Jan 26 2015

Fried Spinach (Isfānākh Mutajjan)

This week’s poll winner was Fried Spinach!

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A Bit of History

The name of this dish in Arabic is Isfānākh Mutajjan. My modern Arabic is weak and my Medieval Arabic knowledge is nonexistant, but it appears this is just the old term for Fried Spinach. In Modern Arabic, I believe it would be إسفاناخ المقلي, isfanakh al-mouqliy. (There’s another word for spinach that sounds a lot like the English word for spinach, as an aside.)

The recipe comes from A Baghdad Cookery Book, which is a translation of a 13th century cookbook. My version comes from Pleyn Delit.

Spinach was definitely prevalent throughout Europe, although it appears to have been primarily eaten by better-off folks, mostly in cities. We know it was in Spain by the 11th century — likely brought by the Moors — and likely spread from there. If you’d like more information, check out this website.

The Process

The recipe calls for two pounds (32 oz, nearly a kilo) of spinach. I only cook for one, so I cut that down to about four ounces (~115 grams). It seemed a reasonable adjustment, as 100 grams is a serving. This, of course, means adjusting everything down about ¼ – ⅛.

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First, I parboiled the spinach, per the recipe. This means dropping it in already-boiling water for 2-4 minutes. Since I had far less than the called-for amount of spinach, I opted to keep it closer to the two minute end of the range.

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I poured out the hot water and strained the spinach through a colander. The instructions said to press out the excess water. I wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve this, but then I came up with an improvisation that worked reasonably well.

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I used a ladle sieve to press down on the top and force out the excess water, then tipped the colander sideways to drain out the extra. It worked pretty well.

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Although you can see how it compressed all the spinach together. You can also see how much the spinach has reduced from the first photo of the post!

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I heated up the sesame seed oil in the wok. I’ll admit I did not measure out the amount, but instead just poured a little and eyed it based on my own experiences. If you’re not comfortable doing this, you can definitely just measure it!

IMG_2436.JPGAll the spices and additions lined up! The garlic felt like a requirement in the first place, so it was nice to see it on the list. The coriander and cumin were unsurprising, but tasty. It was the cinnamon I did not expect – but trusted the recipe, instead. We have been trained in our modern society that cinnamon is for desserts and sweet things – cinnamon sugar toast, cinnamon rolls, cinnamon in hot cocoa – that it can be hard to overcome that psychological barrier that perhaps it could go just fine on something savory.

I still am surprised that I was willing to try cinnamon and garlic together, but here we are. Leap of faith.

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I pulled apart the leaves of the spinach a bit before dropping them into the wok, in hopes they’d fry up a bit better. Once they’d been in a minute or two, I added the spices – a teaspoon of garlic, two shakes of coriander, two shakes of cumin, and a pinch of cinnamon.

Another minute or two and it looked done – cooked through and the garlic was just starting to brown a bit. I quickly removed the wok and served it onto a plate. I tried a quick bite and while it was tasty, it was a bit on the slimy side for my preferences.

Since the dish is Middle Eastern in origin (specifically from Medieval Iraq), I thought about how best to eat it all up.

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I quickly toasted up two pieces of bread – if I’d had pita, I’d have used that instead – and got some crumbled goat cheese out of the fridge. This was an excellent decision.

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I spread the spinach on the toast, put a bit of goat cheese on top, and was absolutely overjoyed. This is delicious and fast and a very tasty way to get a full serving of greens!

Final Thoughts

This is an excellent and quick recipe! Really tasty with a bit of goat cheese and toast in particular. Obviously, goat cheese takes it down from vegan to vegetarian, and regular toast or pita undoes its gluten-free status. I suspect it would be good on crackers, possibly even with some figs or fig jam.

The Recipe

  • 2 lbs (900 grams) spinach – regular or baby
  • 2-3 T sesame seed oil
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1/4 t each of coriander and cumin
  • pinch of cinnamon

Parboil spinach  in salted water for 2-4 minutes. Drain the water and press the spinach to ensure that you’ve got as much water out as you can manage. Heat up oil in wok or deep saucepan. Add spinach and stir for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the garlic and spices. After another minute or two, remove from heat and serve.

For variety, feel free to use as a side or find a vessel of some sort (bread, toast, etc.) and add a bit of goat cheese. Fig jam may be good with it, too.

Let me know if you try it at home! Let me know what you think – and any modifications you might have made. Enjoy!

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