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There was a time when, left to my own devices, I'd try to compose each and every dinner out of a ballooning number of vegetable sides: These recipes were sexy, and enticing, and, ultimately, unsatisfying.
I'd spend hours filling the table with cabbage e pepe, marinated zucchini, braised asparagus galore, and muhammara, only to realize that it was close to midnight, every pan in my apartment was dirty, and I was snacking on tortilla chips. (And to put this all in the past tense is a little dishonest.)
And yet, in an effort to be more accepting of the fact that there are, indeed, only twenty-four hours in a day (and only so much dish soap in my kitchen), I've embarked on a never-ending search for substantive vegetarian dinners that (and here comes the long list of requirements!)...
- I can start cooking at 8 PM
- keep me contentedly full until bedtime
- taste good (this is a "duh," and a must)
- leave as few dishes dirty as possible
- are ready in under 30 minutes
- feel seasonable and pantry-appropriate
- are not always pasta-based
- do not require a gang of side dishes to complete the meal (bread, however, is permissible)
- reheat well the next day
I know I sound demanding (I am demanding! You, too?), but this recipe for creamy, spicy chickpeas and spinach—a take on the Indian chana saag that's inspired by Madhur Jaffrey's palak paneer in her 1981 book World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking—is proof that these meals exist. They do!
Once you have your garlic-ginger-chile paste prepped (and, hint, you don't have to use a blender or food processor—you could chop them very finely, then mash with water in a mortar and pestle, or even just stir the water and minced vegetables together), all you need to do is wilt spinach, dump in a couple cans of chickpeas, add a few tablespoons of cream, temper spices in hot oil, and you're done.
- One 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 serrano or other hot green chile, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup canola oil plus 1 tablespoon, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach (or two 9-ounce packages frozen spinach, cooked according to the package and drained)
- Kosher salt
- Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 4 tablespoons cream, divided
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
It's incredibly flavorful without asking that you rummage through the spice cabinet; it needn't be accompanied by a posse of starches or proteins to become a balanced dinner (though rice, or bread, or a swoosh of cucumber-flecked yogurt across the plate would be welcome); it's easily turned vegan (sub coconut milk for heavy cream, then top with toasted coconut flakes); and you can use frozen spinach instead of fresh. Popeye would love it!
Can you tell I've got my eyes closed and both hands raised in the air? That I'm nodding my head enthusiastically? Give this a try and I think you'll be right there with me.
Other recipes that meet the Vegetarian Weeknight Winner requirements:
What vegetarian weeknight dinners would you add to this list? Tell me in the comments below! I need your help.