooking liquid is forced to evaporate, which of course, transforms the spinach into the most magnificent flavor-sucker-upper.

Pairing possibilities are many -- rice, red lentils (which cook in about 25 minutes), quinoa, a fried egg or all by its lonesome. Mister MA and I lapped up every last morsel.

"Can we make this one part of our regular repertoire?" he asked, while working on his second helping. (How's that for an endorsement?)

Run, don’t walk, and make this one tonight!

This week marks the last supper for A Mighty Appetite. My final installment will be Friday, July 10. For details on where to find me next week and beyond, e-mail me.

Spinach Bhaji
Adapted from "World Vegetarian" by Madhur Jaffrey

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-2 hot red or green chiles, seeded and very finely chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and very finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
3 pounds spinach, stemmed and chopped (KOD: I had about 1.5 pounds on hand)
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (KOD: For 1.5 pounds spinach, I used a scant teaspoon salt)

In a large, wide skillet or pot (KOD: I used my wok), add oil over medium-high heat. When very hot, add chile, onions and garlic. Saute until onions are soft and slightly golden, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add spinach and salt. With a pair of tongs, coat spinach with sauteed aromatics, turn down heat to medium and cover, allowing spinach to wilt. Cook for at least 15 minutes. Uncover and stir. Cook, uncovered, until almost no liquid is left at bottom of pan, up to 10 minutes. Turn up head if necessary to help water evaporate.

Makes about 6 servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 6, 2009; 9:30 AM ET Meatless Monday
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oh my gosh! i make something similar w/out even knowing of this Trinidadian recipe. I use soy sauce, garlic, almonds and crushed red pepper! It's amazing! Ooh, thanks for reminding me of my own spinach, considering I just bought a bag last night! :)

Posted by: FlanBoyantEats | July 6, 2009 11:17 AM

So sorry to see you go! First Froomkin, now this.

With regards to the recipe, sounds great. I can use it with some ultra-local chili peppers (my first harvest from the pateo garden).


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 6, 2009 12:53 PM


This looks great!! I'm making it at a friend's house tonight to try it out. He doesn't cook much & I don't know how well-stocked his kitchen is. I don't know if he'll have vegetable oil -- it's possible all he has is olive oil. Would that be a problem or should I bring some veg oil with me to be sure?


Posted by: lindy47 | July 7, 2009 10:32 AM

As a half-Trini, I was drawn to this post. My father has always referred to bhagi as the leaf itself. For him growing up, it was most likely dasheen leaf, but in this country spinach is the usual ingredient. In other words, the term "spinach bhagi" would seem redundant to us. Thank you for posting this recipe. It reminds me how much I will miss your blog and your willingness to explore other cultures' cuisines and to share them with your readers.

Posted by: onthewaterfront | July 8, 2009 10:51 PM

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