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Ladies and gentlemen, I love spinach.
Really love spinach.
To the point where I’ll happily buy the 2.5-pound “spinach pillow” sold at the local co-op and blow my way through it in a few days. It goes in everything — breakfast scrambles, oatmeal, salads and, like this recipe, beans and rice.
Of course, there are plenty of other leafy greens to love, which I also enjoy in abundance — kale, chard, bok choy, mustard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, collards…the list goes on. But one thing these other greens lack is the special ability of spinach to almost literally melt into a dish when cooked, an ability I’ve found is crucial to the taste and texture of certain Indian dishes.
I first discovered this when making the chana saag from the Forks Over Knives cookbook. It calls for two pounds, yes pounds, of spinach, which may sound like a lot until you consider just how much spinach cooks down. In this particular recipe, it simmers lightly in some nondairy milk along with the usual spices you find in vegan curry, some tomatoes and a good helping of chickpeas. The end result is something that can only be described as velvety. Other greens just don’t seem to do the same thing.
Hence why spinach was the green of choice for this recipe, although I’ll admit it was also somewhat inspired by the Coco Spinach Rice in The 30-Minute Vegan. Combined with brown rice and kidney beans, spiced with fresh ginger and hot curry powder and cooked in coconut milk until it’s just the right texture, spinach brings an infusion of green and a whole lot of nutrition to this bean and rice dish — including, it turns out, fuel for a healthier gut!
World’s Healthiest Foods gives a detailed breakdown of spinach nutrition, including:
- 987% daily value of vitamin K in one cup of cooked leaves
- High in the carotene precursors of vitamin A
- Good source of folate (as is most foliage!)
- Good source of minerals such as manganese, magnesium and iron
Research also suggests compounds called glycoglycerolipids, abundant in spinach, may protect against free radical damage in the lining of the gut. Why is this important? Damage can lead to inflammation, and an inflamed gut is an unhappy gut. Eating spinach may help keep inflammation at bay and promote healthy digestion, reducing the risk of diseases associated with a damaged gut lining.
Then, of course, you have the added bonus of beans, which, among other things, provide fiber to feed gut bacteria. I chose kidney beans here for two reasons: one, I’m a sucker for well-balanced colors and the dish needed something red, and two, they have a deeper and more earthy flavor than other bean varieties. This complements the light sweetness of the coconut milk and the heat from the curry spices.
(Just as a side note, you can go as mild or as hot as you like with the curry powder. I like the hot kind from Penzey’s, which delivers a lot of heat. If you’re using a milder mix, you might have to add a little more to get the same depth of flavor.)
- 1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
- 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp hot curry powder (I use Penzey's)
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 3 cups cooked or 2 (15.5oz) cans low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed if canned
- 12 to 16 ounces spinach, chopped
- 1½ cups dry long grain brown rice (basmati is particularly nice)
- Place the onions in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if the onions start to stick.
- Add the garlic and the white parts of the scallions (save the green parts for garnish). Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the rice, coconut milk and curry powder along with 2 cups of water. Cover, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
- During the last 10 minutes of cooking, stir in the spinach and beans.
- When the rice is done, taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve immediately, garnished with the green parts of the scallions.
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