I’m absolutely in love with Turkish cuisine. If you’ve never had the pleasure of a börek, gözleme, or İmam bayıldı, my heart goes out to you. On the other hand, many Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dishes cross cultures, so if you’ve ever tried Greek, Armenian, Persian, or Lebanese food, then you have a good idea what Turkish food is like. I have been lucky enough to travel to Turkey a few times now and each time I go, I learn a few new recipes. One recipe that has been a major staple in my kitchen is a delightful olive oil side dish made from fresh spinach and rice. As far as I know, it’s simply called ıspanak (Turkish for spinach). Ispanak is traditionally served cold but is equally good hot, served straight from the pan.
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
1/2 lb Pre-washed baby spinach
1/4 white or yellow onion, finely chopped
Small handful or less of brown or Jasmine rice
Heaping spoonful of tomato paste
Salt to taste
I have an issue with opposing textures. Spinach stems never get quite as wilted as the leaves and I’m not a fan of the surprise change in texture. So to deal with this, I cut the stems off with a pair of scissors. This can take a while to get through, but for me, it’s worth it. If the stems don’t bother you, just skip this crazy step. 🙂
Once the spinach is acceptable, I cook it with about a half cup of water just until it wilts. From here, I normally add in half a handful of Jasmine rice. Today, I used brown rice, which takes about twice as long to cook. If you use regular white or Jasmine rice, go ahead and throw that in with the newly wilted spinach. If you’re planning to use brown rice, I highly suggest cooking it a little ahead of time (I’d say maybe 10-15 minutes before starting the spinach). Next, put your stove on low heat and cover the pan with a lid. Be sure to keep enough water in the pan to cook the rice and stir occasionally. While your spinach and rice steam, cut a white or yellow onion.
Hot tip: I’ve found that onions are much easier to chop if you keep them refrigerated (no tears).
For about a half pound of spinach, I would recommend a little less than a handful of finely chopped onions (really depends on your preference). On a separate pan, saute the onions with extra virgin olive oil. Once the onions have become transparent, add a heaping spoonful of tomato paste and mix. Pour the mixture in with the spinach and rice, then recover.
Note: Olive oil, onion, and tomato paste are the base for many Turkish dishes.
To be honest, I’ve never really paid too much attention to how long this side dish takes to make. Depending on the type of rice you use, I would say between 20 to 40 minutes. I know it’s ready when the rice is fully cooked and the water is almost completely incorporated. It’s something I learned just by doing.
And here’s the final product…
Maybe not the most photogenic, but trust me, it’s great! To take this to the next level, top with some garlic yogurt (finely chopped garlic, Greek yogurt, and a splash of water, mixed) and serve with toasted bread. Turks love to dip (and really who doesn’t?)