Indian-style spinach with curry meatballs
One of the many small pleasures of cooking, for me, is the opportunity to tailor the bill of fare to the seasons, taking advantage of whatever's appropriate, fresh and available at any time of year. For everything there is a season, from wild mushrooms in the spring to ripe, juicy garden tomatoes in the heat of summer; returning to bread baking and roasts when autumn brings chilly nights, and hailing holidays with traditional dishes.
Right now it's spinach, and we've got a ton of it. I love the stuff, and particularly after last winter's contamination scare when it all but disappeared from the market, I'm almost needy about buying it, or picking it, every chance I get. Naturally I've been delighted to have a garden full, at least for the too-short season.
But even with foods I love, after a while you start looking around for different and interesting new ways to prepare it. And so it is with spinach, which brings us to today's topic, the second week in a row in which I come up with an offbeat variation on spinach.
Last week I gave it a Japanese accent with soy and tofu (and a little delicious crispy bacon). This week's creation is Indian-style, based on a spinach-and-yogurt blend lent flavor interest with a blend of aromatic spices. I made it a meal by combining it with small, curry-scented meatballs, and include both recipes below; if you wish a vegetarian alternative, though, feel free to omit the meatballs and enjoy the greens.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
FOR THE SPINACH:
1-2 bunches fresh spinach leaves or enough to fill a large mixing bowl
3 tablespoons (45ml) peanut oil
1 teaspoon (5g) black or brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 or 2 sprigs fresh peppermint leaves
3/4 cup (180g) yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
FOR THE MEATBALLS:
8 ounces quality ground beef
4-6 individual saltine crackers
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2-inch length fresh ginger root
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons Madras or other good Indian curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
Dash Sriracha sauce or other Asian hot sauce
FOR THE SPINACH
1. Cut or tear the spinach leaves into large chunks and wash them well. Shake dry or, better yet, dry in a salad spinner.
2. Heat the peanut oil over a medium-high flame in a good-size skillet or saute pan. Put in the mustard seeds and the dried red-pepper flakes and fry them until the seeds start to pop.
3. Put all the spinach into the skillet and saute it, stirring constantly, just until it wilts. Sprinkle on the turmeric, stir, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and continue to cook for 5 minutes or so until the spinach is fully cooked but still fresh green in color. Don't overcook.
4. While the spinach is cooking, slice the mint leaves into a very fine chiffonade. Remove the spinach from heat and stir in the mint, the yogurt and, just before serving, the lemon juice. Serve with the meatballs, if using, and steaming white rice.
FOR THE MEATBALLS
1. Although I'm listing the meatball ingredients and procedure second since they're optional, I suggest making them first, as they'll keep well in a warm place while you're making the spinach. First, put the ground beef in a mixing bowl and separate it lightly with a fork. You'll want to handle the meat as little as possible to keep the meatballs light. I urge using the best ground beef available. I used locally raised natural grass-fed beef sold at a seasonal produce market. The flavor payoff is significant.
2. Crush the saltines into a fine powder, using your hands or, ideally, a food processor. Mix it gently in with the meat.
3. Peel the garlic and ginger and mince both fine. Cook them in 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until they're translucent and aromatic, removing from the fire before they brown. Allow to cool somewhat.
4. Stir the garlic and ginger with their oil into the meat, add the soy sauce, and season it with the Sriracha sauce, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix gently but well, and form the meat into about 18 or 20 small balls.
5. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of peanut oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and brown the meatballs, turning them frequently just until browned, about 5 minutes. Don't overcook, as they're best still a little juicy and pink at the centers.
6. Keep warm, and serve with the spinach.
<B>MATCHING WINE:</B> I had an Austrian Grüner Veltliner in mind when I came up with this dish, and it went well. A good Riesling with just a touch of sweetness would also go well, and the beef could certainly support a red such as a Beaujolais or lighter-style Pinot Noir.
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