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You’ll Just Have to Trust Me on This One

I realize I risk losing all credibility by posting this recipe for Burundian Spinach Stew. Also, I have to be up front and admit that my kids did not like it. (Words like “weird” and “huh?” were used.) But I promise it’s delicious. Really. When I first discovered this on the Operation Rice Bowl website last year, I was skeptical, too. The basic list of ingredients — spinach, peanut butter, and onions — reminded me of those strange concoctions my little sister used to make in the kitchen before my mom got home from work and then dared me to taste. But we had vowed to make as many of the African, Middle Eastern, and South American recipes from the site’s list as we reasonably could during Lent, and I happened to have most of the ingredients, so I bought about a bushel of spinach and made the stew.

And guess what? Those Burundians are amazing recipe developers. This stew is very quick and easy to make (although you will be shredding piles of spinach — a job I suggest foisting on one of your super helpful children), it’s thick and very flavorful, almost like a curry, and it’s chock full of dark green (i.e. healthy) spinach and other veggies. In addition to creating the rich consistency and flavor, the peanut butter adds protein, which we (part-time) vegetarians need; I’m pretty sure that’s what makes this stew so completely satisfying. I promise you won’t miss the meat.

As I said, my kids turned their noses up, which is not surprising since it’s brown and full of very well-cooked spinach. Plus, I made it a little on the spicy side (oops). My spouse couldn’t get enough. The kids ate bowls of the brown rice I’d made to go with the stew with some veggies and sliced eggs — everyone was happy and well fed, so it worked for me.

Of course I made a few minor tweaks and additions to the Burundians’ basic recipe, which I feel kinda bad about because I know we’re supposed to be eating in solidarity with them. But I couldn’t help myself. It might not be totally authentic, but my version was pretty darn tasty. I’ll put my changes and comments in italics so you can stick to the basic recipe if you want.

Burundian Spinach Stew

2 small onions, chopped
2 tbs. oil (I used olive oil.)
2 tomatoes, peeled and sliced (I didn’t peel them.)
1 green bell pepper, chopped (I used red; I don’t like green peppers and imagine if the Burundians had access to red peppers, they’d be in agreement.)
2 lbs. fresh spinach (You can buy the bagged baby spinach, but it’s a lot cheaper to buy bunches of regular organic spinach. I used 3 large bunches.)
1 tsp. salt (Don’t measure, just taste it.)
2 chili peppers, sliced (I used Thai red chili paste, probably about 2 tsp.)
4 tbs. peanut butter (I think chunky would be off-putting so used creamy. I highly recommend all-natural peanut butter, by the way; it tastes much better and doesn’t have weird, unnecessary oils and sugars added to it.)
6 cups rice, cooked (I used short grain brown rice, which is more sticky and satisfying than long grain rice.)
Plus I added:
1/2 pint sliced, sauteed mushrooms
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. fish sauce
2 tbs. banana jam (You could also use marmalade, chutney, or honey; I just thought the stew needed a little sweetness).

In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, saute the onions in the oil until golden. Stir in tomatoes and bell peppers. Add spinach (First rinse really, really well in a large bowl or sink full of water, then tear off the stems and shred into pieces.), salt, and chili. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

Give the spinach a nice cold bath.

Add several tablespoons warm water to the peanut butter to make a smooth paste. Add to pot (along with soy sauce, fish sauce, and jam) and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently, adding small amounts of water to prevent sticking (about 1 cup). Add sauteed mushrooms. Serve over rice.

It tastes better than it looks.

Try it, you’ll like it. Next up: Nigerian Okra Paste with Cornmeal Porridge (just kidding).

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  • […] It’s a fun challenge to experiment with substitutes for things like taco meat (add a little cornmeal to your beans before mashing) and chicken salad sandwiches (egg salad with curry powder and olive oil mayo on toasted Ezekiel bread, mmmm). Since the pasta-rice-potato rotation got old very quickly, I was forced to be creative with main dish veggies — like my favorite oven-roasted eggplant — and protein-packed vegetable soups like this one. […]

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