By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
I might not have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself: kids digging into spinach, as in the classic Spanish tapas dish of spinach and chickpeas.
I'm just guessing, but perhaps what stimulated their appetites was the aroma of bread and garlic browning together in olive oil. Or maybe it was all those herbs and spices: thyme, oregano, rosemary, paprika, cumin.
In any case, I am making a mental note of this dish as one that demonstrates how eagerly children will embrace vegetables when they are prepared with some creativity. It also helps to be in a fairly small class setting, where the kids get to do all kinds of prep work with their hands, like pulling tough stems off the spinach leaves, cutting the crusts off bread, chopping cooked spinach and mixing all those herbs and spices.
No tapas menu would be complete without some sort of pairing of spinach and chickpeas and this one is especially aromatic. Start by removing the tough stems from 10 ounces of fresh spinach leaves (I suppose you could use frozen spinach if you had to), then wash the spinach in a colander and shake off the excess water. Slide the still-moist spinach leaves into a heavy skillet over moderate heat, cover, and steam the spinach until it is cooked through and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the spinach to a cutting board, chop fine and set aside.
Meanwhile, remove the crust from a thin slice of rustic bread--1 or 2 ounces worth. Smash two large cloves of garlic and remove the skin. Place the bread and garlic in a skillet generously greased with extra virgin olive oil and cook over moderate heat until the bread and garlic are golden brown, turning as needed. Place the garlic and bread in a mortar and season with 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar. Pound into a rough paste. Alternatively, chop the bread and garlic fine on a cutting board as we did and smash it together with the side of a chef's knife. (You could also do this in a food processor.)
In a bowl, mix the chopped spinach with the bread paste and add 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (or 1/2 14-ounce can chickpeas).
In a separate bowl, mix together 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves), 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves), 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary leaves. Stir this into the spinach mix and season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Scrape the finished vegetables into a hot skillet greased with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, reduce heat, cover and cook gently for a few minutes until heated through.
Add more olive oil as needed to make the vegetables smile, then serve warm or at room temperature.