Almost every week this winter, I’ve make some sort of dinner dish that includes a combination of beans, greens, and grains. It’s a hearty, healthy, and student budget-friendly meal. But after making one too many iterations of stewed beans in tomato or curry-based sauces, I was feeling in a rut. Thus, a new dish was born. Inspired by a technique of pan-frying beans that I had recently read about and a steadfast love for Middle Eastern flavors, I paired together garbanzos, caramelized onions, spinach, lemon, za’atar, and brown rice.
It was love at first bite. I gobbled up a bowl for dinner, reveling in the zing of the lemon, the earthiness of the za’atar, and way that the garbanzos had a crispy bite, yet a soft and creamy interior. The caramelized onions added a rich sweetness, the rice a bit of heft, and the spinach a healthy dose of vitamins.
I was going to clumsily dub this “Lemony Greens & Beans Rice with Za’atar” until Kate had an aha moment while eating some of this dish tonight. “In the best of ways,” she said, “this tastes just like deconstructed dolmades.” She was precisely on point. The spinach had wilted down in such a way that it resembled the texture of a grape leaf, and the ingredients were pretty much identical to what one might stuff inside of grape leaves, or dolmades. For a non-vegetarian version, you could add in some sauteed ground beef, lamb, or turkey. And for an extra special touch, a drizzle of tahini made this delicious dish even better. I think it’s safe to say I’ve broken free from my greens and beans rut. I’m looking forward to seeking out more de- and re-constructions of dishes in the future.
1 medium onion
4 tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz can garbanzos, drained
10 oz spinach leaves, torn or chopped into smaller pieces
2 generous tbsp za’atar
1-1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
salt and pepper to taste
Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Slice onion thinly and add to olive oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes, until golden and caramelized. Remove onions from pan. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to pan over high heat. Add drained garbanzo beans to pan and arrange in a single layer. Allow beans to cook undisturbed for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown on bottom. Toss the pan or give them a good stir to rearrange them and allow them to cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes. Add spinach, onions, za’atar, and zest and juice of two lemons and allow to cook until spinach wilts down, about 5 minutes. Toss in cooked rice and allow to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.