Of all the vegetables on this big blue orb, the leafy greens are my favorites. So versatile, so delicious, and undeniably good-for-you, greens win. Dear sweet corn of the heartland, I love you dearly, but nutritionally, you just can’t compete with your chlorophyllic counterparts kale, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, arugula... I could go on and on.
But as much as I love the greenies, it’s easy to get in a culinary rut. When I discover something I like, I make it over and over until I can’t stand it anymore, stop eating it for a while, then rediscover it and start the cycle again. Kale sautéed in garlic, broccoli with pasta and tomato sauce, and spinach salad are on the out right now. Enter some forced inspiration.
A group of friends gathers for a monthly potluck; the hostess chooses the theme. For June, our dishes were to be Mediterranean influenced. Easy. I had just gotten a cartload of grape leaves from the CSA. But somehow rolling 36 grape leaves seemed too easy. The Mediterranean is a pretty big sea with countries on either side.
I wanted to stretch a little, use some spices I don’t normally use, but I also wanted to keep it simple: veggies, beans, or grains. My only other rule for the recipe was to use as many items from my pantry as possible.
The International Vegetarian Union website has an extensive recipe section divided by continent. In the Africa section, I found my heart’s desire: Tunisian-style Greens and Beans and Garbanzos and Swiss Chard in the Style of Tunisian Sahel. (I also chose an Egyptian version of stuffed grape leaves, since I needed to use those bad boys up, but we’ll talk about that another time.) The two Swiss chard recipes are nearly identical but for two important factors; the first one has simpler instructions and the second one calls for one small dried chili. La la la la lightbulb!
The other week, going through my cupboards, I wondered if I would ever use the giant bag of dried chilis a friend of mine gave me when she cleaned out her cupboards before moving to Wyoming. It’s been staring at me for almost a year. The bag of chilis lives in on a shelf with a bunch of other spices I hardly ever use, including coriander, a key ingredient in the Tunisian dish.
The only thing I needed to buy was the Swiss chard and the garbanzo beans. I’d just made hummus and used up the two cans I had in my pantry. Since I was cooking for 12 or so people, I tripled the recipe, but I’ve since made it again (the cycle continues) with more reasonable quantities and only a few adjustments from what you’ll find on the website.
For the most part, I followed the first recipe, reducing the oil, substituting the red pepper flakes for the small dried chili (woot!), and increasing most of the amounts by 1/2 to accommodate a whole can of garbanzos. The original recipe calls for one cup of beans, but a can equals about a cup and a half.
And depending what is in your fridge or at your local market, almost any green would work with this dish. Collards would be a little tough and need some extra cooking, but kale, turnip, or mustard greens would fit the bill nicely. Spinach would also be good, but it’s not as sturdy as the others. If you use it, be prepared for it to cook down quite a bit.
Timesaving Tip from Nurse Dale*: Mince** two or three bulbs of garlic at a time and freeze the garlic in an ice cube tray wrapped in plastic wrap. Then just pop out a cube whenever you need one. Brilliant!
*The nurse at my doctor’s office. We had a lovely chat about herbs the last time I was in for a check up.
**I use a mini food processor.
Tunisian-style Greens and Beans
Yields 3 1-cup servings–main
Yields 6 1/2-cup servings–side
Adapted from the International Vegetarian Union.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used two frozen garlic cubes, and it worked like a charm.)
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 sm dried chili, chopped (or ¼ tsp red pepper flakes)
6 cups chopped Swiss chard
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes with juices (I used fresh, but canned works just as well.)
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
approx. 1/2 cup bean cooking water
1) Wash and remove stems from Swiss chard. Tear into pieces.
2) Slice onion, mince garlic, and chop tomatoes.
3) Mince chili pepper.
1) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is soft, stirring occasionally.
2) Add salt, coriander, and chili flakes (if using). Stir.
3) Add greens. Stir. It’s okay if they are still wet from washing. Cook a few minutes, until greens have wilted, stirring occasionally.
4) Add tomatoes, beans, and a little bean water. Simmer 10 or 15 minutes. "The finished dish should be a little saucy, but not soupy." If necessary, you can pour in more bean water and/or regular water to get it to the consistency you like.
Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
260 calories, 7.4g fat, $1.41 per serving as main dish
130 calories, 3.7g fat, $0.71 per serving as side dish
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil: 120 calories, 14g fat, $0.08
1 medium onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
4 cloves garlic: 16 calories, 0 fat, $.05
6 cups fresh Swiss chard: 210 calories, .5g fat, $1.67
2 small dried chilis: 12 calories, .5g fat, $.04
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans w/water: 350 calories, 7g fat, $.89
1 1/2 chopped tomatoes: 33 calories, 0g fat, $.75
2 tsp coriander: negligible calories and fat, $0.04
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTALS: 781 calories, 22.2g fat, $4.22
PER SERVING: 260 calories, 7.4g fat, $1.41 (main dish)
130 calories, 3.7g fat, $0.71 (side dish)