With autumn, it’s time to pull out the coats and organize closets and refresh the pantry shelves. Out go the dusty spices and weary dried herbs.
To replenish their jars, I stroll the bulk bins at the co-op for cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, clove, ginger, paprika, dried chiles, plus oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme. It’s like an aromatic holiday.
With just a few of these warm spices, even the most mundane ingredient gets a lift.
Take spinach. This year’s fall crop is bountiful, but quite different from the spring’s tender, mild greens. Fall spinach has matured to be thicker, a bit tough and flinty-tasting when eaten raw. When cooked, it turns silky and mellow as heat tempers that mineral flavor. It’s especially delicious with plenty of garlic, red pepper flakes and the tang of lemon or vinegar.
The best autumn spinach is the one that’s been grown close to home and freshly harvested. Find it at our farmers markets and food co-ops sold in bundles rather than bags, preferably with the little pink “crowns” that attach the leaves to the root. It may be dirty, but given a short soak in cold water, it’s very easy to clean.
When shopping for spinach as with any green, look for bundles of brightly colored leaves that are not limp or wilted. Store spinach in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and enjoy it within a couple of days. Two pounds or a bit more is just right for four people (it shrinks a great deal in the pot).
When braising fall spinach, there’s really no need to remove the stems because once chopped they will soften as they cook.
Braised spinach makes a wonderful side dish to roast chicken that’s been seasoned with similar flavors.
For a vegetarian meal, toss chickpeas into the pan with the spinach and serve over brown rice. Stir leftovers into scrambled eggs, spoon on top of baked potatoes or onto an open-faced toasted chèvre sandwich.
Braised spinach is delicious served warm or at room temperature on a harvest buffet. I like it best crowned with a dollop of rich, thick, whole-milk Greek yogurt and a hunk of warm sourdough bread, a perfect dinner for one on a cold fall evening.
Braised Spinach With Persian Spices
Note: This simple recipe is delicious with kale or chard or a mix of all three greens. You can vary the flavors by substituting cardamom, cumin and ginger for the za’atar. Find za’atar with spices at many supermarkets (it’s become mainstream) or at specialty shops. To substitute for za’atar, mix together 1 teaspoon dry thyme, 1 teaspoon dried sumac, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds. To toast walnuts, spread the nuts out onto a baking sheet and toast in a preheated 350-degree oven until they begin to brown and smell toasty, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove, cool, chop. Serve the spinach garnished with a dollop of whole-milk Greek yogurt on a harvest buffet. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 lb. fresh spinach
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
•1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
• 8 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tbsp. za’atar, or more to taste (see Note)
• 1/4 c. chopped fresh mint
• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• Generous pinch of red pepper flakes to taste
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1/4 c. toasted, chopped walnuts (see Note)
Rinse the spinach in a bowl of cold water and thoroughly drain. Trim off any roots from the stem ends. Coarsely chop the leaves.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent and soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spinach, cover, lower the heat and cook until the spinach is very tender, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the za’atar, mint and lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve garnished with the walnuts.
Nutrition information per serving:
Fat 13 g
Sodium 290 mg
Carbohydrates 15 g
Saturated fat 2 g
Total sugars 3 g
Protein 9 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Dietary fiber 7 g
Exchanges per serving: 3 vegetable, 2 ½ fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.